Chelsea arrive at The Emirates this evening for a match which Arsène probably ranks marginally higher on his To Do list than refilling his stapler. The club’s continued pricing structure for these matches indicates that there is not going to be a change in the policy of heavy squad rotation any time soon. The depth of the squad will be tested this evening with injuries and suspension weaving their path. In particular midfield selection will be tested in the absence of both the injured Mathieu Flamini and the suspended Mikel Arteta. The Spaniard is free to play against Liverpool on Saturday following the FAs decision to ban him for a single game.
Whilst the media look back and focus on losing finals, I wonder if Arsène took pride from that and instead reserving his hurt for the semi-final defeat in 1997-98 which, as the season unfolded, denied Arsenal the first domestic treble in the history of English football. The 2 – 1 win in the first leg was the last time that the club tasted victory over Chelsea in this competition. Since then three matches have seen four defeats, scoring just three goals and conceding ten; not a pleasant record.
With managerial feuds buried, inevitably the focus on the football turned to monetary matters. The fixture offers an interesting insight into how football has changed in the last twelve months or so. Arsenal have begun to realise their commercial potential after the expiry of the deals which funded the construction of the stadium. Arsène’s budgetary constraints have moved to a higher level whilst Chelsea are not quite poverty-stricken but certainly have reined themselves in to begin the path to FFP compliance. It is all relative and despite Mourinho’s childish threats, Chelsea are going to field a weakened side featuring the likes of Mata, Luiz, Essien and Ba. In times past, Arsenal would have looked on in envy – bemusement more befitting of Mata’s omission from their starting line-up – with a raft of promising youngsters taking to the pitch. For the most part, they did the club proud, carving victories around the land as well as succumbing to the occasional upset. It was the prospect of them having to fill vacancies in the bigger competitions which sat uneasily, thrust into the limelight before they were ready; some of them would never be ready, playing in the Premier or Champions Leagues before being moved on to pastures new.
Contrast then and now for Arsenal. The only ‘reserve’ Arsenal have who falls short of his comparable number at Chelsea is Bendtner; Arsène rated – perhaps still does – Ba more highly, being prepared to sign him. The domino effect of Mourinho’s games is seen with the Dane taking the opportunity to put himself in the shop window with solid performances from the bench albeit with a questionable hairstyle. The likes of Vermaelen, Rosicky and Jenkinson are comparable to any that will take the pitch in blue tonight. The outcome will depend more on integration of younger players into the XI. One of those, Serge Gnabry, has been rewarded with a new long-term contract. The German youngster has taken full advantage of injuries to others and pushed himself into the first team, not looking out of place in his appearances in any of the competitions thus far. Tomas Rosicky was effusive in his praise and encouragement,
I think he has a manager here who will develop him and who has a history of developing young players. Nothing better could happen to him than being offered a new contract here.
He is a very talented boy; 18 years old and he still has plenty of things to learn and he will find no better place to learn than here. I think it works very well for both sides that he stays here. He’s got a great environment for his growth and the potential and talent is there, so let’s see how he will develop.
Arguably, it is the right time for a young player to break into the first team. The pressure of yesteryear is less intense as the club invests in experience and brings them through to realise their full potential. Nights such as this remain their best opportunity to further their cause and inevitably there will be more failures than successes, as there always has been. The balance for the club is to find room to promote younger players, to keep themselves as an attractive option when it comes to signing talented youth, as well as signing proven players in search of silverware. The two are not mutually exclusive either, the latter enhances the former and vice versa as youth enriches glory.
Tonight’s line-up is subject to speculation, Emmanuel Frimpong used social media to open his mouth purely to change his feet but is apparently not featuring tonight. It leaves a line-up likely to be very similar to that which defeated West Bromwich Albion in the previous round:
Fabianski; Jenkinson, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Monreal; Hayden, Rosicky, Eisfeld; Gnabry, Bendtner, Miyachi
The existence of the League Cup is derided and the financial dominance of the Premier and Champions Leagues reinforces that. It would however be a trophy to win and easing the mental barriers to be overcome. Yes, I am aware that the goalposts will shift, x years without a trophy will be shifted to x years since they won the title as the narratives change to continue pressure on the players, manager and the club in general. But that is the nature of professional football at Arsenal’s level, that is the nature of the beast. Even in the fallow years of the 70s and 80s, the pressure was the same, the desire to be challenging no different. The globalisation of football makes it seem as if it is a new theme; it isn’t it was always there.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.