Time To Get Serious?
Whilst Tuesday evening`s soiree at the Lane was very fun indeed, the reality was that it was only the resumption of bragging rights and a chance to mock the Tottenham marketing department`s repeated DVD faux pas. Beyond that, there didn`t seem to be a great deal of importance in the result bar the fact that the heartbreak of the last minute equaliser at Sunderland was forgotten and the momentum for our impressive start to the season was maintained. In that respect, fielding a stronger side was a canny move by Wenger- not least because he duped Redknapp into thinking we would field a more callow side. (That said, Arsenal`s starting line up had over 500 less senior appearances behind it than Tottenham`s on Tuesday). The move was heralded by senior Arsene critics as a watershed in his approach to the competition.
I`m not so sure myself. I think it was a pragmatic move given exterior circumstances and given the opposition on their home ground. The truth is also, that the Arsenal squad is not quite as young as it used to be. We were able to play without a whole host of established first teamers and still field a side with an average of 24.3 (compared to Tottenham`s 24.9). In the 2007 Carling Cup Final, Arsenal`s starting line up averaged at 20.9 years old. So for all the talk of a change in attitude, there is also an evolution in the squad`s dynamic to be accounted for. However much fun Tuesday night was, nobody is or ever was under the impression that the Carling Cup is anything more than our 4th priority. However, there is a feeling that, though still very much 4th on the list, that maybe the League Cup has a greater attraction all of a sudden. The curriculum vitae of teams dumped out of this week`s competition; Chelsea, Liverpool, Everton, Manchester City, Spurs of course, but even sides such as Blackburn, Fulham and Bolton have now been unceremoniously dumped out. All of a sudden, it looks like a very winnable competition. Should this yield a change in approach?
Your instant response would be "yes" I am sure. I would chance not a single day goes by when we are not reminded of our relative trophy drought. The team needs a trophy, for themselves first and foremost to build belief and erect a platform from which to continue to collect prizes. The 1987 League Cup win sowed the seeds for Graham`s side to win two league titles in the proceeding four years, the 1993 League Cup win indirectly fed into Arsenal`s subsequent appearance in three more cup finals within 2 years of beating Sheffield Wednesday at Wembley. It might be our lowest priority, but that doesn`t mean we don`t want to win it, right? So with only Villa and Manchester United left as genuine top ten sides in the cup, it appears the machete has chopped away a large swathe of forest for us. However, as ever there is another side of the coin to contemplate.
The first is that, undeniably, Arsenal suffer injuries. A lot. The so called human cost of Tuesday night has yet to be seen with Nasri, Wilshere and Koscielny being taken to task for 120 minutes. Tomas Rosicky and Emmanuel Eboue picked up minor knocks. This competition advances into its latter stages as the European fixtures pile up in the early winter and progress into the tumultuous Christmas period. I couldn`t imagine being too thrilled to see someone like Arshavin crocked in the Carling Cup and missing more pressing encounters as a result. Another flip side has already reared its head this week. Woijcech Szczesny has unwisely thrown his toys out of the pram very publicly at having not been given a chance to impress at White Hart Lane. The League Cup has long been Arsene`s laboratory to test his latest young Frankensteins. Arsenal`s fleet of talented youngsters rely on the tournament as their first opportunity to forage away from mother`s teet in competitive environment. If we are to select a more brow beaten, world weary line up from now on, the disenfranchisement of the likes of Szczesny is likely to grow as younger players are starved of oxygen. This of course is also a consequence of the evolution of the club, now players such as Fran Merida are more likely to leave, the club is now in a position to sign players in their prime such as Arshavin and Squillaci- a position emphasised by the announcement of some rapidly swelling profit margins. But it`s impossible to imagine that the likes of Clichy, Fabregas, van Persie and the emerging Wilshere could ever have blossomed into first team mainstays so easily without the Carling Cup.
I suspect Wenger will keep more of an interested eye on the league cup from here on and I would expect to see his team selections become more pragmatic. Should we draw Villa or United in the next round, or perhaps face trips to Newcastle or Stoke, that we might see a smattering of established players continue to make their presence felt. In the event of a home draw or being matched with a lower division side, expect to see Emmanuel Thomas and Lansbury shunted into the spotlight. I do not identify with those that must have now and that believe a trophy is superior to regular Champions League qualification, but I do think it is important for the supporters to see a trophy, as well as the players. It will serve to quell some dissenting voices and mobilise more supporters behind the team and the manager. I don`t believe in the club immolating its principles to suit the malleable whims of the fans, but a more united front cannot be a bad thing for the club either. Of course, now I have penned this article on Friday evening, we will draw United away.LD.