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The League Cup – Love it or Leave it, Arsenal are In it to Win it

Gunners celebrate

League Cup..
Hypocrisy or not??

Well, we’re in the League Cup final, vs. City no less. I genuinely believe we can win this, since we can beat anybody on our day. Last season’s FA Cup win proved this in fine style.

Nonetheless, despite us being the better team over two legs vs. Chelsea, should we beat City to win it, is it hypocrisy?

Now, there are many fans who still value the League Cup. However, there are many still (myself included) who see it as a lesser competition vis a vis the FA Cup, and certainly the Premier League and Champions League.

Is this a generational thing? Possibly. Due to the growth of the Champions League, the League Cup has lost its shine. Though if we win it, I will be happy, despite it being not a very prestigious trophy by more recent counts. This piece, I guess, is just quelling an internal conflict I’m feeling. Would I, or others, be hypocrites if we celebrated winning the League Cup?

I say yes, I would be. And to be frank, I don’t care.

Here are some reasons why this so:

Our own history
We’ve won the trophy twice before, though we should see it in a better light, given its importance in launching the Graham era, and possibly Anfield ’89 and the 1991 title.

For most of the 1980s, we were behind Liverpool by some margin. Tottenham didn’t necessarily have better players, but certainly were winning more in the early 80s. Everton was a top team, whilst Man United under Sir Alex were stuttering somewhat though achieved cup success under Ron Atkinson.

1987 League Cup Winners [Image credit: Bob Thomas/Getty]

1987 League Cup Winners [Image credit: Bob Thomas/Getty]

In 1987, we were doing well enough in the league, given the team we had. And we had some very top players in many positions, including Nicholas, Sansom, a young Tony Adams and Rocastle, plus Lukic, O’Leary, and seasoned pros such as Viv Anderson. Sansom alone got 86 England caps, and was for years the lock-in England left-back. O’Leary to date is our record appearance holder, so it was not a team of slouches.

Nonetheless, Liverpool was a different animal. With Nicol, Hansen, Rush, Beardsley, an occasional Dalglish as player-manager, McMahon, and Molby, they were the team to beat. What is more is that they had never lost when Ian Rush scored a goal.

Despite Rush scoring, we won, and gained what would be the first of six trophies under George Graham.

Arsenal had been average under the late Don Howe, and had stumbled somewhat in the latter Terry Neill days. This is what the club needed to make it believe again, and cemented the internal team changes that Graham implemented.

So this 1987 Cup win, in a competition some now deride, arguably set in train the glories of 1989, 1991, and even the cups of the early/mid 1990s.

Do we hold the right to deride it, despite a vastly different and then unimaginable contemporary football climate? Possibly not. It’s evident that the team, manager, and club overall, gained much confidence from this win. It would be akin to a team of good players, which had floundered for a years, defeating City in the final today.
We’ll never know what would have happened had we not won back then. But it definitely (to use a recent infamous phrase) was catalyst for change in our club.

We’ve contributed to making the League Cup less valued

This may be controversial to cite, but despite Wenger’s achievements here for us, he did pioneer in using it for kids and thus aid in the competition’s devaluing. This was apparent since he took over, since we reached and lost (ironic, given recent events) a semi to Chelsea utilising Stephen Hughes, Matthew Upson, and other then young talent.

Nkeitah and Willock - two of the many youngsters Wenger has ‘blooded’ in the League Cup

Nkeitah and Willock – two of the many youngsters Wenger has ‘blooded’ in the League Cup

This continued, and encompassed names both noted and less so like Cesc, Hoyte, Vela, Denilson, Bendtner, and more contemporaneously Nketiah and Willock.

This is a trend that others have followed, with it being the norm to field weaker than normal teams. This is in part due to Champions League pressures, or to conserve big names for big league games to follow. Nonetheless, Wenger and Arsenal by extension should field some of the blame for the competition’s downgrade. It’s akin to the FA Cup, as the reasons for its negative billing these days are varied and widespread. However, just as with United influencing the FA to move the 99/00 3rd round to December because of their Club World Cup appearances, we’ve helped trigger the League Cup’s decline.

So we are deriding a competition which really we’ve helped downgrade? Arsenal football club is often a pioneer on and off the pitch, and this is part of this continued legacy.

Tottenham

Yes, that lot.

The league cup is the only trophy that lot have won since 1991, and their Geordie Boy’s freekick against us to help them win the FA Cup. That’s a bit harsh, since Gazza was a top player, but then some (nay many) of us mock Spurs for only winning this competition (which Graham helped them to get no less…) in 27 years.

Gazza

Gazza

However, I don’t like giving them lot sticks to beat us with. Should we win it and celebrate, we are courting a trophy we scathe them for winning and enjoying. Yes, they’re not at our level as a club, but then we should be the ones mocking them more than them mocking us. We don’t need to grant them ammunition, though I suspect whatever happens (even if they finish above us again) we may win something whilst they may not. I cannot see them winning the FA Cup, nor certainly the Champions League. Real Madrid this season is very weak, and they would lose to a primed Barca.

Too hard on it?

So then, I’m pleased that we beat Chelsea, and confident we can defeat City.

Though I do acknowledge the place that the League Cup has in our history, and arguably in shaping modern Arsenal. Whilst Wenger has attained new heights, he has built on various ways on Graham’s foundation. And the Graham years were kickstarted via a League Cup win, no less.

Maybe we do treat the competition harshly, and have allowed the zeitgeist of modern football to cloud our views. Yes, times change as well as our perceptions. Back then, most people cared more about the England national team than now. International friendlies were bigger, and there was no need for the UEFA Nations League. Nonetheless, there is a potential conflict here, and to see Wenger (despite my views on his continued tenure) win another trophy would be sweet.

Arsenal trophy room

The biggest reason for me though is that a club exists to gain success. Should we win it, then we’d have 31 major trophies to our name, bettered still only by Man United and Liverpool. Chelsea would still be a little way behind, whilst our good friends in the Borough of Haringey would be further back still with 17 trophies. It may not be the success we crave, but achievement is what we’re about as a club, and we cannot discount achievements when they come.

Let’s smash Pep, and win another trophy at Spurs’ home ground.

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