It’s Sunday, it’s the EFL Cup final and we don’t have a game because of it. Liverpool next weekend, followed by Bayern Munich and apparently, both are “crunch” games. No, me neither.
Bayern is over, done and dusted. We aren’t even playing for pride, that was stripped bare in Munich, along with all dignity. The Premier League likewise; it’s long been over, the top four is all which is left. That’s a financial prize, nothing more, nothing less. Playing in the Champions League isn’t about football; it’s about money. That is all it can be for clubs who can’t win and show no sign of improving their performance in the competition.
The question which I’m wrestling with is whether Arsenal would benefit from a season out of the Champions League in a footballing sense, or would Arsène – and I’m assuming he renews for the sake of this piece – treat it as nothing more than an inconvenience as he puts all of his eggs into a top four basket.
Hold on, the doom-mongers cry, fail to make the Champions League and we’ll lose our best players! No-one will sign for us! I thought they signed because Arsène is the manager, or at least that’s what you always tell me. As for losing our best players, there’s no evidence to suggest we’ll keep them, even with Champions League football.
Neither claim stands up to scrutiny.
Dynasty? Who’s His Joan Collins
According to reports this morning, Mourinho wants to build his “Manchester United dynasty” on the back of the League Cup, following it up with the Europa League. Never have I wanted Southampton to win more. And FC Rostov, for that matter.
But as a philosophy, it’s nothing new. He used it as Chelsea, winning habits were maintained with the EFL Cup even though I suspect he genuinely views it with the same contempt as Arsène.
Arsenal don’t take it that seriously. Whether Arsène should is debatable. The club has a chequered history with the League Cup. In 1968 and 1969, we lost to Leeds and Swindon but Bertie Mee found he had a side hungry for success out of it. Eighteen years – 18, it’s a very Arsenal number – later Charlie Nicholas scored, you know the rest.
A year later, Luton provided what we thought would be our nadir. Self-inflicted, the defeat chafed with Nigel Winterburn’s awful penalty miss and Gus Caesar’s Bambi on Ice routine. It couldn’t get worse. It did.
Living On Morrowed Time
1993 is remembered more for Merson’s goal celebration and Steve Morrow’s broken arm. The first English team to win the Cup double, this was the first leg. It was the best of three finals against Sheffield Wednesday which shows what a low bar in entertainment the neutral got that year. George Graham remains the only Arsenal manager to win the trophy.
in Arsène’s reign, 2006 saw his first final. We lost although how you can consider any match where John Terry gets a full-on volley to the head, as a defeat is beyond me. But 2011 eased the Luton memories, sinking to a new low as Koscielny and Szczesny contrived to throw away the game in the last minute.
Try telling people who went to the Luton and/or Birmingham games that the League Cup means nothing; it’s as painful as any other final defeat, especially when you’re heading in the opposite direction to the victorious fans, only to end in a carriage full of the gloating….
But no, the League Cup shouldn’t be our highest priority, but should we treat it more seriously? A way of keeping the winning habit alive, building experience for big occasions as a team, as a squad, so that all are prepared when their moment arrives?
Money, That’s What I Want
Too much stock is placed in a top four finish, blinded by the glittering stars of the Champions League. Then reality bites in humiliating defeats – same ground, same opponent, it really was Groundhog Day – and last sixteen exits. Would a ‘winning mentality’ have stopped the collapse in Munich? It might have made us more aware of the cat-and-mouse nature of these matches.
Obsession with playing attractive football is undermining success. When the club publishes strong financial results, more scrutiny falls onto the playing side. Is the club providing value for money? The current era of football genuinely doesn’t care. It’s about wealth management, from the owners down through the executives, manager and players. Arsenal are no different in that respect, nor are they a shining example either.
And money distracts from the approach. We need to regain a winning mentality, to have the players prepared to fight for the club. Whatever Alexis’ faults may be, lacking the hunger to win isn’t one of them. A few more could do with focusing that intently on the outcome. Who knows what might happen then.
Finally, 1993 landed on Dad’s Jukebox. Laze away your Sunday afternoon by listening here.