By Richard Clarke
“We can call him a ‘super pioneer’ because he really turned this Club into one that was ready for the modern era. He was ahead of his time and he was certainly the most influential manager.”
Surprisingly those words were spoken by, not about, Arsène Wenger this week.
The Arsenal manager was actually referring to Herbert Chapman, a man who brought the first real success to the newly-installed North London side when he arrived from Huddersfield in the summer of 1925.
The Yorkshireman won four League titles – two with each team – and two FA Cups, the second of which, in 1930, was Arsenal’s first major honour.
The side they beat in that final was Huddersfield Town so the Terriers’ visit to Emirates Stadium on Sunday for a Fourth Round tie in the same competition is heavy with history.
“It is a big tradition,” admitted Wenger at his press conference on Friday. “We even went to play a friendly with them in pre-season [in 2008] on the demand of our chairman because there is a long traditional link between Huddersfield and Arsenal.
“We are a modern club but have as well a big respect for tradition. It has a special meaning because Chapman was the most influential manager at this Club. So we have of course big respect for that.”
The current Huddersfield side are third in League One and gunning for promotion under Lee Clark. They have lost only once in their last seven games and beat Cambridge, Macclesfield and Dover to reach the Fourth Round. Arsenal’s 17-year-old striker Benik Afobe is about to start another loan spell at the Galpharm Stadium but is ineligible for this game because, unlike Sanchez Watt in the last round against Leeds, his deal was not for a full season.
Arsenal have had trouble negotiating Championship sides recently but they have not lost to a side outside the top two tiers since Wrexham in 1992 – which was historic for entirely different reasons.
Wenger’s side is likely to be much-changed from one that beat Ipswich to reach the Carling Cup Final on Tuesday. After that game, the manager said he would like to play one side against Huddersfield and an entirely different one against Everton in the Premier League 48 hours later.
He is a few players short of being able to do that but the return of Tomas Rosicky (sickness), Abou Diaby (calf), Manuel Almunia (ankle) and Sebastien Squillaci (hamstring) means he has more options at his disposal.
The Spaniard’s comeback after fourth months out is particularly intriguing given that, on Friday, Wenger said Wojciech Szczesny was the current No 1 and the gloves were his to lose. A decision on Sunday’s custodian will be made on the morning of the match.
This will be the ninth game of a massive January for Wenger’s side in every sense. In their 124 years, Arsenal have never played so many matches in the first month of the year. And, apart from a goalless draw with Manchester City in which they dominated, Wenger’s men have a 100 per cent record. Remember they may have lost to Ipswich and drawn with Leeds in individual games but the won both ties.
In those eight games they have conceded just three times (all in cup competitions) and have scored 16 goals – including three in each of their last four games.
“That's a consequence of our style which is always trying and go forward and score goals,” said Wenger. “Some periods we are a bit less successful at doing it. But not now.”
It may be ‘only’ the Carling Cup to some but Arsenal’s players have had a sense of euphoria all this week. How can you dismiss a trophy you have never won? Or, for many of them, how can you dismiss a trophy when you have never won one at all?
But one thing is certain - Arsenal’s season will not be judged on the Carling Cup alone when they are Manchester United’s closest rivals in the Premier League and the Champions League is in the Knockout Stage. That does leave two questions of course. Where does the FA Cup fit in? And can Arsenal realistically go for all four trophies?
“Well quadruple is not a bad word,” said Wenger, answering the second part. “It is a very good word but, of course, we are far from that.
“What is good is that we are involved in all competitions and we are hungry to do as well as we can.
“What can we do? We don't know. But we are happy because we won our last game. We are on a good run and feel we have a good confidence level and a good attitude in the whole squad.
“We are getting stronger and stronger, so this is what we want to do.
“Of course if we are involved in the four competitions we need a super-realistic approach, focus on the next game and just try to win it.
“You build the confidence in the team slowly and you lose it very quickly. One big bad result and you are down very quickly. So it's important to keep our feet on the ground and to show we have learned from Leeds and Ipswich how difficult these games can be.
“But the FA Cup is very important for us. Did you see the team we played at Leeds? That just means it has an importance, we could have gone to Leeds and said ‘OK, we go with a reserve team’.
“But we went with a first team squad and we had everybody fired up and playing. We had to fight to qualify and so we focus on Huddersfield right now.”
Of course, those were Wenger’s words but they could have easily come from Chapman.
It seems the ‘super-pioneer’s' legacy is in good hands.
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