By Randy Osae
A very familiar story echoed as Arsenal bowed out of the FA Cup lingering off a vivid semi-final at Wembley.
A couple of factors might have dominated bets prior to this particular London affair; the early leaders end up losing and Drogba always has a say on derby day.
Indeed, matters did settle that way.
Today’s events would also resemble that of a Carling Cup final two years ago when the pair last confronted in cup competition.
Walcott’s dream start was subsided by Malouda’s response before the break and then Didier Drogba’s same old infliction which sprung with contribution from the dooms of Lukasz Fabianski’s 24th birthday.
Arsene Wenger’s side were Wembley debutantes. On the other hand, Chelsea were not. And so Arsenal’s nerves would be exposed.
Early on, Fabianski rushed off his territory to salvage a hanging ball. Drogba was lurking and the Ivorian headed over Arsenal’s stopper only for Gibbs to provide the real salvage – clearing before the ball reached home.
Both sides were still pretending to peal off cagey starts until Arsenal broke the deadlock on 18 minutes.
Adebayor fed Gibbs on the left and the 19-year-old whipped in a cross for Walcott who replied with a fortuitous volley – helped to beat Cech by a deflection off Ashley Cole.
Chelsea would respond to red-alarm immediately and Malouda nearly leveled with a winding low drive through Fabianski’s arms and across goal. He repeated that trick just after the hour mark – nutmeging Eboue before beating Fabianski by his near post.
Chelsea owned the upper-hand now.
For a semi-final of this altitude, it was better drawing level to head into the interval than to be pegged back. And when Anelka fizzled a shot onto the post, it was evident Arsenal were the more concerned during half-time.
Into the second-half, Adebayor was presented half a chance when Chelsea’s defence failed to safely deal with a cross, but the Togolese’s punishment was miserable.
Arsenal’s next notable attempt was when Walcott utilized a commanding match-up with Ashley Cole to whip in a searching cross which demanded a simple touch. But Diaby and then Van Persie could hardly meet it.
Chelsea were also having their moments.
Arsenal’s left area was bare and Ballack profited to send in a cross, but Anelka could have done better to haunt his old club with a header. From a similar move, Drogba teed up Lampard who volleyed narrowly wide off the side netting.
It was becoming a delicately poised London derby with both set of players looking leggy at this point. That’s when managers were raring to be tactical.
Hiddink and Wenger were looking for impact elsewhere.
And so for Chelsea, Kalou was introduced while Adebayor paved way for Bendtner after Arshavin had been sent on for Van Perise. Arsenal’s latest substitute had not even made a touch when Lampard floated a ball in. Silvestre and Toure were lingering as Fabianski was rushing.
Drogba was quickest to guide the ball though, and he rounded off Arsenal’s stopper to decide who would be finalists.
Arsene Wenger’s instant reaction was in the form of an off-bench Samir Nasri but nothing could be changed – Arsenal would surrender.
There had been road to Wembley but it did not prove vintage destination for the Gunners when they arrived – and so there will be no return in May.
But there may still be Rome routes to pursue.