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Arsenal Fall To City Sucker Punch

Arsenal 0 – 1 Manchester City

0 – 1 Aguero (83)

Beforehand Arsène’s assertion that despite not being able to compete with Manchester City financially, his squad could on the pitch was met with some ridicule. For the best part of ninety minutes last night, his squad players set about proving him right. They were undone by money though; the swiftness of the winning counter-attack and technique displayed is what City paid their inflated transfer fees and salaries for. Even allowing an England international to be involved in the move did not scupper the attack.

Post-match, Arsène was unhappy with the manner of defeat,

I felt we were a bit naive because it was a corner for us and a goal for them. I knew that we were in trouble and I feel we didn’t take enough time to take the corner because Djourou was just going up front and he had to stay at the back on the corner. We didn’t leave him enough time to come back and that’s where we were caught.

He is protecting his players, particularly Coquelin who whether through fatigue or inexperience – or both – failed to track back as vigourously as he should. City have showed exceptional quality on counter-attacks this season, something the players were aware of. They were punished when their diligence was undone.

It was a night though where some of the older heads showed maturity in guiding the younger peers through and where youthful promise blossomed. As much as the attention is focussed on the midfield trio, Koscielny and Squillaci put in solid performances which led by example. For all the criticism of the older Frenchman, nights such as this are where his value in the squad lies.

City had the earliest chance when Johnson highlighted Miquel’s inexperience, cut inside and shot. Arsenal responded and gradually assumed control of the midfield. Chamakh and Coquelin combined to send over a cross for Park. Pantilimon made the save, just as it seemed the ball had beaten him.

From that bright opening, the game became more settled. Arsenal enjoyed possession; City enjoyed frustrating them. Both sides were able to make significant inroads on their right flanks.

For Arsenal, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain lived up to the building hype. Being able, to some extent, to develop out of the spotlight seems to be suiting him and his performance suggests that he might be more used as a substitute in the second half of the season. Certainly his rifled shot that drew a good save from City’s ‘keeper indicated a goalscoring potential that might be useful at the top level.

As it was the interval came and went without further goalmouth incident. That changed early in the second when Dzeko spurned two presentable chances whilst Oxlade-Chamberlain’s duel with Pantilimon was becoming personal as the Romanian punched away another of the youngster’s efforts.

As with Saturday, the introduction of Gervinho sparked renewed life into the Arsenal attack. Chamakh fired wide following his introduction whilst the Ivorian was denied by Toure. 

As the final whistle approached, City struck. The defence was caught out of shape and exploited ruthlessly as the visitors swept up the pitch for Aguero to score. There were mistakes in the speed of taking the corner as Wenger highlighted whilst I thought Coquelin might have done better in pursuit. It is not a finger-pointing exercise though; it was a collective failure rather than singular, perhaps caused by a desire to win inside 90 minutes.

After that, Chamakh had an opportunity which might have been better left to Squillaci. Defeat was harsh on Arsenal but there were enough encouraging signs to be taken rather being a debilitating affair. Frimpong and Coquelin were impressive, as was Benayoun, particularly when he moved centrally. The Ghanian it seems had strong words with Nasri as they left the pitch which suggests that resentments run high still. According to the club’s no punches were thrown although Nasri might have hurt his back when he gestured “Look at my wad!

There are concerns though. Chamakh worked hard all evening and his linkage / hold-up play is excellent but he is not scoring. It is a tough decision for the manager with goals required particularly if van Persie hits a barren spell or is unable to play as often. Can Wenger take the chance on Chamakh. By the same token, if Chamakh doesn’t play, how can he recover his scoring form?

This is part of a wider issue. Goals should not just come from the central striker, everyone needs to chip in with their quota. We have been in this situation before with shot-shy midfielders and attackers. It is part of the group responsibility of the squad system to rectify this. You suspect that their is no issue on the training ground, it is on the pitch that solutions need to be found. If that is by new signings in January, so be it but do not rely on that.

As it is, Wigan offers some immediate redemption to last night’s result. Time to take the lessons forward to there and Greece next week.

’til Tomorrow.

