First off, congratulations to Swansea for winning the League Cup last night. A remarkable achievement for a small club working their way up the footballing world. A word of caution to them though, the last three 'non-big-club' to win this cup competition, did not play in the current Premier League. The way things are, that is unlikely to happen to Michael Laudrup’s side.
The opponent they defeated in the final was of course, Bradford City, the conqueror of Arsenal in the quarter-final stage of the competition. No Arsenal fan was able to watch the match early this morning without thinking: "It should have been us there". Scars from that defeat still run deep. Although, considering how Arsenal’s recent meetings with Swansea have gone, they still might not have won it.
The Swans did all they could to ensure that they won the cup. They effectively threw away league points at Anfiled and also the chance to beat Arsenal in the FA Cup to concentrate on the League Cup. It is easier for a club like Swansea to do that when they are not under pressure to finish in a Champions League spot. Arsene Wenger surely couldn't do that.
Many would point to the fact that Wenger didn’t field all his first-choice players in both the cup exits. Mikel Arteta rested for the aforementioned defeat to Bradford while Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott were on the bench in the loss to Blackburn. Nonetheless, the team that was put out had enough in them to beat both sides, but they didn't. That part is a problem that sits squarely on the lap of Wenger.
In this day and age of top level football, priority has to be given to the league. Personally, I feel that it’s the best judge of how strong a team is, by how they perform in the league. It is over a course of eight months and will use most, if not all, of the 25-man squad. Quality and consistency are the key ingredients being tested before a winner lifts the trophy in May.
That’s before we even talk about money. You can’t deny the importance it has become in football today. Doing well in the league means a spot in the lucrative Champions League. In line with the Financial Fair Play (FFP), clubs will look for the best way to generate income and participate in Europe’s elite cup competition. Matters would be complicated for a club like Arsenal whose business model does not include investments from the board chairman or club owner.
Moving to Emirates Stadium meant that money would be a major constraint and so it has showed. Staying in the Champions League was the only viable option to maintain the financial stability. However, the team has suffered as a consequence. Players have left searching for better salary elsewhere.
However, as the result over the weekend showed, a big player can rescue the team when it most needed. Cazorla is undoubtedly a big player (not literally) and he once again proved it with his two goals that helped the Gunners beat Aston Villa. Add a few more players like him in the coming transfer window (in view of the money from new commercial deals), and Arsenal could well title contenders next season.
With Everton and Chelsea losing in the weekend, opportunities have opened up to climb the league table. If Arsenal can overcome Sam Allardyce's side tomorrow morning, then it would make for a perfect weekend. The danger that Wenger's men could finally miss out on being part of the Champions League since his arrival was there. But that changed over the weekend and the Gunners must not let this chance slip.