By Richard Clarke
We all know that reputations mean nothing to Arsène Wenger.
The Arsenal manager perennially spoils that lazy summer pastime of ‘signing spotting’ by eschewing the famous and going for the less familiar. The media link Arsenal with anyone whose agent shouts loud enough, meanwhile Wenger is hard at work acquiring a player whose credentials even the most hardened fan has to Google.
But the manager’s detachment from the big names extends much deeper than those players who arrived via cheque-book means.
Just consider the two youngsters he picked out when asked for his selection policy in this evening’s Carling Cup Quarter-Final at Manchester City.
“Injuries have affected us a little bit and we are qualified in the Champions League as well so I can play one or two more players,” he said. “But overall I believe it is just an interesting match for us to play.
In the wider football world, the reputations of these two teenagers could not be more different. Midfielder Wilshere is well-known for his Carling Cup exploits. He is on the crest of a new wave of Arsenal youngsters who, one hopes, will crash onto Premier League shores in the coming years. He is already feared by opponents and lauded by fans.
However Eastmond’s name had hardly been bandied around before he was selected to start against Liverpool in the last round.
The Londoner is still a week away from his 19th birthday yet, against a major side, he took on one of the most responsible positions on the pitch – holding midfielder – with alacrity.
While your average season-ticket holder would have struggled to pick him out in a crowd, Wenger had already admired his lack of complication.
“Basically he closes down, tackles and uses the ball well,” remarked the manager. “That's what you need in midfield.
“In the Liverpool game he showed good vision, a good understanding of the game and a simple technique. Also when you play in the centre of the pitch it is a good quality to be able to play the ball forward like he does. On a few occasions he showed he really had a penetrating pass that could cut through the lines.”
On Tuesday, the manager promised a young squad. Arsenal.com’s announcement on Wednesday morning provided it. Yes there is experience in Mikael Silvestre, Tomas Rosicky, Alex Song and Emmanuel Eboue but everyone else is either new to the Carling Cup or lacking much experience beyond it.
In contrast, Manchester City manager Mark Hughes has vowed to stick with his previous policy in this competition and play a full-strength side.
The Eastlands outfit drew every game in October and November with the exception of the 5-1 hammering of Scunthorpe in the last round. That run of seven points from a possible 21 has taken them from title contenders to a midway member of the pack chasing the top four.
The last time they were really hailed as potential Premier League winners was back on September 12 when they beat Arsenal 4-2 in a game that revolved around the goals and the antics of Emmanuel Adebayor.
When he spoke to TV Online, Wenger wanted to deflect any memory of that day.
“[That issue] never had anything to do with us,” said the manager. “I think on the day we behaved how you want Arsenal to behave and that’s why I don’t see why we should worry about it.
“Tonight I think what is important is that we focus on our game and do not worry about our opponent too much. Of course you want their strikers to be quiet but that’s more down to the quality of our defenders.
“I don’t really know [what their recent draws say about them at the moment]. But I believe that draws in our League are like defeats, especially when you play at home. However both teams are not productive at the moment and so it’s a very open tie.”
It is impossible for a win tonight to expunge anything that happened on Sunday at Emirates Stadium against Chelsea. This will be a different team, a different competition and a different venue. There will be a level of catharsis in just playing again though.
Wenger scoffed at suggestions that the weekend loss might mean he fielded a stronger XI tonight.
“No,” he replied immediately. “It’s the next game and we want to win it. It is as simple as that.”
That said, victories – anytime, anyhow, anywhere – are football’s herbal remedy. And, in circumstances such as these, whatever works, works.
The present has not been too pleasant in recent days but tonight could revive faith that the future is still bright.Copyright 2017 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source