Carabao Cup Final Preview: Underdogs? That’ll Do Nicely, Sir

It’s been seven years since we fell flat our faces against Birmingham City and a return to Wembley in the League Cup final is long overdue. And a surprise; we’ve never taken the competition seriously in the twenty-odd years of Wenger’s reign and hardly blazed a trail in this year’s run to the final.

The struggles to get past lower league opposition meant each round was approached with trepidation. Would this be the home defeat which saw us potless in domestic football? Yet the defeats never came; we came, we saw, we conquered.

And then we faced Chelsea. Surely, this was the one where we were to be beaten?

No, not it wasn’t. A good result in the first leg was us still being in the tie. We did better than that, we were marginally in control of the tie. One goal would be all we needed.

Despite all our efforts to the contrary in the first 20 minutes of the second leg, we were resilient and clung on. Then took control, continuing our jinx over Conte’s men.

Now we’re here; Wembley. With the chance to win another trophy on Tottenham’s home ground. You can’t knock that, can you? I’m not knocking it; I am, however, genuinely surprised we made it this far.

And now that we have, it feels familiar.

The runaway leaders of the league, the best team in the country. Almost invincible. They don’t have an Ian Rush-like record to fall back on, but City do have the winning habit. And winning well. I find the churlishness, dismissing them as a chequebook team, is a defence mechanism for our own deficiencies. These are expensively assembled players who understand and buy into Pep Guardiola’s philosophy. Who, like Bayern and Barcelona before them, make the game look easy.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Stars

So we’re the underdogs. We were in the semi-final, we were in the final last year. We were in ’87. Reality check: when we’re favourites, we rarely perform well.

The question is whether Arsène can drag the performance out of the players. It seemed unlikely last April when we went into the semi-final in form which was as bad/unpredictable (*delete as appropriate). We tinkered with the formation the game before and at the Riverside, looked uncomfortable.

Yet at Wembley, we performed; thoroughly deserved victory in the end. Can we repeat that? When the chips are down, we seem capable of dredging up an unexpected performance and because City play football, the opportunity for that performance to surface is always there.

The question is whether the players believe in themselves enough to win. Forget Thursday night, surely it’s been dismissed from their minds. The XI today will be greatly changed and more accustomed to playing together.

Our success, I think, depends on which formation Arsène goes with. In the big away matches, it’s only Chelsea he has the ‘number’ of. We’ve lost the rest; been outwitted, which is the hardest aspect of it all. Yes, Wenger has contributed massively to that, keeping Lacazette on the bench is a major mistake repeated on more than one occasion.

No such mistakes this afternoon, please. Aubameyang leads the line and to repeat the success of last year, a back five. We need to cope with City’s attack but give ourselves a platform to break. Wenger doesn’t like it as a formation, but we need Koscielny, Mustafi and Monreal holding together in the middle; we’re too vulnerable with a back four.

Xhaka and Elneny in the middle will see their ponderous movement play into City’s hands; we can’t afford to hamstring ourselves before kick-off.

Rub-a-Dub-Tub, Three Men in a…backline

And talking of hamstrings, it will be a surprise if Aaron Ramsey isn’t in the starting XI. Wenger seemed optimistic at his presser or as much as he could be. However, I’d be surprised if the talismanic element of the selection doesn’t come into play.

Undefeated at Wembley, scorer of the winning goal in two finals; it’s the stuff of dreams and a small psychological boost for the squad. Small, I said; if we’re pinning all our hopes on Aaron being the bogeyman, we’re in real trouble.

This is a cup final and on such things do mindsets rest.

Anyway, were it down to me, the line-up today would be:

Ospina; Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Bellerin, Wilshere, Xhaka, Kolasinac; Ramsey (Iwobi), Aubameyang, Özil

But I’d guess Arsène will go with

Ospina; Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Elneny, Xhaka; Ramsey (Iwobi), Wilshere, Özil; Aubameyang

Whichever one we go with, we’ve got to be careful that we don’t repeat Tottenham, where Aubameyang became too isolated from the rest of the XI. It’s why I think Wenger will move heaven and earth to get Ramsey fit.

