Chelsea win a catalyst for Arsenal's second half?
Is this a new era or another false dawn for Arsenal?
After Arsenal’s third round FA cup defeat at Nottingham Forest, there was both dismay and bemusement from their passionate fan base. The early cup exit only added to the constant speculation regarding Alexis Sanchez's future. Now the Chilean has moved on to pastures new, Arsenal appear to have regained their team spirit. The gloom has lifted. The sun has peeked through the clouds.
A 4-1 victory over Crystal Palace presaged the Gunners League Cup semi-final victory over London rival Chelsea. Arsene Wenger admitted the distractions surrounding the Chilean had unsettled the team.
I felt that in January we paid a heavy price for uncertainty in our dressing room. We are back with more clarity. We know what we have to do. We can focus on our game.
Not many pundits tipped Arsenal to progress over two legs against Antonio Conte’s men. Both clubs have been inconsistent and plagued by transfer controversy, but the Gunners far more so. Regardless, the heavily criticised Frenchman now finds himself in another Wembley final. It won't be easy against Manchester City but Liverpool have given other English clubs hope. The win at the Emirates was even more impressive given the fact that Chelsea led through an early Eden Hazard goal.
Arsenal's midfield trio comprising Mohamed Elneny, Jack Wilshere, and Granit Xhaka impressed. Wilshere looked imperious in the middle of the park. If he can remain injury-free, he must be a shoe-in for the England squad. Xhaka provided a poacher's finish. The Swiss dinked a ball perfectly over Cesar Azpilicueta and Willy Caballerro.
Alexandre Lacazette has apparently regained a measure of his early season confidence. His link up play with Alex Iwobi unsettled the Chelsea back four.
Mesut Ozil was at his creative best. The German taught the departed Sanchez a lesson in respecting one's current club and employer.
Nacho Monreal also appears to have rediscovered his best form. This match joined a parade of outstanding displays that recall his early time with the club.
Watching on from the stands was Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Hopefully the Armenian is encouraged by his new team's resilient display. Mkhi won't be stifled and shackled by defensive duties at Arsenal as he was with Manchester United. He will be given a degree of licence to roam.
Arsenal certainly appear to have benefited from the swap deal. The North London side have let go a want-away player whose contract expires in June while welcoming one who recently signed a long-term deal and had the most assists in his final Bundesliga season.
There has been speculation linking Arsenal to current BVB striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. It would represent a major coup if Wenger can seal the Gabonese forward’s signature.
Jonny Evans has also been mentioned as a potential signing. The Northern Irishman will give Wenger’s squad experience and depth that has been lacking of late.
That's been compounded throughout the squad by the unusual rush of winter transactions. Sanchez, Theo Walcott and Frances Coquelin's departures left Wenger with few options on the bench.
The Cup final joins the Europa League on the Gunners' calendar. Atletico Madrid and Dortmund are also in the tournament. Another reason to acquire Auba. It would be helpful to follow United's example by claiming the trophy and its commensurate Champions League place. It looks to be more difficult this time out, with the clubs involved.
Liverpool and Spurs dropped points in the last round of Premier League fixtures, though. The Gunners remain firmly within reach of the top four places. All of a sudden, life isn't all that bad for Arsene Wenger and Arsenal.