Arsenal 2 Chelsea 1
Mark 'Sparky' Hughes came off the bench to rekindle Chelsea's Coca-Cola Cup
chances and rescue Ruud Gullit from his selection and tactical blunders.
The years have been kind to Gullit, but tonight at Highbury time started to
catch up with him with Chelsea looking as if they would pay the price by seeing
their Wembley hopes killed off in the space of 90 minutes.
Gullit had gambled on giving himself only his third start of the season as a
direct replacement for the absent Frank Leboeuf and leaving Hughes and Luca
Vialli on the bench.
Instead of inspiring the Blues, Gullit's presence in the back four only served
to undermine what fragile confidence remained in his side after their nightmare
Gullit's shocking back header after Emmanuel Petit's clip forward gifted Marc
Overmars his fifth in five matches to seemingly put Arsenal on course for their
sixth competition final, as the manager's lack of fitness was horribly clear.
Even after abandoning Plan A and pushing himself into midfield at half-time
the Dutchman looked unable to change the course of the game, Stephen Hughes
capitalising on more sloppiness at the back to claim his first of the season.
But with Chelsea seemingly having lost more than they had gained from their
sunshine break in Portugal and Gianfranco Zola's goal drought now a club-worst
nine games, Welsh dragon Hughes entered the fray in place of Tore Andre Flo.
And within five minutes the firebrand striker had ghosted in front of Alex
Manninger on to Zola's floated ball to steer into the vacant net for his sixth
of the campaign and give the Blues hope for the second leg.
It still needed two world-class saves from Ed De Goey - and a slice of luck -
to keep the West Londoners in contention, and Gullit must be counting himself
deeply fortunate his side did not pay a heavier price.
Arsenal have never lost a cup tie to their London rivals and with Gullit,
clearly nowhere near fit and making his first start since mid-November,
out-of-form Chelsea looked there for the taking.
Wenger clearly thought so too, pushing Overmars right up from the off, and
with Ray Parlour prominent, the home side took charge.
Parlour was the first to bring De Goey into action with a stinging drive, and
in the 15th minute Arsenal were inches away.
Overmars' presence distracted Frank Sinclair, who did not react as Nigel
Winterburn stole into space on the left to pick up Petit's pass.
Winterburn looked up, spotted Bergkamp lurking between Gullit and Steve
Clarke, and when he delivered the Dutchman's powerful header beat De Goey all
ends up only to bounce off the top of the bar.
Still it was a sign of what was to come, Hughes the next to test De Goey, and
the opener, in the 23rd minute, was no more than Arsenal were worth.
Gullit, though, had to hold up his hands, stretching his neck but only
succeeding in laying it on a plate for Overmars to claim his 10th of the season
with De Goey stranded.
Chelsea, badly missing Roberto Di Matteo as well as Leboeuf, had offered
little other than Flo's aerial threat, with Zola still struggling for form.
One jinking run by the little Sardinian ended with Flo's poor touch running
the ball into the arms of the under-employed Manninger, but that was the sum
total of their attacking intent.
And with the labouring Gullit suddenly looking every one of his 35 years, and
Chelsea - giving the ball away far too easily - at sixes and sevens at the back,
the surprise was that Arsenal did not make more advantage.
Gullit had to act at the break, giving on-loan Frenchman Laurent Chalvert his
debut in place of the near-invisible Dan Petrescu, switching to three at the
back and pushing himself into midfield.
But before the player-boss had touched the ball in his new role, Arsenal
doubled their advantage.
Bernard Lambourde was the guilty man, gifting Overmars possession, and the
winger linked superbly with Nicolas Anelka and raced to the dead-ball line
before pulling back for Hughes to smash home left-footed from 12 yards.
It might have got worse almost instantly, when Graeme Le Saux, already booked,
got himself involved in an ugly incident with Gilles Grimandi and was lucky to
escape with only a ticking off from Martin Bodenham.
As it was, Chelsea did start to raise their game, Le Saux's cross almost
seeing Steve Bould put into his own net before Flo somehow placed his free
header from six yards wide from a Zola corner.
That was Flo's last contribution, Hughes sent on as Gianluca Vialli - still
top scorer - kicked his heels until the last three minutes.
Still it needed a quite outstanding stop by De Goey to prevent Bergkamp
finishing a superb move involving Parlour, Anelka and Petit with a stunning
And within 30 seconds Hughes struck after Winterburn had originally erred,
silencing the home fans and bringing the previously near-silent visiting
contingent to life.
Arsenal's response was instant, De Goey pulling off another flying save to
foil Petit from Bergkamp's clever corner but now Chelsea had a lifeline to take
back to Stamford Bridge in a fortnight.
They rode the late storm unscathed, Anelka a whisker high before De Goey
denied Bergkamp's curler with a spectacular gather. Hardly deserved, but Chelsea
live to fight again.
Arsenal: Manninger, Winterburn, Bould, Adams, Anelka, Bergkamp,
Overmars, Parlour, Petit, Grimandi (Platt 84), Hughes.
Subs Not Used: Boa Morte, Lukic.
Booked: Bergkamp, Grimandi.
Goals: Overmars 23, Hughes 47.
Chelsea: De Goey, Petrescu (Chalvet 45), Gullit, Clarke,
Lambourde, Duberry, Le Saux, Flo (Hughes 59),
Sinclair (Vialli 86), Newton, Zola.
Booked: Le Saux, Duberry.
Goals: Hughes 68.
Ref: M J Bodenham (East Looe).