There is a pleasant diversion from the rigours of Premier League and Champions League football, as the teams involved in Europe enter the EFL Cup this week. The last time Arsenal traveled to Nottingham Forest was 1999, meaning many Gooners will be visiting the City Ground for the first time.
Arsene Wenger has typically used the competition to blood youngsters, but given the strength of Arsenal’s squad nowadays their backup options are rather more senior. David Ospina, Kieran Gibbs, Gabriel, Mohamed Elneny, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, Lucas Perez and even Granit Xhaka could all feature.
The Arsenal boss has been speaking about the importance of navigating the early rounds of the League Cup, before the competition hots up in the later stages. Speaking to the clubs’ official website, Wenger said:
“I think it’s an interesting cup competition that gives games to all of the members of the squad.
“When it comes to the latter stages it becomes passionate. You have to survive in the early rounds which is not going to be easy for us.
“We want to maintain our winning streak which is why it’s an opportunity to give everybody good competition and a chance to win a trophy.”
Arsenal had some decent runs in the competition around the turn of the decade, reaching and losing finals in 2007 and 2011. Since then, they have had some early exits; crashing out to Bradford in 2013 and being stuffed 3-0 by Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough last season. A domestic cup on the mantelpiece is unlikely to satiate all discontented Arsenal fans given that back to back FA Cups were swiftly forgotten by many. This is a sad situation if truth be told; there are only four chances to win a trophy each season, and the history of any club shows you lose far more than you win. Silverware should be savoured a bit more, and that goes for the cups.
An interesting sub plot is Nicklas Bendtner turning out for Forest against his old club. The Dane had his moments at the Emirates; coming off the bench to score a late winner against Spurs and a hat-trick in the Champions League last 16 against Porto. Nevertheless, he never quite had the mental application to cut it at Arsenal. Some possibly overstate the player he could have been, but there is no doubt he had the talent to forge a far better career than he had done. Speaking of his old player, Wenger said:
“Yes, the perception people have of him is that he is overconfident, but I don’t think so. He was sometimes impatient when he was with us. Sometimes he was disappointed not to get the chance and you can understand that.
“It is difficult – I am not here to judge people. Sometimes you manage to get it, and sometimes we do not find the key. Then you have to leave the key to someone else who has the potential to find it.”
Speaking to John Percy in The Daily Telegraph, Bendtner was also refreshingly candid about his time at the club and the regrets he had. The former Arsenal striker said:
“There have been some things I’d have liked to have changed if I could, on and off the field,” he says. “The perception has been I did some stupid off-the-field stuff which got written about but you’ve never seen me do an interview where I’m explaining myself or I’m crying about a situation.”
It is always worth exerting caution when young players come through the ranks, because many have sparkled for a brief while and then drifted into obscurity. There are so many variables to get absolutely right when it comes to identifying top-level footballers, physical, technical, tactical, psychological and social. A slight chink in anyone of these areas can be enough to see a talented player fail to make the grade, and so was the case with Bendtner.
Finally, Chelsea skipper John Terry is in line to return for Saturday’s crunch game against Arsenal after missing out against Liverpool with an ankle problem. Despite his advancing years, Gooners would still rather see him absent than on the field. He remains a key organisational presence in the Blues’ back four, with Gary Cahill looking consistently diminished when he does not play alongside him.
Chelsea’s recent stranglehold on Arsenal has been based on defensive solidity; Wenger’s men have not scored a league goal against Chelsea since January 2013.
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