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These two key battles could decide Arsenal’s EFL Cup semi-final with Chelsea

Arsenal travel to Stamford Bridge tonight for the first-leg of their EFL Cup semi-final against Chelsea.

For Arsene Wenger’s men, the game is important three fold.

Firstly, the Gunners need a big result, and a big performance, after being knocked out of the FA Cup in disappointing fashion at the hands of Championship side Nottingham Forest earlier in the week. Anything other than victory is unacceptable.

Secondly, and subsequent to the first point, the EFL Cup now remains (realistically) Arsenal’s last hope of securing a piece of silverware this season. They are out of of the race for the Premier League title, and with a host of huge teams still left in the Europa League including Atletico Madrid, Napoli and Dortmund – a triumph here is unlikely.

Thirdly, the Gunners haven’t lost to their London rivals in four games – a run they will intend to keep going.

The stage is set for a thriller. Could these two key battles prove to be the difference between the two sides on the night?

Eden Hazard vs. Hector Bellerin

The last time Chelsea came out on top against the Gunners, just under a year ago, Eden Hazard proved to be the difference. The talented Belgian ran Hector Bellerin, and the rest of the Arsenal defence, ragged throughout – capping his performance with a superb solo goal in a 3-1 victory for the Blues.

In recent clashes however, it has been the Spaniard who has for the most part gotten the better of Hazard, putting in some fine performances to keep one of the league’s most outstanding players at bay. Bellerin has rediscovered his best form for the Gunners in recent weeks, and will intend to keep it up at Stamford Bridge, but will without doubt have a tough 90 minutes keeping Chelsea’s talisman quiet on the night in front of a home crowd. Should he succeed in doing so, Bellerin would have mitigated Chelsea’s foremost attacking threat.

Hazard has scored four times in 14 games against the Gunners.

Alexis Sanchez vs. Cesar Azpilicueta

A battle that’s important for more reasons you’d think. The most obvious battle between the two will come in Chelsea’s half, where Sanchez is likely to be kept a beady eye on by the Blues’ defender – who knows first hand the damage the Chile international can cause when given space and time to do so.

However, the second battle between the two will come in the Gunners half. Azpilicueta, for all his defensive qualities, also tends to be a bit of nuisance going forward. The Spaniard has registered two goals and six assists this season already – the latter all coming for fellow countryman Alvaro Morata, making the duo the most lethal and frequent combination in English football this season.

Azpilicueta’s excellent delivery into the box and Morata’s heading ability will be a potent threat to Arsenal’s goal, meaning Sanchez will have the difficult task of tracking back and ensuring the two Spaniard’s are unable to combine as they have done so often this season. His work-rate getting back could be a huge factor in determining the outcome of tonight’s clash.

What do you think the main clashes from tonight’s cup tie will be?

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