 

Mancini To Devalue Competition By Playing Kids…

Manchester City arrive at The Emirates for the Carling Cup quarter-finals. It is, if you believe the hype, already decided. The petrodollars have created the squad that will end all squads in the English game. Rarely does football live up to the hype.

If they progress, City will be the first team since Middlesbrough in January 2004 to win a League Cup tie at Arsenal. Indeed it has been nine years since Arsenal lost a League Cup tie in November. In view of the teams that Wenger has sometimes fielded, that is a testament to a strength in depth that is all too often dismissed as being non-existent. No, it is not in the same league as City’s – metaphorically speaking before some pedant points out that we are in their league – since we have neither the financial capacity for the fees or wages; neither do they but the Arsenal squad is nowhere near as bad as is often stated. The apparent benchmark for this seems to be what happens when the whole of your strongest first XI is out and meets the best club in the land, who by happy coincidence, happen to be fielding their strongest XI.

And tonight, there must be a winner. It is the eighth meeting between the two teams in this competition. The first a goalless draw at Maine Road was followed by six Arsenal victories, a run interrupted in December 2009 by City’s 3-0 win. Two survivors from that night would expect to play, whilst Alex Song is unlikely to make an appearance. Lukasz Fabianski and Tomas Rosicky have both been the subject of transfer speculation with the Pole wanting first team football and Wolfsburg want to bring the Czech back to the Bundesliga. Both have understandable reasons for wanting to go but then again, the fickle hand of fate could make them regret such a move in January. Arsenal’s injury record suggests either or both may yet get their chance this season.

Like Arsenal, City will make changes. Speculation is rife that Nasri, Clichy and Toure will return to The Emirates. Respect for them is being urged; perhaps abuse is inspirational to them but what of apathy? I don’t care about any of that trio aside from their actions in this or any other 90 minutes against Arsenal for whatever club they play for. Whether they reflect in time that they should not have left the club is irrelevant. They did, they have gone and a collective “Meh” when their names are read out is all that is deserved.

Mancini has been complaining that he may play ‘kids’ this evening as City only played on Sunday; I thought that was the point of the squad system? Gone are the manic days where players were expected to turn out 65 times a season or clubs were expected to play 7 games in 19 days including two cup finals within the space of 4 days. Come back when you really have something to complain about. As it is, with a squad that has cost somewhere close to £500m to buy, do not complain or whinge. If, at the end of this season, you can afford to offload 20 players without blinking an eye, does that not tell you that you have enough players to cope with this situation?

For Arsenal, I would be surprised if more than a couple of players who started against Fulham, do so tonight. Arshavin is promising to play himself back into form which is a problem that Marouane Chamakh might be able to relate to. Both are significantly better than their contributions this season and are in somewhat of a chicken and egg situation; they want to play themselves back into form but cannot get into the team because they are out of form. Matches such as tonight’s in that sense offer the opportunity of redemption; defeat might be for the longer term benefit were those two to recover their ‘mojo’.

Others, such as Benayoun, have the opportunity to show why they were signed. A squad player at Chelsea and Liverpool, he must have signed knowing a similar outcome was likely at Arsenal. That does not mean he is a bad player or waste of space; no club functions without strong back-up. At the other end of the scale, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is learning his trade with opportunities such as this – and probably Olimipiacos – allowing him to do so at what might be a natural pace.

I would expect the line-up to be something like,

Fabianski; Djourou, Squillaci, Koscielny, Yennaris; Coquelin, Frimpong, Benayoun; Chamberlain, Chamakh, Park

The training photos on the official site indicate Gervinho will be in the squad but it seems to me that like Arshavin, he would come from the bench if needed. Bearing in mind that extra time is playable, some may get more than the regulation 65 minutes this evening.

Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.

Park Rides To Arsenal’s Rescue

Carling Cup 4th Round
Arsenal 2 – 1 Bolton Wanderers

0 – 1 Muamba (47)
1 – 1 Arshavin (53)
2 – 1 Park (56)

Two quick-fire goals took Arsenal into the Carling Cup quarter-finals in front of more people than the combined total of the night’s three other ties. It is Arsenal, it must be a crisis if only 56,628 supporters turn up. Never mind that this 93% of The Emirates capacity.

