Strength in depth?
When you consider that Arsenal have fielded a "weakened" team in the League Cup since 1997 the Club has a quite incredible record in this competition. It has famously become a showcase for Arsenal's younger players, one or two of whom have gone on to become big stars. Many others have seen this be the pinnacle of their football careers, but will always be able to tell people that they played for The Arsenal. Very occasionally we have had such a strong squad that it's almost been difficult to see the join between the League Cup line-ups and those in the Premier League. Back in 2001 we took on Manchester United with the following eleven:
Wright - Grimandi, Stepanovs, Tavlaridis, Luzhny - Parlour, Van Bronckhorst, Edu, Pennant - Wiltord, Kanu.
Those with a half-decent memory will recall that our "fringe" players were far too strong for United's in a 4-0 win. Tomorrow night we will take to the pitch against Coventry with a similarly strong line-up. For me it's the first time we've been able to put out such a strong side of squad players since the glory days of 2001-2005. If we saw a team like this tomorrow it would not surprise me:
Martinez - Yennaris, Djourou, Squillaci/Miquel, Santos - Coquelin, Chamberlain, Arshavin -Walcott, Giroud, Chamberlain.
This would still leave Emmanuel Frimpong, Marouane Chamakh, Craig Eastmond and Tomas Eisfeld among the subs, along with whichever of Squillaci or Miquel is left out (Wenger may choose to play Miquel at left-back with Santos on the wing). I also now expect to see a certain Jack Wilshere knocking about on the bench tomorrow night. The photographs from training today seem to show Jack getting in to things properly in terms of the physical side. I believe it would do no harm to have him on the bench tomorrow. If the game is safe then it would do him good to have a ten minute run around. If the game is tight then you simply don't have to use him. Either way I firmly believe having Wilshere in the squad, and the boost it would give everyone, is a no-lose situation for Arsenal.
Normally the League Cup would provide little for us in terms of telling us about the season we are likely to have. This year it is different. Such is the strength of the players that Wenger has available we have a chance to see if these men are up for the challenge. Are they willing to fight for their opportunities in the first-team? By rights we should be seeing an Arsenal team tomorrow night that will sweep aside League One opposition because they should be right up for the game. If we do get that from this group of players then we will know that Arsenal have real strength in depth. We will know that this is a team capable of fighting it out across a long season. If we don't get that then it will tell us more than we need to know about the character of certain individuals.
I mentioned earlier that we have a fine record in this competition despite the team selection over the years. We have been to the final twice in that time, and lost in the semis a couple more times. What we haven't got is the trophy. This season is 20 years since Steve Morrow won us the League Cup at Wembley. It's high time we put that right. It's been a highly pleasurable experience at times to watch these youngsters getting results when they weren't expected to, but I have long been of the opinion that Wenger has thrown it away too often. Ironically, the one time he went for it, against Birmingham in the 2011 final, we managed to bottle it on the day. In my view things would have worked out a lot differently over the last two years had we beaten Birmingham.
As the much publicised trophy drought continues I can't say how important the League Cup is in my opinion. Manchester United and Chelsea certainly viewed it as important in setting them on the way to more success. With the feel-good factor growing around N5 over the last couple of weeks, and the regulars as optimistic as they've been for a long time, I wouldn't mind a Wembley win in late February to get us off and running. If the attitude is right then we have a real chance in the League Cup this season.
I'll be writing a match review when I get home from the game late tomorrow night.