It’s the final, we’ve got to have pride in ourselves, in our performance. We did 31 years ago in a similar situation, where nobody gave us a cat in hell’s chance. Seek inspiration from the famous victories before and since; believe in the impossible and we might just be alright.

Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.

’til Tomorrow.

237 thoughts on “Carabao Cup Final Preview: Underdogs? That’ll Do Nicely, Sir

  1. “So what”, says Nicky.

    Well, why bother following sport at all then. Just assume that the side above another will win every game.

    Troll.

  2. Following on Gary Nevilles disgrace comment Craig Burley called us “Guff” and had to explain it to the espn audience.

    LMFAO “Guff” wasn’t the word I was using at the time!

    Neville also said in a round about way “that we we were always poor at defending but we once had the ability to score goals with sublime midfield passing. That was a few years ago… unfortunately not now…”

    I think this is the first time in the history of punditry where commentators and presenters have literatly said that a team are utter crap and are a disgrace to the crest that they wear? Feck me, Kronke must watch the same stations we do? Surely there must be something saying to him if he don’t do something soon then his franchise will become a laughing stock and that nobody will put any sensible money into the coffers which will feck up his portfolio?

    I can’t understand why we look so unintrested.. feck me if a cup final can not motivate the players then it might explain why we are utter shite in the league.

    Well if this is what we are gonna be served until someone has the balls to get rid of that old kant AW then I for one won’t be too bothered about the club or the results as it has now become “Water off a ducks back” to me.

    Jeez even the Milan president has apologised for knocking us out of the UEFA cup without a ball being kicked!?

    Oh, what an embarrassment this once great club has become?

    It’s fucking heartbreaking😭😢

  3. Funny how AW hasn’t said anything post match as of yet?

    With any luck he is prearing his time to move on speech or ivan and Josh are giving him an absolute bollocking 😠

  4. The worse thing is Wenger has had a clear out and we’re worse than ever. The more he spends now and the more he clears out the worse things are getting. Only one option left.

  5. Nickerless Bender,

    Wenger said that we controlled the first half am=nd he claimed that the second goal shouldn’t have stood because of an offside. I think he was talking about Sane, who was clearly in an offside position, but never interfered with play and certainly wasn’t putting the keeper off. Clutching at straws when he should be admitting that he got it horribly wrong.

    It’s never your fault, it’s never your fault, Arsene Wenger, it’s never your fault.

  6. Nickerless Bender,

    Heard him on the radio say that we controlled the first half and should have scored early on. Admitted that our defending was poor for the first but claimed offside for the second. Did not admit at any point that we were crap and were lucky it was only 3-0. Didn’t (as usual) take any responsibility personally either.

  7. Here are some quotes (the usual BS if I’m honest) from AW:

    Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger speaking to Sky Sports: “I felt the game, we had the first good chance, a very easy one that we missed.

    After that we made a big mistake for their first goal. But we controlled them pretty well in the first half, but they came out in the second half, and we were unlucky because the second goal was offside. But congratulations to Man City, they deserve the win.

    “You have to accept being criticized when you lose games. But I believe we have to recover quickly. We got to the final, we lost, so now we have to focus on the next Premier League game.”

    More from Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger: “When you lose 3-0 of course you have to look at defending better, but I still feel like for large periods we defended well, but we lost concentration sometimes and against good teams you pay for it.

    “It’s not the application that was missed it was the concentration at key periods that was missed. The second goal was a big goal in this game and for me, it was 100 per cent offside.

    “We analyse all the games in a very mathematical way, we didn’t give too many chances away, but we gave away easy chances, and didn’t create enough for ourselves.”

  8. Won’t criticize defence and claims that the goals were down to lapses in concentration. Says we controlled the first half. Thinks the second goal was the turning point, as it was 100% offside. Wanted to make a change just before the third goal (like that would have made a difference). Happy to dig out the forwards though, said we missed a really easy chance early on and says we didn’t create enough chances.

  9. It’s gone way past short term issues now.

    We’re almost in the upside down world compared to clubs like City , Pool & even the Spuds who play fast , entertaining , winning football.

    Our team is full of average , overpaid poseurs with zero respect for the badge or the fans who pay to watch them.