It is a side issue, one that distracts from the win, Arsenal’s eighth in nine games. That, irrespective of the spread throughout different tournaments, is light years away from the received wisdom that Arsenal is a club in trouble. The implosion at the end of last season continued as a poor start to this, was quick to form opinions. Tiresomely, the current run is not as quick to change them.

It is, of course, not as long a run as the downward trend but when does it obtain the necessary stature to reveal that negative spiral is over? Defeat at the weekend against Chelsea is no indicator that there is a poor run still continuing although I have no doubt that it will be perceived as such.

But that is to get ahead of ourselves. Last night is much more of a happier affair to talk of.

During the build-up to this encounter, Arsène proclaimed he had always taken this competition seriously. Nine consecutive quarter-finals offer support to the theory; to question can be perceived as churlish and an opinion saved for another day. As it is, Saturday’s draw will include Arsenal’s name and at the end of the day this is all that matters.

My perception of the match is tainted by my low opinion of Radio 5Live’s commentary team. Oh for the authoratative tones of Peter Jones and Bryon Butler. Google them if you are not old enough to remember. In this era of the cult of personality, the old school of commentating is woefully forgotten.

The first half was even, Bolton fielded a stronger than expected side but Arsenal’s was not the callow XI that is perceived. Park had the opportunity to prove the voluminous criticism of his purchase wrong, finding the linesman’s flag quashing his progress on a number of occasions.

Oxlade-Chamberlain had an early opportunity to enhance his already burgeoning reputation, he did not take it. The chance in front of goal, he is seizing his opportunities at Arsenal which is good to see and of concern in some respects, the weight of expectation must be realistic, not resting heavy on his shoulders. His learning curve is sharp, lessons in final delivery to be learned.

Bolton’s soporific start to proceedings ended when Pratley tested Fabianski in the Arsenal goal. Kakuta subsequently made sure that the hosts knew they were in a contest before Benayoun and Park reminded the visitors that Arsenal were well aware of this.

The second half had barely started when another bite was taken from the hand that used to feed. Patrice Muamba, like Sebastian Larsson before, scored against Arsenal two minutes after the restart, robbing possession before linking with Klasnic to find the roof of the net with a fierce shot.

Any joy or hope for the visitors was short-lived; within ten minutes their lead would be a deficit. Arshavin equalised, seizing the opportunity to run at the Bolton defence as they retreated, his shot finding the bottom corner. It may be an injustice to the Russian but it was a soft goal to concede in both the goalkeeping and central defensive work.

The Arsenal striker was not finished. As the Wanderers defence was forced backwards by his scurrying run, they left Park unattended. The Korean had already curtailed his run once when Arshavin released him on the left edge of the area. The finish was textbook, curled into the side of the net beyond the despairing dive of Bogdan.

The purchase of Park has not been justified, not on the basis of one performance. But the reasons for choosing him are more apparent than before and with Marouane Chamakh struggling for form, having a back-up striker who knows where the net is will do no harm.

Bolton pressed for an equaliser, they found Vermaelen in form and Fabianski proving his place in the squad is justified. Having suffered the misfortune of injury to lose his starting line-up spot, the Pole is seeking to ensure that the manager and team have confidence in him if needed. He pulled off some match-winning saves in the final quarter, a combination of ability and luck that any goalkeeper needs.

The result came at a price. It struck me as ambitious to expect Vermaelen to play the full ninety minutes before the match; his injury has unfortunately proven that to be the case. Wenger hopes that it is not serious, we must to.

It was pleasing for Wenger to be able to make eleven changes from the weekend’s starting line-up and end up with a positive result. The depth that he has in his squad is evident and enough for this competition, en masse. Individually, much of the promise is being slowly turned into reality and that can be no bad thing.

One final observation. Last night’s match was not transmitted anywhere in the UK on a TV. Is it beyond the wit of the Football League and Premier League to negotiate a contract that allows them to put out the games on clubs individual broadcast platforms when television is not showing them?

The quality of the ATVO stream suggests that it is a worthwhile experiment. If the FA, as short-sighted an organisation as you are ever likely to find, can manage to use the internet for an FA Cup tie and an England international and receive credit in the process, surely the clubs can do likewise?

’til Tomorrow.

