Being an Arsenal fan, I’m getting used to the same old routine year after year. An early season slip up followed by a monumental run up until Christmas before a winless run for our injury-hit squad in January and February and our quest for the league is over by March. We finish second in our Champions League group meaning we draw Barcelona in the last 16 and get made to look like fools by the likes of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, and, barring the odd FA Cup win here and there, we decide to play the under 16s in the cup competitions against teams who give a damn, and end up being red-faced once again.
Alright, it’s not that bad, and this season, as it stands, is looking a little bit different for those, like myself, who cheer on the red half of North London. The Gunners are winning matches that they would have lost or drawn three or four years ago, for example a 3-0 drubbing of Chelsea at home, last gasp wins against Southampton and Burnley and a very fortunate point at Paris St. Germain. It’s not been all rosy; there have been blips. While the defeat to Liverpool at the start of the season was with a very makeshift squad (particularly the defence), draws at home to Middlesbrough and Spurs do prove that there is improvement needed from the Gunners. While the main aim for Arsenal is always success in the Premier League and the Champions League, the Gunners find themselves in the quarterfinals of the EFL Cup, a trophy that not even Arsene Wenger has won in his long tenure in North London. Known as the ‘Mickey Mouse Cup’ by some football fans, this trophy is rarely high on the agenda of the big clubs, with most tending to rest key players in this competition and give a run around to their more promising youngsters. However, this year, an argument can be made that this trophy is more important than ever before for Arsenal; here are my reasons for this:
The Catalyst One Cup?
We are already heading towards the latter stages of the EFL Cup, with the next round taking place at the end of November. This, and a two-legged semi final in January is all that separates Arsenal from a place in the final at Wembley, which takes place at the end of February. It seems an odd time of the year to put a major competition but for teams who aim to win the title, this could prove to be a catalyst for teams aiming to win the even bigger competitions, which are all decided in May. For example, Manchester City and Chelsea both won the then-called Capital One Cup in 2014 and 2015 and then went on to win the Premier League a few months later. Is this a coincidence, or does it prove that victory in this competition can provide a boost towards a team’s title challenge? As previously mentioned, us Arsenal fans are sick and tired of seeing the same series of events, year after year, so maybe doing something different would cause different events. The Gunners have come close to winning this competition before, most recently in 2011, when the success of reaching the final against Birmingham City was also matched by success in other competitions. Before the final in February, Arsenal were top of the Premier League, into the quarterfinals of the FA Cup and had famously beaten Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona 2-1 at the Emirates. However, Obafemi Martins’ late goal consigned Arsenal to defeat in that game and as a result of finishing only runners up in the cup, Arsenal were knocked out of the FA Cup and the Champions League a few weeks later, and ended up finishing fourth in the Premier League. Therefore, there is evidence to prove that success – or failure – in this competition can set the tone for the rest of the season, and if Arsenal can end up winning the cup at the end of February, who knows what they could achieve this season?
As already discussed, Arsenal tend to crumble in the knockout stages of the Champions League, mainly due to the fact that they finish second in the group stages, meaning they face a more difficult opponent in the last 16. In recent years, Arsenal have always been drawn against Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but even when they have faced weaker opponents like Monaco in 2015, the Gunners don’t know how to manage a two legged tie. Fortunately for them, they could get experience of two legged matches in the EFL Cup, with the semi finals taking place before the Champions League knockout stages, if, of course, they beat Southampton in the quarterfinals. Whether or not Arsenal win that semifinal or not, the current group of players will have a better understanding of how to win a tie over 180 minutes and can take that experience into the Champions League, arguably the most lucrative club competition in the world, once again proving that the EFL Cup has a huge importance on Arsenal’s season, and their quest of wanting to go on and win bigger trophies.
Same again for the FA Cup?
So far in the competition, Arsene Wenger has resisted to use his big game players in the opening two rounds, with most of the players coming from the youth academy. Although they have only faced Championship opposition so far in the form of Reading and Nottingham Forest, young prospects such as Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Emiliano Martinez have been very promising, while the first team players who struggle to get minutes in the Premier League such as Gabriel, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lucas Perez have all featured heavily. If Arsenal are successful at Wembley come the end of February, Wenger may be tempted to use a similar, if not the same side in the FA Cup, which commences in the New Year, to give the more regular starters such as Mesut Ozil, Alexis and Laurent Koscielny some rest while they try and be successful in the Premier League and the Champions League. For the first time in a long time, Arsenal have a lot of depth in their squad, and some could argue they have the best squad in terms of numbers in the Premier League, so Wenger should use this to his advantage if he wants Arsenal to fight on all fronts this season.
What do you think? Is the EFL Cup that important? Or do Arsenal need to do something else to have success this season? Let us know what you think.