Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger said his side were playing with “more clarity” following the transfer of Alexis Sanchez as the Gunners came from behind to beat Chelsea and set up a Carabao Cup final with Manchester City.
After a goalless first leg, Eden Hazard put Chelsea ahead before an own goal from Antonio Rudiger levelled it, and Granit Xhaka’s winner took Arsenal to Wembley.
It came only two days after Sanchez’s drawn-out transfer to Manchester United was completed, with the Gunners getting Henrikh Mkhitaryan in return.
A miserable couple of months for Arsenal has seen them drop to sixth in the Premier League, 23 points behind leaders Manchester City, and lose to Championship Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup.
But now this vital victory keeps them on course to win their fourth trophy in five years – and with it claim the only domestic competition that Arsene Wenger has not won in his 21 years at the club.
“I felt that in January we paid a heavy price for uncertainty in our dressing-room,” said the 68-year-old. “Now we are back with more clarity. We know what we have to do. We can focus on our game.
“We lost a great player in Alexis Sanchez but when a team doesn’t know what’s going on in the dressing room there is less clarity and focus on performances. We know we have to deal with it now.”
The Gunners, bidding to win this competition for the first time since 1993, meet Manchester City in the final at Wembley on 25 February after Pep Guardiola’s side saw off Bristol City in the other semi-final.
A long-awaited debut for Barkley
Chelsea’s ongoing pursuit of a target man has seen West Ham’s Andy Carroll, Stoke’s Peter Crouch and ex-Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko all linked with a move to Stamford Bridge in this transfer window.
And with Alvaro Morata out with a back injury, Antonio Conte’s lack of imposing options in attack saw the Blues boss opt for a pacy and diminutive front three of Pedro, Hazard and Willian.
Fair play to Arsenal. In the first half I was worried, it wasn’t looking good. A completely different team came out in second half, they got themselves back into the game and I think the better team won.
Chelsea didn’t offer enough or do enough. Most of those Chelsea players can’t look at themselves and say they deserved to win that game. Managers are often stubborn but Arsene Wenger saw his team needed help at half-time. Moving Mohamed Elneny back [into defence] was a stroke of genius.
“When there is an injury to one of your best players it is not simple, especially when on the bench the only substitute is Ross Barkley.
“Barkley has a lot of space for improvement, he is working with us only two weeks but for sure today I was forced to make this substitution, but he can improve a lot.”