    Time for change is long overdue. It has to start with Wenger …..then Stan.

  10. What Paulie said.

    Who cares what Arsène says these days. Always the same old rubbish anyway, with nary a hint of responsibility for what we’ve become. Wake me up when he’s gone.

  11. Since AW is so keen to move on and look ahead to our next league match perhaps someone should point out that if we lose City will be thirty points ahead of us after 28 games – surely a record at this stage of the season for us in modern times. Given that there will only be ten games left to play that would mean one more point for City would mean we could not mathematically win the title. At least we clung on in there until March….

  12. Wavey:
    consolsbob,

    No worries, Wavey. No reason why you would not take him at face value. I have had his number for a long time.

    As you say. Wum.
    Sucked in Bob. Pretty sure that I can hear that noise the light sabers make on Star Wars.

    WUM, WUM, WUM.

  13. andy1886,

    It’s the last quote that is so disturbing. Here are some numbers for him to analyse – 5 shots, 2 on target. If he is so keen to mathematically analyse our matches why hasn’t he worked out that we actually aren’t shooting much at all and even when we do for there are very few on target.

  14. Wavey,

    He could have summarised it far more succinctly by just saying that we were shit at defending and shit at attacking. Not that we were much better in the middle of the park either. Just shit then.

  15. andy1886,

    Without wanting to get too vulgar, there are different shades of shit.

    Today we were the type that’s taken days to get out & just won’t flush away , not matter how hard you try.

  16. Hadn’t realised that Wenger had claimed another record, Arsenal’s biggest loss in a cup final. Good to see he is still breaking new ground at Arsenal after all these years. It definitely looking like he will have broken the record for the biggest points gap between us and the Champions since he took over.

    I heard some guy on 606 come out with some nonsense about the money City spend meaning we were never going to beat them (a bit like the rubbish a certain wum came out with earlier). Wrighty shut him down by pointing out that Wigan had knocked them out of the FA Cup just a few days before.

  17. We have no width in the side, there is more width on a narrow boat. Wenger has replaced there players accustomed to the prem and who score goals with two more center midgets. We have a squad of center midgets. Its beyond a joke. I really have no idea what Wenger us up to.

  18. Did not want to comment before I watched the game. Got in trouble last time for that. I recorded the game and just watched it although I could not help peaking at my phone on the lifts so I knew the score.

    I thought we were decent in the first half but the talent gap and the difference in the energy level really caught up with us in the second half. Man City simply better players and they are much better managed. Many still believe we have an very talented squad and its the only the manager holding them back. Certainly the manager is the #1 problem and nothing is going to change as long as Arsene is in charge. However, Arsene can’t kick the football and its pretty clear that in 2018 our best players are not really very close to theirs in terms of ability to influence the game. Add to that the fact that we have a terribly unbalanced squad which is to use Dukey’s term “a squad of central midgets”. Our “central midgets” don’t score and they don’t defend very well and its not a secret why we are almost 30 points behind them in the league table.

  19. The longer Arsene stays the more and more stale this whole thing becomes. It really started to go downhill with the complete meltdown after losing the League cup to final against Birmingham in 2010/11. The FA cups have papered over the cracks and we had a dead cat bounce in the first part of the 13/14 when Ramsey had that amazing season but its slowly grown more stale with time.

  20. I obviously have a bit of predetermine bias in one direction but I am the only one who thinks that our $18M/year worlds best #10 has mostly drifted back into invisibility since signing the gigantic contract? Not many sightings in the game against Spurs or today.

  21. I was reading about the players who have recently left Arsenal. There was a lot of disagreement about Perez and for those of you who were big fans the guy at 7Am kickoff who spends his time following stuff like this thinks he will be back with us next year. I copied and pasted the story below.

    “Perez – I have rarely seen a player of such mediocre talent engender so much respect and love from the Arsenal faithful as Lucas Perez but apparently he’s not getting quite the same love from Deportivo. Their supporters painted hate graffiti on his house, calling him a mercenary and telling him to get out of the club. One small problem, it wasn’t his house anymore. Anyway, he’s scored 4 goals and provided 3 assists for them but he hasn’t scored since November. It’s not like he’s getting a lot of shots though, just 11 in the last 12 matches. I bet he’ll be back at Arsenal this summer.”