 

Gervinho & van Persie’s Potent Mix. Oh, And Bolton.

Bolton arrive at The Emirates this evening for a Carling Cup tie that proves that Fifa and Uefa are not the only deliquents when it comes to the fixture list. The impact and influence of television is not limited to these shores; Uefa play Europa League matches on a Thursday because they destroyed their own perfectly brilliant competitions in a rapacious desire to chase revenues. Short term gain merely serves to stave off the inevitable breakaway by the clubs.

Quite why Arsenal must play tonight is beyond reason; little wonder managers have long used ‘alternate’ sides. Wenger has always been criticised for picking such teams and is a little revisionist in the judgement of his performance in the competition. I don’t for one minute doubt that he takes every match seriously but this is a competition that he freely admits to ranking fifth in a four horse race.

It is one that brings bad memories sharply into focus. The defeat at Wembley still rankles as much for on the field matters as it does for the way in which the a high proportion of the Arsenal end deserted the stadium so quickly at the final whistle. Wenger summed it up,

it will hurt me for ever because we never forget disappointments. “That’s part of life at a managerial level, you do not only have successes but disappointments, too.

It is good to know that the ‘managerial level‘ feels the pain as badly as support, despite the accusations to the contrary. Taking defeats to heart has been cited as a reason that the team takes defeats in crucial matches so badly. The end of The Invincibles run caused the team to stutter, an outcome magnified horribly at the end of the last season, one from which we are still recovering.

That was highlighted by Gervinho after the win over Stoke City on Sunday,

We have rediscovered our feeling for our game – the group is starting to gel and each of us are starting to understand our team-mates and find each other on the pitch.

You can have a bad day. That does not make you a bad team. We’ve gone through a bad moment and a team is like a player. Any player can have a bad game. It often happens.

A little too often in the past six to eight months. But the past is the past. Three consecutive wins has changed the mood and certainly more support for the team is becoming apparent. Such is the fickleness of the fan.

Gervinho has been impressive in his nascent Arsenal career. There is a directness to his game that poses more threat to the opposition; he is one of those players that makes you think something will happen. It is this gap that Theo Walcott has to bridge. At the moment, I feel something might happen when he has the ball, a sense of almost but not quite.

It will come, I am sure, and I found reports that the youngster wanted to talk about a new contract reassuring, a sign that the mood within the club is changing to the more positive. There are those who will argue that Walcott should be further ahead than he is but given he is a regular starter for club and country, he must be doing something right. Too often prejudices against a player blind the critic.

Back to Gervinho. He spoke almost gushingly about Robin van Persie and his contribution to the team. Key for me was the mental aspect,

He is good for us, psychologically. He’s among the most experienced players on the pitch and when he enters the game he puts the opposition’s defence under pressure and that helps our game.

He came on and scored two goals [against Stoke]. He’s formidable and the team needs him. You always have to have leaders in the group and he’s one of them, who drags the team forward.

He’s the captain and his role is to galvanise the group and he assumes the responsibility.

Recent Arsenal captains have not been the wisest choice by the manager, Henry and Fabregas both receiving the armband as a sop to keep them happy. That may have been the case with van Persie to some extent but you can see he is more vocal, a national characteristic. It seems that is being taken positively, long may it continue.

His vice-captain, Thomas Vermaelen, is being spoken of in terms of tonight’s team. Given he returned to training this week, it surely too soon to start although  it might be that he makes a twenty minute cameo. Wenger has central defensive options with Sebastian Squillaci returning, that allow him to rest Djourou, Mertesacker and Koscielny ahead of the Chelsea match.

The usual mix of youth and experience will be expected tonight and I suspect the line-up will be along the lines of:

Fabianski; Yennaris, Squillaci, Miquel, Meade; Coquelin, Frimpong, Rosicky; Chamberlain, Park, Benayoun

Park is being written off constantly. Wenger yesterday re-iterated his belief in the player and once more emphasised that his non-appearance so far is purely down to the player settling in. Henry and Pires, the manager noted, took months to settle. Hopefully the change in the atmosphere surrounding the club will help Park to come to terms with a new culture.

A goal or two this evening would be just what Le Professeur ordered.

Lastly, a guest post I have written is to appear on The Arsenal Collective this morning. Click on the link but also check the Memory Bank section for other views.

Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.

Carling Cup Final Preview: A Time For Winners

Hardaker’s Folly*’ is fifty this year, today the 51st final of the League Cup. It is also Arsenal’s first final at the ‘new’ Wembley Stadium. It is always a privilege to be at any final in which Arsenal participate, that this is the ‘debut’ adds a little extra spice to the occasion.

And this has the air of a Débutante’s Ball. This is the Arsenal squad’s Coming of Age, the chance to cross the Rubicon, acknowledged as Winners rather than potentials. Victory today ends the ‘Trophy Drought‘ of five wilderness (© lazyhacksrus plc) years – yes, it is still five years since Arsenal last won a trophy until May, when six will have passed.

In keeping with Arsène’s reign at the club, a victory will have to be achieved with key personnel missing. Despite the inconsistency of the final ball, Theo Walcott will be missed on the right and centrally where he offers another avenue of danger for a lightening break, eleven goals and five assists cannot be taken lightly.

More painfully, Cesc will not lead the team onto – and on – the pitch, injury robbing him of the chance to add to his FA Cup winners medal. There is a certain symmetry in Robin van Persie replacing him as captain, mirroring that afternoon in Cardiff when the Dutchman was the Spaniard’s replacement with five minutes of normal time remaining.

Fàbregas’ absence in the middle of the pitch is the hardest to replace, such is his influence on the side. And his replacement will define Arsenal’s approach to the match, as well as who will come in on the right.

The obvious combination seems to me to be Nasri / Bendtner. The Frenchman has been in imperious form this season, when the ballot papers go out this week to the PFA members for their choice, forget Gareth Bale, Samir Nasri is the only serious candidate for Player of the Year.

Bendtner meanwhile has shown he is capable of producing telling involvement from the right side of the attack, despite his self-professed loathing of that position in the team. Equally, he provides more aerial threat at set-pieces and having exposed Stoke’s supposedly well-organised defence at The Emirates last week, we should perhaps not be too quick to dismiss this option.

Tomáš Rosický could likewise come to the right of midfield, this afternoon I cannot see him dropping into the central role simply because Andrey Arshavin has recovered his best form. Had the Russian still been out of sorts, I suspect that Wenger would have left Nasri on the left. As it is, Arshavin is back towards his best and surely the best option with the current injuries. Bendtner though, I think, will get the nod.

Wenger could go with Diaby or Denilson, moving Nasri to the right but each has drawbacks. Whatever the player may say, Diaby is not match fit. He could provide the physical presence to counter Birmingham but it is not going to be necessary. The size of the Wembley pitch means Arsenal can spread their play to neuter any attempt by their opponents to compact play.

Denilson meanwhile would offer the opportunity for Jack Wilshere to showcase his talents, allowing the England youngster to push forwards more assertively than he perhaps might do with Fàbregas in the team. Wilshere is being identified by all and sundry, including his manager, as the key to this afternoon. The England international has progressed beyond expectations this season and must surely be the Young Player of the Year, if such awards are to be taken seriously.

Birmingham know all about his good and bad points, Fàbregas’ absence means he will take a more dominant role. Without doubt it is the biggest afternoon of his club career and the continued highs have not seen the player overawed by anything thrown at him this season. He has had week’s where his performances have not met with the expectations thrust upon his shoulders yet there has been nothing to suggest in his recent form that a dip with additional responsibility can be envisaged.

The starting line-up I expect Arsène to field is:

Szczesny; Sagna, Koscielny, Djourou, Clichy; Nasri, Song, Wilshere; Bendtner, van Persie, Arshavin

Crucially for Arsenal, this game is being played out in their minds. Birmingham have not beaten Arsenal outside of the second city since October 1957; Arsenal has lost just once in the past nineteen meetings between the two teams. Much talk in the press recently has been of psychological tests used on the younger players.

This is a familiar pressure on the squad in unfamiliar surroundings. This is about taking the tag of overwhelming favourites and not letting it become a burden, complacency robbing play of its usual vibrancy. Bacary Sagna hinted that this barrier will not exist this afternoon, hunger and desire for victory focussing their minds.

A time for winners to emerge, wearing the red and white of Arsenal. Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.

