Are Arsenal really going to start caring about the Carling Cup?
PUBLISHED: 11:16 22 September 2010 | UPDATED: 11:12 14 October 2010
2010 Getty Images
So, Mr Wenger, are you really going to start caring about the Carling Cup? After 13 years of treating the competition as a chance to give his young hopefuls and fringe players a runaround, the Arsenal manager turned up with most of his first team at White
So, Mr Wenger, are you really going to start caring about the Carling Cup?
After 13 years of treating the competition as a chance to give his young hopefuls and fringe players a runaround, the Arsenal manager turned up with most of his first team at White Hart Lane on Tuesday night and was duly rewarded with Arsenal's biggest derby victory on enemy territory for 32 years.
Wenger, banished to the stand after the rapid turnaround of his FA charge for his antics at Sunderland on Saturday, seemed to have had a most enjoyable evening watching his side give Spurs a lesson in passing football on their own pitch from high up in the directors' box.
And afterwards he seemed to suggest that yes, he would be taking the Carling Cup seriously this season, and yes, he did think it was a trophy worth winning.
"We have a momentum going and it is sometimes important not to interrupt it," he said tellingly afterwards, after an unbeaten start to the season - which followed an unbeaten pre-season - was stretched to seven games.
"We got a few reproaches that we didn't take the competition seriously, that it was a derby, it was the start of a competition and to go out straight away would be difficult.
"Some players needed competition like [Kieran] Gibbs, Denilson and [Carlos] Vela. Overall that was the reason."
Would he be doing the same in the next round, which is already the last 16, for which the draw will be made on Saturday?
"I don't know yet. It depends as well on the injuries, we had so many players out. When you look at the players we left at home, when everybody's fit I can go as well for this competition. It depends.
"I said before that the two big competitions that really count are the Champions League and the championship and I maintain that. But it doesn't mean that I do not celebrate when we win games. I want to win every single game I play with my team."
As far as U-turns go, this is one on a par with Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats jumping into bed with the Conservative party. This is the Carling Cup we are talking about here.
But there could be no doubting Wenger's intent. Although he rotated, there were first team names all over the pitch, with the only real exception being Henri Lansbury, the 19-year-old attacking midfielder who opened the scoring after 15 minutes with his first senior goal for the club.
Some goal it was too, from a move that swept across the White Hart Lane turf from Gibbs through Tomas Rosicky to Jack Wilshere, who scampered clear down the left channel and drove home a low cross for Lansbury to stab home at the far post.
Arsenal were imperious in the first half and should have led by two or three at the break. However, much as at the Stadium of Light on Saturday, the second goal did not come, and after the break Spurs nicked an equaliser. It was another painful moment for Lukasz Fabianski, who is starting to run out of excuses for his errors that, as is the way with keepers, cost a goal every time.
Spurs substitute Robbie Keane sprang the Arsenal offside trap and hit a low shot that Fabianski, beaten five times on his last game at this ground in 2008, could only help on its way into the net.
The home side sensed a turnaround and roared their approval, but no goals followed in normal time despite Wenger introducing Andrey Arshavin and Marouane Chamakh from the substitutes bench.
But in the first minute of extra-time Gibbs powered forward and put in Samir Nasri, who was felled in the box by Sebastien Bassong. The Frenchman dusted himself down and slammed a spot-kick past Spurs' new Croatian keeper Stipe Pletikosa.
Five minutes later Nasri did the same again, this time after Spurs' young centre-back Steven Caulker had bundled over Chamakh.
Then Arshavin took advantage of Spurs going to sleep with a fourth from a quick free-kick and it was all over, with the home side left to play out the second half of extra-time to a comically empty stadium, to the backdrop of Arsenal supporters' mocking taunts.
It was a memorable night for them, for Lansbury and for Wilshere, who at 18 was the youngest player on the pitch but still the best, and by some distance too.
"He was outstanding," agreed Wenger. "In the first half I think he has shown a little bit of everything you want from a football player.
"He got some stick and he could take it, he didn't respond. He played, tackled, won the ball and tactically his position on the pitch was always good. He had an outstanding first half. He is fearless."
So too were Arsenal, and they will view Saturday's fourth round draw with renewed interest.