    I remember last year the story was that Deportivo fans loved him and the club desperately wanted him back and liked him so much they wanted to move him to the club’s front office after his career. Sounds like most of that was misinformation

  22. Morning,

    For some reason I decided to put myself through the torture of watching the highlights on Arsenal.com this morning. I had to look at that second goal again to see what Wenger was on about. He actually has a point and it was poor officiating to be fair. Sane is offside for all of the build up to the goal. When the ball comes in from the left side of the area he is blocking Ospina’s view and he walks across he front of him right until the ball is played through to Kompany. At the speed it all happened there was no way that Ospina could have seen the ball until the last second. As it was a goal wouldn’t the VAR have reviewed it as a matter of course? In replay you can see that’s a clear offside and he was blocking the keeper’s view, so I can’t see how the goal was given.

    Having said all that, I don’t think it would have made much difference to the result and we would likely have conceded further goals any way. City had their tails up at that point and were determined to score the killer goals to put the game to bed.

    I was listening to Wrighty on 606 last night and one of the Arsenal fans calling in asked why Bouldy wasn’t able to coach a defence, given his playing career as a top defender. Wrighty made it clear that Bould, Adams and Keown told the team how the defence would be set up and what the roles of the players were. He said there was no way that Bouldy could have any input on defensive training in the current set up with his knowledge. Given that we don’t have any specialist coaches, barring the three nobodies looking after the goalies, who does work on defence then? If Wenger just assumes that the current defence handles it themselves in the same way Adams and the rest did, we haven’t got a hope in hell of keeping clean sheets. Bouldy’s generation were led by a manager who built his teams on the defence, they were drilled on the training pitch constantly.None of the current defence, barring maybe Per, have anything like the knowledge or experience to do the same job.

  23. Wavey,

    A lot of us have been saying this for years – Wenger has never been able to coach a defence, he relied on experienced pros to do it for him when we were winning and challenging for titles. Since they left we haven’t been even close. Based on what we are seeing it’s hard to see what coaching if any has been given anywhere in the side which begs the question if Wenger works so damn hard as is claimed just what is it that he is doing day to day? For me he’s that guy (or girl) at work that is always rushing around with a piece of paper in hand looking busy but is in fact doing absolutely nothing. Time to give him his P45.

  24. andy1886,

    We’ve both been saying the same thing for some time now. Wrighty’s comments just provide further evidence that the perception and the reality of Wenger’s skills as a coach are poles apart. You hear so many stories about young players wanting to come to Arsenal because of Wenger (there was another one just recently), but I can think of very few players who have started as relative unknowns and gone on to be successful. He was clearly good at spotting talent back in the day as players like Vieira and Fabregas demonstrate, but that’s a game that every club can play nowadays and others can both wages and success.

  25. Around the fifty minute mark I looked at the list of possible substitutes and realised that the game was up.

    Who, out of Mertesacker, Maitland-Niles, Elneny, Welbeck and Iwobi (Kolasinac was already on) were likely to come on and inspire a win, or even score a goal.

  26. Even the officials are trolling Wenger now:

    Wenger also discussed a conversation he had with the fourth official as full-time approached.

    “The referee doesn’t give the injury time,” said the Frenchman.

    “When I said ‘why don’t you give more time?’ he [fourth official Graham Scott] asked me ‘why do I want more time?’.

    “I said ‘it’s not down to you to judge how much time’.”

    Ouch.

  27. It’s fitting that Bill mentioned the Brum game because that’s when I first thought that the problem was the manager. If he couldn’t prepare an Arsenal team to beat Brum in a final then we had serious problems. What really, really hurts is that was 7 years ago! 7 years wasted on the indulging of one old man who has the temerity to say everything he does is for the best of the club. Imagine what we could have achieved if say, Pep came to Arsenal all those years ago?

    Yesterday’s result was much as expected although I would have thought that we would have at least pretended to care. Its clear that at least some of the team are not listening to him at all. Very few of us on here do, so why would they?

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