By Richard Clarke
“Lost Finals are always a low that you never forget,” said Arsène Wenger a dust-settling 48 hours after Arsenal’s defeat to Birmingham.
“Still, you have to deal with them and I feel the team can learn a lot from Sunday because nerves, especially defensively, played a big part. Many players were at Wembley for the first time.
“But I have been a manager for many years and it's a long time since I have seen a team with such a strong desire to do well.
“I know their talent and I must say that Sunday has not diminished the belief I have in this team at all. In fact it's the opposite.
“When I saw them respond today and yesterday, after how disappointed they were, I am quite impressed I must say. They are focused already.”
It appears that Arsenal are all-set to go again.
There is no other solution to a bad case of the Blues. Just re-focus, re-invigorate and return.
Unlike the Premier League or the Champions League, the Carling Cup was never capable of making Arsenal’s season. Therefore it must not be allowed to break it.
This is not revisionism. Sunday was still gut-wrenching. The Carling Cup was the most straightforward silverware available and highly-prized given that much-discussed six-year wait for a trophy.
But Wenger is well aware that Arsenal have three further bites of the cherry. And they can sink their teeth into the FA Cup on Wednesday when Leyton Orient arrive at Emirates Stadium for unfinished Fifth Round business.
“We want to bounce back and we have a good opportunity to show our strengths straight away, “ said Wenger. “We want to give a good response on Wednesday.
“I have always said that we will go for all the trophies and I would have done that win-or-lose against Birmingham.”
Arsenal hurt more than just their pride at Wembley on Sunday. Robin van Persie damaged his knee in the process of scoring the equaliser and is sidelined for three weeks at least – a period that includes that mega-tie in Barcelona next Tuesday. Alex Song (knee) and Laurent Koscielny (hamstring) are out for Orient but their absence will be more short-term.
Abou Diaby (suspension/calf) is back and should start. Meanwhile, as at Brisbane Road, Manuel Almunia will displace first-choice keeper Wojciech Szczesny, who drops to the bench. With Sunderland on Saturday and then the Nou Camp, Wenger was unsure of his side when he spoke to Arsenal.com. But Reserve team captain Ignasi Miquel may well reprise his role alongside Sebastien Squillaci at centre half and other youngsters could be involved.
“All the players available are in the squad,” said Wenger. “We will rotate a little bit again because we cannot do it the other way around. We play Saturday, Tuesday again and we have to use our squad in the most balanced and intelligent way. I have to try to find a way to sort the problem out.”
Leyton Orient had a clearly-defined game-plan ten days ago – defend deeply while the scores were level then gamble when they concede or in the final stages, whichever came first.
Striker Jonathan Tehoue came off the bench late on to lead the charge. His direct, powerful style caused Arsenal major problems and he barged through to blast home the equaliser two minutes from time.
The Frenchman has shaken off a migraine and may figure at Emirates Stadium. However Stephen Dawson (knee) will be a big loss; he was excellent in the first game.
Orient are unbeaten in 13 games, lying 12th and starting to think about the Play-Offs. The fighting spirit shown in the first game is no one-off. In the games surrounding that tie they grabbed four massive League One points by staging two-goal comebacks at top-six sides. On Saturday at Huddersfield they were even down to ten men when Jimmy Smith fired an equaliser two minutes from time.
“In the first game I was impressed by their organisation and their defensive quality,” said Wenger. “They reduced us to very few chances and that's what we want to change on Wednesday. Our quality in the final third has to be much better and we have to put them under much more pressure.”
Arsenal have struggled against lower League opposition in cup competitions this season. But, in fairness, poor performances in the first games against Leeds and Ipswich were put right second times around.
“They were and that's what we want to achieve again,” said Wenger. “We play at home so we want to bounce back quickly, respond quickly from our disappointment and put in a good performance.”
Emirates Stadium can lick the wounds of their team over the next few days. By Saturday night they could be in the FA Cup Quarter-Finals and one point off the top of the Premier League.
Manchester United block Arsenal’s passage in both competitions. But Sir Alex Ferguson’s side suffered their own bout of the Blues this week. A run of their troublesome away fixtures was always going to be the greatest hope for Arsène Wenger. And so it has proved.
This Sunday, they travel to Liverpool with notable absences and, hopefully, Arsenal breathing down their neck.
Two straight wins will not make Koscielny or Szczesny swipe that late, lamentable ball from the path of Obafemi Martins. But it will prove the Nigerian’s strike has not dealt a lethal blow to Arsenal’s season, though it might have felt that way at the time.
The goal did leave a gaping wound that has little time to heal. With only 11 weeks left in the season, Arsenal must patch themselves up and soldier on – starting with Leyton Orient on Wednesday.
The Carling Cup run ended on Sunday, the season did not.Copyright 2013 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 2 Mar 2011