Do wins really count when the opposition starts Nicklas Bendtner? I'm not sure they should, which means that our breezy, 2-0 win against Arsenal at the Emirates might as well have been a Gunners forfeit. Beating Arsenal is always fun, don't get me wrong, but the combination of their recent run of ineptitude and the whole Bendtner deal means that my post-match reaction went something along the lines of 'that was funny' if we're pretending I'm literate and 'lol' if we're being more truthful.
We're used to Arsenal playing the kids in the League Cup, but aside from the aforementioned Bendtner, Ryo Miyachi and backup goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski, Arsene Wenger put out a fairly decent side. Chelsea just brushed aside a team that started all of Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere as well as fielding Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud as substitutes, and they did so while retaining one player from the 2-1 win against Manchester City last weekend.
So this was a tougher Arsenal than initially expected. However, Chelsea's 'backups' are made of fairly stern stuff, and the lineup Jose Mourinho fielded were more than a match for their hosts. The entire first half consisted of the Gunners rather tamely attempting to attack and the Blues rebuffing them like homecoming queens spurn acne-plagued, awkward teenagers*.
I could stretch the Arsenal-as-pimply-overconfident-youths simile out for quite some distance, I suspect.
Oh, and there was a goal as well. A landmark goal, as a matter of fact. After more than a year of Cesar Azpilicueta's Chelsea career, his account had remained unopened, but all of that changed thanks to one Arsenal corner. Cazorla's effort was easily cleared, Michael Essien charged up the pitch, and after an intervention from Ramsey the ball went looping back towards Fabianski's goal.
As we saw over the weekend, that sort of situation can result in hilarity, and so it proved once more as Carl Jenkinson stretched every sinew in his neck to head the ball back to his keeper only to fall disastrously short. Enter Azpilicueta, who had made a lung-busting 90-yard run from his own penalty box to keep up with the play. The right back beat Fabianski to the ball, and hit a lovely first-time finish off the far post and in. Not that it really mattered whether the ball went in or not, because he was cleaned out by the goalkeeper within milliseconds of shooting, which would have been a penalty and a red card regardless of the finish. But still, it was pretty, and better yet, it was hilarious.
One might expect New Arsenal -- they are leading the league, after all -- to respond to going 1-0 down at the Emirates with something approaching vigour. But vigour and Bendtner do not make good bedfellows, and the Gunners' reply was more of the sad, tame stuff they offered before Azpilicueta's strike. Meanwhile, Chelsea were still moving the ball around with ease, and never really looked like conceding.
On came Ozil and Giroud as Wenger tried to turn the tide. Unfortunately for Arsenal, Juan Mata had been on the pitch the whole time, and between the substitutions the little wizard decided to put the game to bed, seizing on a Willian header and sending a swerving, unstoppable right-footed shot roaring past Fabianski and into the back of the net.
From that point on, the game was a foregone conclusion. Arsenal were forced into a few scrambled clearances as Chelsea threatened, and although they took some potshots at the other end Giroud's presence wasn't enough to cause Mark Schwarzer any serious problems. It was almost like a friendly in the end.
Arsenal, no doubt, will brush this off as only being in the League Cup, and there's certainly some merit to that argument. But on the other hand, it's indicative of just how much better our depth is than theirs -- the Gunners played several regulars and were still utterly demolished at home. Over the course of a season, that sort of thing matters.
That's Swindon and Arsenal dispatched, then. Who's next?