I had to do something to take your mind off Costa and Dean. Yes, it is Bridget Bardot before you ask. You’ll continue to let Costa and Dean fester in your minds for a while yet I am sure, even more so when the Football Association charge Arsène for his post-match comments and not Costa. In fact, why not book a doctor’s appointment now just in case; your blood pressure is going to be dangerously high later on.
Let it go, save it until next time they both cross our paths; there’s a football match on Wednesday to look forward to.
Any meeting with Tottenham will always matter to supporters, more so than it does to the players in the context of rivalry. And on the back of consecutive defeats, I’d suggest it is a match that Arsène could do without.
Some believe that we should field a strong line-up for the League Cup tie in the hope that a victory will reignite a season in danger of descending into inconsistency. It’s a high-risk strategy. Defeat with a strong XI can be as damaging as victory is beneficial, particularly if Tottenham field a weakened line-up.
I am firmly in that camp. We have to get back to winning ways with some tricky Premier and Champions League fixtures coming up. Leicester continue to defy gravity although it is worth pointing out that they haven’t played anyone of note yet but United seem to be a different proposition, particularly if the initial reports about Francis Coquelin turn out to be true.
Arsène is caught in that quandary. The League Cup is one of two which Arsenal have as good a chance as any of winning this season but to progress will put pressure on other competitions later on. Does he have the depth in the squad to negotiate the pre-Christmas rounds as well as dealing with other competitions? He ought to, this position is nothing new yet we seem to be preparing for the worst.
Speaking after the weekend’s defeat, Arsène prepared the way for a much-changed XI,
Yes, we try [to put things right] but it’s the League Cup. We play on Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday and we have to see how we recover and how we go from there.
There’s no surprise in his dismissal of the only domestic tournament he has never won. Arsène prefers to ensure a top four finish, and as preferences go, that is understandable with the wealth it brings. Too often in the past, at the time when the League Cup reaches a stage when it becomes winnable, Arsenal have been mired in chases for fourth, making up lost ground and the potential Wembley appearance, along with silverware, is seen as an unwelcome distraction.
But does this match take on a different accent, one that transcends the competition and its relative unimportance to the manager? Wenger made six changes in Zagreb and for the most part, was largely credited with thinking along the same lines as supporters. It didn’t work as those players underperformed and didn’t cope with Olivier Giroud’s dismissal.
The usual policy is to rotate but Wenger is running out of options. Injuries and suspensions are beginning to bite with the latter exacerbating the problems of the former. The lack of investment in the summer is always simmering under the surface and will continue to do so all the while there are issues as a result of it. A fully fit, successful squad was always going to be Arsène’s ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ card in that respect; it seems a long way off at this moment in time.
In times past, Arsenal were synonymous with fostering the fabled ‘siege mentality’. Wenger even benefited when players were harshly treated by officials, opponents and the media, in the early years of his reign. Perhaps that was more down to the players than the manager, maybe it just suited them more. Can you imagine this squad buying into that belief? Would they react in the same way as the 1990/91 squad did to a two-point deduction? Maybe but I’m struggling to forge a mental picture of it.
Consecutive defeats have created an unwelcome backdrop to Wednesday. Even though neither of the line-ups was the same, the perception is that the team is sliding backwards. Certainly not capable of challenging for the title in the way they believed during the summer. On the back of the last transfer window, there’s an element of a rudderless ship about at the moment and for that reason, Arsenal, Arsène, the squad, needs to win. To steady themselves and restore sanity to the proceedings.
It won’t be easy. Surely Mauricio Pochettino will sense a chance to alleviate the pressure building on himself with Tottenham’s mixed start to the season. Draws have cost them more than defeats have hurt Arsenal. And to create doubt in the minds of a rival, to reinforce their run of poor results? Surely, that’s too good an opportunity to resist? You’d have to think that a strong Tottenham XI is going to start the match.
No matter what team he puts out, defeat is going to damage players’ confidence in themselves. Wenger can’t rotate the squad to the extent that any XI doesn’t include significant combinations of players from the previous two matches. Losing in those circumstances has to be entirely negative.
That he has to – or that the perception is that he has to – contemplate that outcome shows how brittle confidence in this squad is.