The Carabao Cup Final could begin the start of a potential quadruple-winning season for Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola – or a quietly welcome trophy for Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger.
The two sides have battled their way to the season’s first major cup final at Wembley, and here’s how they did it.
Ahead of the Carabao Cup final against Manchester City, watch how Arsenal secured their place at Wembley Third round – v Doncaster Rovers (h) 1-0
Arsene Wenger played a fairly strong line-up against Sky Bet League One Doncaster and handed Jack Wilshere his first 90 minutes for the club in almost three years, but they had only Theo Walcott’s 25th-minute lob to show for their efforts.
And there were hearts in mouths as the Gunners’ failure to put the tie to bed – with 27 shots in all – almost came back to bite them late on, when Matty Blair’s header rebounded off the bar.
What Wenger said: “I was concerned, they looked dangerous. Credit to Doncaster, they kept going. We started well in the first 35 minutes but we decreased slowly.
“We lost our collective game and couldn’t score the second goal, it became more difficult. It was a typical cup game.”
Fourth round – v Norwich City (h) 2-1 (AET)
The Gunners were five minutes from being dumped out of the cup in only their second test of the season, as Josh Murphy’s first-half strike gave the Canaries something to hold onto.
It took 18-year-old Eddie Nketiah, making only his second Arsenal appearance, to score 15 seconds after coming on to send the tie into extra time, before he secured their progression by heading in Mohamed Elneny’s 96th-minute corner.
What Wenger said: “I knew he had quality, but when the team need you and you deliver, that’s another quality you don’t know about until you go on to the pitch.
“I can’t remember a young player having such an impact in a game like that. Until he came on we lacked ideas and creativity.”
Fifth round – v West Ham United (h) 1-0
After making 11 changes from their weekend win over Newcastle, Arsenal stuttered to victory over the Hammers with another narrow triumph.
Danny Welbeck turned in from close-range just before half-time, but the win was overshadowed by a hamstring injury suffered by Olivier Giroud.
What Wenger said: “Will I change from Premier League game to Premier League or only in the Carabao Cup? I don’t know yet – I have to look at the fixtures to see what I do.
“What is very worrying is when you start to lose players, like Giroud tonight. After, you cannot afford to lose another one. I have to look how I can manage the schedule.”
Semi-final first leg – v Chelsea (a) 0-0
Wenger’s men played out an untypically gritty stalemate at Stamford Bridge, bouncing back well from a humiliating FA Cup exit at Nottingham Forest the previous weekend.
Cesc Fabregas and Andreas Christensen wasted chances for the hosts either side of half-time, but Arsenal held firm to take a solid draw back to the Emirates.
In a largely forgettable game, Wenger’s presence in the stands as he served a touchline ban did at least provide some entertainment.
Semi-final second leg – v Chelsea (h) 2-1
The archetypal game of two halves played out in North London, with the Gunners fortunate to go in level at the break courtesy of Antonio Rudiger’s own goal cancelling out Eden Hazard’s early opener.
But Arsenal emerged re-invigorated after the break and Alexandre Lacazette’s deflected pull-back was turned in from close-range by Granit Xhaka to seal just a third League Cup final spot of Wenger’s 22-year reign.
What Wenger said: “In the first half we gave Chelsea too much respect and distance. We were a bit scared to go for it and we suffered from that.
“We were not playing in the right position but we amended that in the second half and took control of the game. We knew we could perform better in the second half and that’s what we did. In the first half we watched them play a bit but we were tighter after the break.”
Ahead of the Carabao Cup final against Arsenal, watch how Man City secured their place at Wembley Third round – v West Bromwich Albion (a) 2-1
Valiant West Brom put up a good effort against an imperious-looking City side at The Hawthorns, but were undone by two strikes by Leroy Sane.
The German opened the scoring inside three minutes but Claudio Yacob’s tap-in brought the Baggies level, only for Sane to strike again with 13 minutes to go at the end of a rapid counter-attack.
What Guardiola said: “If you have to play the competition, you have to play the competition. But it is a title that when you win, it is ok, but after that people don’t give too much credit.
“For the managers it is a lot of wasted energy, but we knew that before, so it is not a complaint in those terms. If we have to play we have to play.”
Fourth round – Wolves (h) 0-0 (won 4-1 on penalties)
Claudio Bravo averted a humiliating home defeat by Championship promotion-chasers Wolves with a series of saves in normal time, before continuing his heroics in the eventual penalty shoot-out.
The Black County side were the first in all competitions to stop City scoring this season, but were dumped out of the competition by Sergio Aguero’s Panenka spot-kick.
What Guardiola said: “The ball was unacceptable for a high-level competition. It is too light, it moves all over the place, it is not a good ball. It is impossible to score with a ball like that and I can say that because we won, I’m not making excuses.
“Claudio gave us the chance to go through, I’m so happy for him, the way he’s trained, a good performance and good penalties. I’m happy to win in this way.”
Fifth round – v Leicester City (a) 1-1 (won 4-3 on penalties)
A 97th-minute Jamie Vardy penalty halted City’s progression to the last four, which had looked nailed on thanks to Bernardo Silva’s slotted finish before half-time.
But the England man missed from 12 yards in the subsequent shoot-out, as did fellow star Riyad Mahrez – while faultless City scored all four of their spot-kicks with Gabriel Jesus converting the winner.
What Guardiola said: “I am so happy. Especially when the situation is bad, it’s how you react. There were no complaints in extra time to say how unfair it was in the last minute. Instead of that, they tried again and tried again for the penalties as well.
“A lot of young players played, two guys played their first official games for Man City so it’s good. I’m so happy that the old players helped the young ones and to reach the semi-final with the way we did it.”
Semi-final first-leg – v Bristol City (h) 2-1
Few clubs have been able to cause Manchester City many problems at the Etihad this season but Bristol City certainly gave as good as they got with Bobby Reid’s penalty giving them a shock half-time lead.
Kevin De Bruyne dragged City back into it shortly after the interval before Sergio Aguero popped up to head home Bernardo Silva’s inch-perfect cross in stoppage time.
Semi-final second-leg – v Bristol City (a) 2-3
Goals from Sane and Aguero either side of half-time gave City what appeared to be an insurmountable 4-1 aggregate lead at Ashton Gate but Marlon Pack’s strike just past the hour mark breathed fresh impetus into the game.
Aden Flint’s close-range finish in injury time brought Bristol City to within a goal of extra-time but with the last kick of the game, De Bruyne settled the contest to send his side safely through to the final.
What Guardiola said: “We’re so happy to be there and for everyone involved at the club to reach this final. We played an amazing game until 2-0 and then we lose control, and in these kinds of games it’s never easy until the end.”