After years of treating the League Cup as a means to blood new players, Arsene Wenger is forced to take the competition much more seriously.
Arsenal rarely make it this far in the League Cup under Wenger. In 21 previous seasons, the Gunners have reached the semi-final stage six times. They’ve made it through to the final twice, and never won the competition.
The main reason for this is Wenger’s insistence on using the League Cup to give young players debuts. The Daily Mail write that the manager has given 85 players their debuts in the League Cup over the years – including the likes of Ashley Cole and Cesc Fabregas, but also many more who didn’t end up making the grade.
This time around, it seems like things will be different. Arsenal still played a weakened side in the earlier rounds, but against West Ham only one youth player started – Joe Willock. Then, last weekend, the Gunners rotated heavily against Nottingham Forest, which suggests senior players could feature against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Perhaps Wenger is looking at the competition as a way to keep trophies coming without his job coming under intense scrutiny. If the Gunners go all the way in the cup, it’ll be over before mid-March, which means two more months of the campaign to earn a top-four spot in the Premier League.
Jose Mourinho used the competition to stay in favour among Manchester United fans last season, and used the Europa League to get into this season’s Champions League.
Still, it doesn’t look good for Arsenal to be following suit. 15 years ago, the Gunners were title favourites. We’ve since started only challenging for top four, then the FA Cup, and now the League Cup.
Hopefully they can at least be successful in that challenge this season.