By Richard Clarke
Arsène Wenger has been telling everyone.
He stood up in front of shareholders and said it, told journalists it after the victory at Tottenham last month and repeated it to TV Online ahead of Wednesday’s trip to Newcastle.
Arsenal are gunning for the Carling Cup this season.
Of course the manager was always interested in winning the trophy. Seven straight seasons in the Quarter-Finals or beyond is telling testament to that.
But this season, for pretty much the first time since the 1997/98 campaign, he is prepared to flex first-team muscle in the competition.
The manager admitted that the oft-mentioned five-year wait without a trophy had added pressure for silverware. But the real reason for the change is a little more straightforward.
“First of all it is because we have a big squad now,” said Wenger. “I believe we have a good enough squad to go forward with trophies. That’s why I think ‘OK, let’s go as far as we can’.
“If needed, we can still always choose later but at the moment it is important for everybody to think we go for everything we can.
“I said to the players we will do it - as simple as that. And we are not really specifying one competition more than the other one.
“I believe we are on a good run and we want to keep that going. It’s important to keep it moving, no matter what competition it is. That’s what we want to do.
“We are doing well in the Champions League, we have done well so far in the Carling Cup and we are back on track in the league so it’s just all movement.”
Forward movement that is.
We don’t know all the details of Wenger’s team for St James’ Park. But this much has been established:
- The squad is ‘80 per cent’ first-team and will be at least as strong as the one fielded at White Hart Lane in the last round.
- Theo Walcott, Nicklas Bendtner and Laurent Koscielny are likely to start
- Keeper Wojciech Szczesny will definitely start
- Youngsters Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Craig Eastmond and Henri Lansbury are in the squad
- A few members of the first-team squad will be rested
Wednesday’s show of strength smacks of Wenger’s confidence in his personnel.
Remember, they won at Manchester City on Sunday with a couple of key players injured and five internationals on the bench.
The standard of substitutes is often a good dipstick for the depth of your playing talent. And this season Arsenal have never operated with less than four internationals on the bench and, in their opening three games, all seven had gained national honours.
“I spent a lot of time convincing everybody about my squad,” said Wenger. “Now I think people realise it. When everybody is fit – and remember we still have Vermaelen, Van Persie and Ramsey out - I am convinced we have a very strong squad.”
But at the same time, we are now deep within two-games-a-week territory. Therefore the manager must juggle his resources carefully. Those in front of the Tyneside crowd on Wednesday night may be used sparingly against West Ham and Shakhtar, those in front of the TV will get more liberal usage.
“It is vital I [juggle] now because we have already played three or four months of competition,” said Wenger. “Players start to need a breather and it is important to manage the squad well now and to have everybody available.
“We have not too many injuries now but it is a period sometimes when you lose players. But we have gained players back from injuries and hopefully we won’t lose any now.”
Surely, newly-promoted Newcastle will be content to be in the top half of the Premier League with almost a quarter of the season gone. Saturday’s game at rock-bottom West Ham was previewed as ‘pivotal’ and they produced a typically gallant performance with striker Andy Carroll netting the winner.
Chris Hughton has suggested he may omit his major names for this tie. The manager cited Premier League survival and the upcoming North-East derby as his primary reasons.
Newcastle were not at full strength in the last round but pulled off a shock 4-3 win at Chelsea. Admittedly Carlo Ancelotti’s side was weakened itself but there were enough famous names on show to label the rollercoaster victory as “notable”.
“They came back every time in that game,” said Wenger. “When you expected Chelsea to win it, they found the resources to put them under pressure again and that demands something special.
“It is important that we go into the game and think we want to qualify. But also we want to produce a great performance because the Chelsea game has shown that you don’t get away with an average performance against Newcastle.
“They are competitive, they are a good side. They have a good mixture between physical power, technical level and spirit.
“That is why they will be a dangerous side for everybody, not only at home but as well away. They showed that again on Saturday by winning at West Ham when the home side needed points.
“So you see that this Newcastle team has qualities and I think they will be comfortable in the Premier League this year.”
Despite such fulsome praise and winning promotion at the first attempt last season, prevailing press room rumours suggested Chris Hughton’s job was under the microscope when the team went through a dip at the start of the month.
In the eyes of some, the former Tottenham full back is still fighting for recognition. In the eye of Arsène Wenger, he is slowly winning the numerical battle.
“Chris Hughton was an assistant manager for a long time so the media considered him less,” said Wenger. “They knew him but they knew him as a No 2.
“When you become a No 1 it takes time for people to consider you that way and that’s what he is getting at the moment.”
In the past Arsenal’s Carling Cup exploits have been based around ‘reputation-building’. But no more.
On Wednesday, they continue a nascent journey of re-discovery.
One that they hope will end in silverware.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