The ‘fifth place’ trophy and a breeding ground for new talent
By Mark Danylczuk
“For me, there are five trophies. The first is to win the Premier League, the second is to win the Champions League, third is to qualify for the Champions League, fourth is the FA Cup and the fifth the League Cup.”
With Arsene Wenger’s view as simple as this, it can be clear where the priorities of the Arsenal team lie this season and this quote is certainly a contentious point amongst Gooners. On one side, some agree that Champions League football is vital for the club, both financially and in terms of being able to attract top players, so the Cup can be seen as a ‘fifth trophy’ as Arsene suggests. But like all fans, they would love the feeling of winning a trophy.
Most fans will say that the League Cup (or whatever they call it these days) is pretty meaningless but with Arsenal undergoing their worst start for a season since September 1996, when Wenger began his managerial reign, could this be the season where the club finally takes the competition more seriously?
Noting the teams from Arsenal’s previous two cup ties would suggest not, with only Walcott, Giroud, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Koscielny appearing from the first team regulars. Wenger, however, showed faith in his entire current squad, insisting they are capable of having a good season, and backed the players to prove him right: “I believe this team can deliver and I am optimistic we will have a good season. The players will show I am right.” Can you argue though, against the manager’s squad rotation and breeding of youngsters, with the team having a respectable record of having reached the quarter-final stage of this competition for the last 9 years in a row? Perhaps not.
A League Cup victory would also be important in helping to eradicate the memories of the defeats of both the 2007 and in particular the 2011 League Cup final; a 2-1 loss to Birmingham City in which Obefemi Martins took advantage of a fatal communication breakdown between Gunners goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and defender Laurent Koscielny to strike the late blow that clinched victory for the Blues.
Mind you, if you look at the team Arsenal played in that game, it shows a wealth of experience: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Djourou, Clichy, Rosicky, Nasri, A Song, Wilshere, Arshavin, Van Persie. Perhaps Wenger will succumb and realise that the club only stand three games from winning a trophy and use the experience to hand for the team in the rest of this seasons competitions.
For the League Cup games, Arsenal implement a cheaper ticket pricing structure, ranging from £10 in the lower tier to £20 in the upper tier. Since regular season ticket holders pay almost in the range of £1,000, it is down to other ‘fans’ (often Chinese tourists – sorry to stereotype, and football purists, seeking to watch the Wenger passing philosophy at first hand) to make up the numbers. Does it really feel serious when the majority of fans are taking pictures of each other at the stadium and the action, rather than paying any attention to it? Having attended some of Arsenal’s cup games in previous years being a fellow North Londoner, the atmosphere when attending these games does often seem subdued than when I have seen League matches and they do feel more like friendlies.
Having not won any silverware for a long eight years and counting, and against the restless nature of the often-forgiving fans for seeing 15 consecutive seasons of Champions League football, the time seems right for Arsenal to have a real go at this competition and compete with the strongest available team. With Wenger at arguably the most difficult period of his tenure, winning the League Cup would surely ensure another season or two at the helm.
Arsenal last won the League Cup in 1993 with a 2-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday. Will they finally seize arguably their best chance of winning a trophy and respect the competition enough to put out a team capable of achieving this? Or will it be the same old Arsenal, where the competition is used as chance for squad rotation, and giving the fringe players an opportunity, resulting in a likely defeat against more experienced opposition? Only time will tell, starting on Tuesday, if the 20th anniversary since that last Cup victory is to ultimately prove to a significant one.