Jose Mourinho got the better of old adversary Arsene Wenger once again as Chelsea showed their strength in depth by reaching the English League Cup quarter-finals with a 2-0 win over London rivals Arsenal on Tuesday.
Both teams rang the changes, but it was Chelsea’s new-look side that gelled, restricting the hosts to a few sights of goal, while consistently threatening on the break and finding the net through Spaniards Cesar Azpilicueta and Juan Mata.
It was a difficult night for Wenger, who enjoyed a simmering feud with the Chelsea boss during the Portuguese’s first spell in the Premier League and has now not beaten Mourinho in nine attempts.
However, the Frenchman insisted there was no reason to panic, saying: “Lets not go too quick to a conclusion. If you take the points we have made since January we have got more than anybody else. After losing the first game of the season against Aston Villa, people said we were relegated and there would be a revolution, but now we are in a strong position in the league.”
Manchester United will also be in the draw for the last eight after overcoming Norwich City 4-0 with two goals from Javier Hernandez, but there was an upset for Premier League club Fulham, who lost 4-3 to second-tier Leicester City.
In Tuesday’s other games, West Ham United beat Burnley 2-0 away in their tie, with late penalties from Matt Taylor and Jack Collison, while spot-kicks were needed to separate Stoke City and Birmingham City.
After the match finished 3-3 and then 4-4 after extra-time, top-flight Stoke won 4-2 in a shootout.
Arsenal and Chelsea reminded everyone of the League Cup’s standing in the list of priorities by making 18 changes between them from their teams that played in the Premier League at the weekend.
Wenger fielded a strong midfield, with Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere marshaling the center circle, but they struggled to make an impact as Chelsea sat back, soaked up the pressure and looked to hit the hosts on the counter.
Mourinho’s side got their reward after 25 minutes when a swift Chelsea break ended with Azpilicueta nipping in to intercept a poor header back by Carl Jenkinson and poking the ball past onrushing goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski for the opener.
Arsenal were off the pace and struggled to conjure a chance, with Welsh midfielder Ramsey firing their best effort wide just past the hour.
Arsenal playmaker Mesut Ozil was summoned from the bench to inject creativity in the second half, but just seconds later, Chelsea doubled their lead through Mata.
The mercurial Spaniard, who has been on the fringes of Mourinho’s first-choice team all season, collected the ball on the edge of the area, controlled it and then unleashed a rasping drive into the net.
United’s Hernandez underlined his value to David Moyes’ team with a goal in each half. He opened his account from the penalty spot when Leroy Fer was adjudged to have brought down Adnan Januzaj and then scored with a header 10 minutes into the second half.
It was only the Mexico international’s fourth start of the season, but assistant manager Steve Round said he has never allowed his irritation at lack of playing time to show.
“He’s such a good character that I don’t think it’s fazed him at all. He knows he gets his games and gets his opportunities,” Round said. “You see in training every day that he’s a really infectious character who loves to score goals. His history at Manchester United, he’s waited patiently for his opportunities and when he gets them, he takes them.”