Arsenal, Chelsea in sterile stalemate in League Cup semis

LONDON/January 10, 2018 (AP)(STL.News) — The strain of playing five games in two weeks caught up with Arsenal and Chelsea as they labored to a 0-0 draw in the first leg of their League Cup semifinal on Wednesday.

Playing in their third competition after a packed festive fixture program, the London rivals were lacking the attacking sting to find a breakthrough in the Stamford Bridge stalemate.

What did create intrigue was the sight of Arsene Wenger spending the game in the press tribune as the Arsenal manager served the second game of a touchline ban for misconduct toward a referee.

So while Chelsea manager Antonio Conte was in the customary position patrolling the touchline, within meters from his players and bellowing instructions, Wenger was reduced to occasional exacerbated shouts about a dozen rows back.

Flanked by a security guard and coach Jens Lehmann for company, Wenger’s every groan was in full earshot of the media, every shake of the head clear to see and the kicks of the benches reverberating.

“What?!” Wenger shouted after Chelsea was awarded a free kick in the first half when Eden Hazard went down under Hector Bellerin’s challenge. The French manager leapt out of the media bench at the start of the second half when Danny Welbeck was penalized for fouling Moses.

What Wenger did benefit from for once were clear video replays. So, too, did the referee as video replay assistants were deployed for a third time in English soccer.

The lengthiest delay in the game came close to the end when Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas was brought down by Welbeck. Referee Martin Atkinson consulted the VARs watching across west London for almost a minute before deciding against awarding a spotkick.

Chelsea did look more likely to take the lead but was wasteful twice with headers. At the end of the first half, Fabregas nodded tamely straight at Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina. Midway through the second half, Andreas Christiansen headed off target.

There was a blow for Arsenal when Jack Wilshere, captaining the north London club to cap a return to form in an injury-blighted career, limped off with a knee problem.

The second leg is at the Emirates Stadium in two weeks. The League Cup is the only domestic competition Wenger hasn’t won in more than 21 years at Arsenal. It also offers his only prospect of domestic silverware this season, since Arsenal’s FA Cup defense ended at the first hurdle at Nottingham Forest on Sunday and the team is sixth in the Premier League.

By ROB HARRIS by Associated Press, published on STL.NEWS by St. Louis Media, LLC (US)

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