A quick look at my Twitter time line yesterday informed me, without reading the press, that Arsenal fans were debating whether the League Cup is a major trophy, aggrieved at the press praising Man United and Mourinho. The phrase ‘Mickey Mouse Trophy’ is being aired of course, by bitter Arsenal supporters jealous of United’s day out or perhaps younger or more Global Gooners who just don’t attach importance to the fourth trophy. The reality is that many, including our own manager might attach more importance to the non-existent Fourth Place Trophy.
Some of us grew up with the League Cup and in fact, my first trip to Wembley was for the League Cup Final in 1987. A fabulous day when two goals from the North Bank’s darling, Charlie Nicholas saw a young Arsenal side overcome the might of Liverpool in George Graham’s first season. However, this is not a personal piece but more about the fact that it is one of the four competitions we are involved with and it is undoubtedly a springboard for greater things. We saw that with Graham’s you g team and the belief it instilled taking them to the League title at Anfield two years later.
Now as Arsenal fans, we can hope that this victory will not give Mourinho’s team a lift and the impetus to improve and gain momentum for the remainder of the season but the odds suggest it might do just that, which will impact Arsenal’s limited aspirations. One of my main issues with Wenger over the years since we moved to the Emirates was how he failed to take this competition seriously when just doing so at the latter stages could have given Arsenal silver ware. The benefits of this could have been significant in my opinion, because it would have given his teams the winning feeling, which in turn one would hope have led to a winning mentality. In addition, imagine the years 2006 to 2014 without the additional pressure generated by the unnecessary trophy drought.
You have to wonder in 2011 when Wenger finally took the latter stages of the League Cup seriously again if his players might have buckled under the pressure favouritism and lost to Birmingham had they experienced winning in the recent past. For those who doubt my memory of the facts, regardless of whether you respect the competition let me refresh your memory.
In 2006 the youngsters has done us proud and we had reached the Semi-Final and were to play a relegation threatened Wigan. Only three first team regulars, Ljungberg, PIres and Gilberto played in the first leg, we consequently lost 1-0. Wenger had not learned his lesson and whilst he brought back Henry and Bergkamp, he still resisted playing his first eleven and though we won 2-1, we exited on the away goal, scored at the death by Jason Roberts. As I left Highbury that night, I was blaming Wenger but we were recently Invincibles and FA Cup holders so I swallowed the pill.
In 2007 the ‘kids’ actually made it to the final and we had defeated Spurs over two legs in the Semi with a sprinkling of first teamers. However, the final was against Chelsea, the Premier League Champions and at that point one of the strongest teams in Europe. Wenger knew that Mourinho always played his strongest team so we all hoped he would do the same, but no Wenger knew best. Well it was obvious was it not that Traore, Senderos and Hoyte could deal with Drogba, Shevchenko, Lampard & Co? NOT
Have you ever seen such a mismatch and how could this possibly help our youngster develop? Yes, Walcott scored but Drogba dominated Senderos and scored his 27th and 28th goals of that season – Who saw that coming? So was that defeat down to Abramovich’s millions or do we think that Hleb, Henry, Adebayor, Gilberto, Gallas etc might have given us a shot at a trophy and ended the drought before it began? The wrong selection and the wrong priorities again from Wenger deprived his team of an opportunity to gain that winning feeling once more.
Surely having fallen at the penultimate or final hurdle for two years running Wenger would learn the obvious lesson. No, of course he did not and the crime worsened in 2008 when the Semi-Final stage of the League Cup saw not only a place in the final at stake but again pitted Arsenal against their North London foes. So surely then, with a final, pride and bragging rights up for grabs and with his team leading the way in the Premier League, Wenger would ensure momentum was retained. No he rested three of his first choice midfield in Fabregas, Flamini and Hleb, as well as all of his back four and the keeper. We drew 1-1 but for the second leg, he only brought back Fabregas and Hleb and his young team were thrashed 5-1 at the Lane.
Well that was a real low as a supporter, particularly when Spurs went on to beat Chelsea in the Final, oddly both sides at full strength, rubbing salt into an already gaping wound.
In the 2008/9 and 2009/10 seasons Wenger again played entire teams of youngsters and in both seasons Arsenal exited early to Burnley and Man City respectively. So I repeat my question to those of you who either think the League Cup unimportant of believe our trophy drought was down to the new wealth of our rivals rather than choice do you still believe that? Do you honestly think that had he played the team in 2008 that were several points clear at the top of the league we would not have beaten Spurs? Had we done so and won the League Cup gaining revenge on Chelsea, with the confidence, momentum and character it gave us would Arsenal have collapsed as spectacularly as they did at St Andrews?
Add this to the same policy to a lesser degree in the FA Cup and I give you a Wenger induced trophy drought and a squad deprived of the opportunity of realistically gaining a winning mentality from 2006 to 2011. We will never know how history might have been different for the post 2004 squad had they won domestic cups in 2006. 2007 or 2008 but our manager never gave us or his players the chance to find out.
Whether you agree with all I say or agree only in part ask yourself honestly if you truly believe we have more momentum and a better mentality than United right now?