Sunday, February 27, 2011

Wenger Only Has Himself To Blame For Cup Disappointment

A mix-up between Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny and keeper Wojciech Szczesny let Birmingham striker Obafemi Martins to grab the winner in the Carling Cup finalAs Arsene Wenger trudged up the Wembley steps, followed by eighteen, disconsolate, Arsenal players, the French manager must have been reflecting on what could have been.

The seeds for the Carling Cup final debacle were sewn in London on Wednesday when Theo Walcott and Cesc Fabregas picked up injuries in Arsenal's 1-0 win over Stoke. While Walcott was instantly ruled out of the Wembley showpiece, Fabregas' omission was surrounded in furore, with reports emerging that Arsenal's captain only found out about the depth of his injury  via the club's official website. In the direct aftermath of the news of the Spaniard's cup final fate, Fabregas' fitness advisor leaked information to the press, insisting that Fabregas was indeed fit to play. But Wenger, obviously believing in his side's potential to beat Birmingham even without their captain and talisman, left Fabregas out, pointing to immense matches against the likes of Barcelona in the next few weeks. What Wenger failed to realize in the build up to Sunday's match was that the League Cup final was just as, if not more, important to Arsenal then their upcoming Champions League second leg. The match against Birmingham presented Wenger's team with an opportunity to exorcise demons which have haunted the hearts and minds of fans and players alike, for all of six seasons. It was worth risking Fabregas' fitness to secure the League Cup. Though absences through injury and unavailability can be easily quantified into a disadvantage, the psychological boost that silverware can provide a team can be translated into an advantage more than great enough to cancel out the loss of one, albeit brilliant, central midfielder.

Did Arsene Wenger realize how important a League Cup victory could have been to Arsenal's trophy hunt? Does he not see, in the smiling faces of Birmingham's jubilant players, the impact that one victory can have on a team? And does he realize, in the tears, streaming down the face of Jack Wilshere, how galling and how damaging to a season a cup final loss can be? If this loss is to be the first nail in the coffin of Arsenal's season, then Wenger must realize that he is the one wielding the hammer. He first began to swing it when he elected not to purchase a top class goalkeeper this summer, leaving an inexperienced 19 year old, to be scarred forever, he arced it over his head when he left Cesc Fabregas out of his match day squad, and he brought it down, with a deafening clang, when his tactical error prompted the substitution of Robin Van Persie.

If Arsenal fans want a scapegoat for their team's unsuccessful cup final performance, then they will find him, wrapped in his trademark rain coat, on the sideline for their next home game, against Leyton Orient.

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