* When Alan Hardaker, then Secretary of the Football League,  first conceived the Football League Cup, he envisaged a structure in the professional game that had five divisions of twenty teams and less fixture congestion. It is a tournament that had it’s heyday for two decades from 1967, the first Wembley final, until the lustre started to wain as the Premier League came to fruition.

Hardaker got it wrong, his baby is now consistently viewed as a cause of fixture congestion and derided by most top clubs as a result. Five divisions of eighteen teams had less chance of success than his original plans  which were vetoed by the club chairmen anyway, but is the only way this competition can be ‘happily’ accommodated into the league season.

Stone Cold Friday: He Who Dares Rodney, He Who Dares.

He was known as “The Raffles of Peckham”. He was a gentleman safe-cracker. He was a conisiour of fine wines, gourmet of foreign quisine, big art lover, snappy dresser, and big-time charmer. Now he’s simply called Darius

It’s often said that one of the worst things that can happen is letting a good crisis go to waste.  The headline writers certainly think we’re in crisis seeing that Theo Walcott and Cesc Fabregas are crocked and won’t make it for the Carling Cup final.  It’s a body blow they say, one that has rocked Arsenal.

One of the best lessons ever unleashed on an unsuspecting crowd was during the semi-final of the 1995 Rugby World cup between the New Zealand All Blacks and England.  It was the misguided focus on a certain Jonah Lomu who uncannily had a Fabregas-esque impact on the All Blacks.  Rory Underwood had his hands full in the first place, but England opted to dedicate another man to police mark Lomu alongside Underwood – and it did the trick.  Pretty much stopped the explosive winger for most part.

What England forgot was that all the other 14 All Blacks players on the pitch were capable of annihilating anyone in the world who dared accept the challenge of the ‘Hakka’.  In truth, they really didn’t need Lomu; he was the classic decoy.  England were humiliated and given a master class in how to play Rugby.

Cesc is very important to Arsenal and a peak at the stats bears this fact.  Without him though, the team must rise to the challenge and complete the job they have been sent to Wembley to do.  Even if there was a small chance of playing him, my take would be that it’s not worth the risk.  A much fitter Cesc is required for the home straight.

The captain can most certainly serve the purpose of being our decoy, one who gives false hope to an unsuspecting enemy lying in wait.  Lest we forget, Samir Nasri might have something to say to those who dare scoff at the suggestion that he has been the best player in England this season.

Robin Van Persie will also want to remind us all why he has been the most lethal striker in the world since the beginning of the year, with an added incentive of being the stand-in captain at a cup final.

While it’s important to get the “haven’t won a trophy in half a decade” monkey off our collective backs; what’s more important for the team and the fans is that this milestone is crossed so as to cement our belief in what this team is capable of.

Not that we’re likely to hear the last of the trophy drought nonsense – Neil Ashton of that blasted red rag has already confirmed live on air that if Arsenal do indeed win the Carling Cup, the narrative will change to “but they haven’t won a major trophy since 2005”.

Make no mistake, Birmingham are not going to roll over, let us tickle them on the belly, pat them on their heads and send them back up the motorway.  Their last trip to a league cup final against Liverpool 10 years ago is something they want to wipe out of the history of the club and Arsenal is fair game to them.

Mike Riley – the cynical and baffling referee chief is already on a mission this season to show us that he has power and is willing to use it.  How else would you explain the sheer impunity of giving Peter Walton the same fixture as he did last season where Walton’s incompetence gave Stoke the licence to ‘get in our face’s and for Shawcross to assault Aaron Ramsey.

Clearly, he knows that Birmingham has a history with Arsenal and goes ahead and hands Mike Dean – the same referee who managed the game which Martin Taylor hacked off Eduardo’s ankle.

The team must focus and put the game way beyond the match officials and way beyond Birmingham City.  It will be good for the world to experience our brand of Wengerball at a cup final but that is not necessary in my view.

The object of the exercise here is to win the game.  It matters not whether it’s a scrappy win; or whether we pass them to death; or whether we wear them down for 75 minutes and then lick them to submission; or whether we smash and grab the game.  The players know that they must deliver.

