What’s that I hear? Not Fair? After years of playing The Kids™, Wenger’s decision to field strong squads for the Carling Cup is not fair on the others. In some circles it’s sign as a sign of desperation to win a trophy —any trophy.
In other circles it’s seen as a sign of squad depth. That a team can make 9 changes from a “big 4 game” yet still field a team that considered almost too strong for the Carling Cup is a testament to the vision of Monsieur Wenger. The fact is Arsenal’s reserve team can only be matched by Manchester City and we all know how much their reserves cost.
While perusing the the comments in a recent Guardian article —an article which decried Arsène for fielding experienced pros like Denilson and Bendtner— I had to laugh when, in comparing Arsenal’s kids to Manchester United’s a poster include 23 year old Daron Gibson as a kid while Denilson (age 22) is described as experienced.
Admittedly the Squad which took the field against Newcastle last night are hardly kids any more, but it is through the faith of Wenger that we can now field players who are young yet full of first team experience. While we were being derided for not taking the league cup seriously, the players were racking up games. Not just any games, games where it mattered, painful losses against Stoke, Burnley and Spurs, the finals against Chelsea. These players were tested and are now much better for these failures.
The following players were included in the starting line-ups of the failures:
Chelsea Feb 08
Gavin Hoyte(17), Armand Traore(17), Theo Walcott(17), Fábregas(20), Denilson(17), Abou Diaby(21).
Burnley 1-2 Dec 08
Lukasz Fabianski(23), Gavin Hoyte(18), Carlos Vela(19), Kieran Gibbs(19), Jack Wilshere(16), Mark Randall(19), Fran Merida(18), Aaron Ramsey(18), Nicklas Bendtner(20), Paul Rodgers(19).
Spurs 5-1 Jan 08
Lukasz Fabianski(23), Justin Hoyte(17), Armand Traore(18), Denilson(19), Theo Walcott(18), Nicklas Bendtner(19)
City 0-3 Dec 09
Lukasz Fabianski(24), Armand Traore(20), Craig Eastmond(19), Fran Merida(19), Aaron Ramsey(19), Jack Wilshere(17), Carlos Vela(19).
Stoke 3-1 Jan 2010
Lukasz Fabianski(23), Francis Coquelin(19), Armand Traore(19), Craig Eastmond(19), Denilson(20), Jay Emmanuel-Thomas(19), Theo Walcott(20), Carlos Vela(20).
As you can see a few of those players have moved on, some still on the fringes of the first team, while others are now considered experienced pros. Notably they’ve played together for a long time, but by and large they are still very young footballers.
The team that dispatched Newcastle, looked to all concerned to be a “strong” team on the basis that most are really amongst the 1st team squad. The exceptions are Szczesny, Vela, and Eastmond. However only Koscienly could be considered a regular starter. In another lifetime that line-up would be called reserves. How many teams could make so many changes yet maintain a line-up that is considered unfairly strong for the Carling cup?.
What Wenger knew is that throwing in Kids for 10 minutes at the end of a rout does nothing for those players. The need to feel the atmosphere and tension of those Carling cup games. As much as those failures hurt, we can be sure that those who make it from the above list did not come through some wishy washy victories, but they have been forged by the fires of defeat. Learnt from the experience of failures, and are hungry to taste the sweet elixir of success.
There remains the problem of the next crop. What do we do with the likes of J.E-T, Afobe and Lansbury, who in the past would have been playing Carling Cup games but are being blocked by senior squad players who need games? That’s a problem for the pros to solve, as it is I’ll simply enjoy the entertainment Arsenal has to offer.