Arsenal have been knocked out of the Capital One Cup after a 2-0 home defeat to Chelsea on Tuesday night.
In a first half of few chances, Cesar Azpilicueta opened the scoring in the 26th minute when he pounced on an undercooked Carl Jenkinson header to give the visitors the lead.
The Gunners responded well, with Nacho Monreal coming close to restoring parity moments later with a firm drive across the face of goal.
Arsene Wenger’s side upped the tempo after half time, with Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey both trying their luck, while Samuel Eto’o flashed a shot wide for the visitors.
The momentum seemed to be with Arsenal as Ramsey fizzed a superb effort just wide, but on 65 minutes they fell further behind as Juan Mata beat Fabianski from the edge of the box.
Substitute Olivier Giroud tested Mark Schwarzer with a firm close-range shot moments after coming on, while Jack Wilshere came also came close from the edge of the area.
But there was to be no way back for the Gunners, who now turn their attentions towards Saturday’s showdown with Liverpool.
SETTING THE SCENE
There had been much talk beforehand about whether either side would field their strongest sides for this game. Neither did, but with a place in the quarter-finals, and London bragging rights, at stake some of the capital’s biggest names were included.
Only Laurent Koscielny, Ramsey and Santi Cazorla retained their places in the Arsenal team from Saturday’s 2-0 win at Crystal Palace - but they were surrounded by an impressive supporting cast.
Thomas Vermaelen returned as captain and was part of a strong spine, with Lukasz Fabianski behind him and Wilshere, Ramsey and Nicklas Bendtner ahead. And with Tomas Rosicky in the No 10 role, there was no shortage of experience in the Gunners side.
With such wholesale change on both sides, it was perhaps unsurprising that the game got off to a slightly cautious start. As is often the way in these high-profile clashes, both teams settled for trying to feel each other out before landing any decisive blows.
Rosicky seemed to be at the heart of every Arsenal attack during the opening exchanges, bursting forward at pace and linking up nicely with Bendtner. Stationed in his preferred role behind the Danish striker, the 33-year-old’s work-rate and energy kept Arsenal on the front foot as they attempted to find a way through.
The first chance of any real note arrived in the 21st minute when Chelsea’s Brazilian midfielder Willian collected the ball on the left and whipped in a dangerous ball. Eto’o reacted first and tried to flick it in at the near post, but his effort skidded harmlessly wide.
Four minutes later, though, the visitors did snatch the lead in unfortunate circumstances. As Chelsea broke upfield, Michael Essien’s attempted pass to Kevin de Bruyne cannoned up off a defender and bounced towards the Arsenal goal. Carl Jenkinson tried to head it back to the waiting Fabianski, but didn’t get enough purchase on it and Azpilicueta raced in to poke the ball beyond the helpless keeper.
Wenger’s side responded positively, and just before the half-hour mark Monreal pounced on a poor clearance and flashed a searing drive across the face of the Chelsea goal. The crowd responded in fine voice as the Gunners stepped up their efforts to find a leveller, but there was to be no breakthrough before the interval.
Arsenal started the second half on the front foot, but nearly fell two behind in the 49th minute when Eto’o cut in from the left and fired a low shot inches wide of the far post.
Cazorla dragged a shot wide as the Gunners upped the tempo, while soon afterwards Ramsey saw a deflected drive squirm just past the far post with Mark Schwarzer scrambling to get across. The Welshman was at the heart of the action, and struck a fizzing effort just wide just after the hour mark as the Gunners got closer.
With huge games against Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund and Manchester United on the horizon, Wenger might have been expected to keep his powder dry. But with 63 minutes gone, Mesut Ozil was introduced to a huge roar from the Emirates crowd.
But there was nothing the Germany international could do when, just three minutes later, Mata collected Willian’s knockdown on the edge of the box and fired a firm shot into the top corner to double Chelsea’s advantage.
Olivier Giroud was immediately introduced and the France international came close to an immediate impact as his close-range effort was beaten away by Schwarzer after a good run by Wilshere.
The Gunners had to chase the game now, leaving themselves vulnerable to the break and Chelsea nearly took full advantage as Ramires’ cross was poked wide by Eto’o. Time was running out, but still Arsenal pushed and probed, desperately looking for a way back into the game.
Wilshere drove one over from 20 yards and Cazorla flashed one just wide as Wenger’s side committed men forward, but there was to be no comeback as they exited the competition on a disappointing night.
Referee: Phil Dowd
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