A lot has been said about the possibility of Arsenal winning a historic quadruple.  Some may think that it’s a task too far, and to them it must be said – “Ye of little faith”.  He who dares wins.

We have to believe that we’re the best and we have to have that confidence.  Sunday is a good start and an opportunity to knock off the list of available trophies this season.  It’s been a long time coming and we have had to be patient.

We have no divine right to win at Wembley – but we have the team, we have the attitude, we have the desire and we have the hunger.  Many have suggested that this season, Wenger has prioritized the league cup and played a really strong team all through the competition.

What most of them fail to recognize is that the vision is coming to fruition, and the strength of the team is a culmination of years of work with our young players who are now mature well beyond their peers.  As the other teams are only now catching up with the concept of using the Carling Cup for developing their squad, they’re clearly only playing catch-up to what Arsenal has been doing for years.

Wenger was derided and fingers were pointed at Arsenal for not taking the Carling Cup seriously – and would you believe it, most clubs are now doing what Arsenal started years ago, and we’re bearing the fruits of this endeavour, long before others will catch up with our visionary development path.

The opportunity to win the first cup for this team is nigh.  And it will be just one of many to come.

’til Tomorrow.

Jack’s Having A Carling Whilst Ramsey’s Loan Is Right Up His Street

A bit later than expected today, problems with broadband and wireless (dis)connections still not resolved so into work we’ve come today just to write this post. The suffering I go through…not as much as Birmingham City will hopefully be put through in the Carling Cup Final.

A bizarre sidetrack were the comments of David Sullivan yesterday who declined attending last night’s match not on the grounds of being hated by Birmingham City but that he could not ‘bear the journey back having lost to that lot‘, a comment designed to endear himself to those ‘Appy ‘Ammers who did make the journey back…

Back to Arsenal, which is where we’re supposed to be. Little Jack Wilshere – backed by Arsène – began the talk of winning trophies again,

We need to bring that back into the football club – this is a big football club and we need trophies. Any trophy is a trophy and if we can win one in February, it will give us confidence for the rest of the season.

It would be massive for the Club – any trophy is a trophy and it has been five years since we won our last one. We know that if we win one, hopefully it’ll come along, and then it’ll open up more for us.

Those feelings echo the view of many supporters. It would be unusual if having won a trophy, it did not come along. The occasion would be rather like a birthday party without the birthday boy or girl in attendance. By making the observation, Wilshere is admitting that this tournament is having a positive impact on the squad.

With the maturity of the younger players, Wenger has been able to select a strong XI for each tie. This is a surprise to media observers, it has not been unusual for them to state that Wenger is taking the Carling Cup more seriously because he is fielding stronger sides. The problem is that Wenger has to field stronger sides because that is the squad at his disposal. It is extremely difficult for him to field a weak side. A disjointed and unbalanced one, yes. Weaker, no.

Yet there is a danger that having beaten Birmingham twice this season, complacency will creep into the squad. The patience shown in Tuesday’s victory may need to be replicated as Birmingham have little inclination in making the game exciting by pushing forwards constantly. They will just be pushing. And stamping. And kicking. As is normal for them.

One player who may turn up at Wembley for a first appearance in the competition is Aaron Ramsey. The Welsh international’s return to Cardiff was a little disappointing as it seemed to me that the cup runs were the ideal platform for him to gain his fitness whilst in an Arsenal shirt.

Ramsey believes that the loan spell might be more beneficial,

If going out on loan again for a month to get a few more games helps me get back into shape quicker and into the Arsenal team then I will do that. I just want to get back to playing regularly and get back into the Arsenal team as quickly as I can.

Had Eduardo been given a loan spell following his injury perhaps things might have turned out differently. Certainly the familiar surroundings of his former club might be helpful, close to family who can encourage him along the way. Returning to Arsenal in February will be good timing with the Champions League and other competitions requiring Arsène to rotate the squad.

It is a long road back for Ramsey and in midfield where tackles fly in, a hard one. Playing in a more physical league such as The Championship will be helpful as much mentally as physically. To return to the level he was showing before Shawcross’ assault, his battle is as much in his mind as with his body. Ramsey will need to prove to himself that he can ride a strong challenge without ill-effect.

’til Tomorrow.

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