Arsenal's change of heart towards the Carling Cup this season means tonight's semi-final second leg with Ipswich Town at the Emirates is of far greater significance than might otherwise be the case.
Manager Arsène Wenger has picked strong teams for every round of the League Cup, in part as a concession to supporters who bemoan the club's lack of trophies since 2005 but also as a way of invigorating his inexperienced but sublimely talented side with a healthy shot of self-belief.
Players have spoken openly all season of their intention to win the Carling Cup, and then use the positive experience as a catalyst that will inspire the team to win more, and greater, trophies.
Jack Wilshere said in December: "If you win that [the Carling Cup] in February then spirits are so high for the rest of the season, you can probably go on and do anything." Denilson agreed, saying: "The first cup, if you win the Carling Cup, then after will come the FA Cup, then after Premier League and Champions League."
This greater desire to win the Carling Cup was not, however, reflected in the way Arsenal played in the first leg of the semi-final. They were woeful at Portman Road in the 1-0 defeat, and now must overcome a deficit in tonight's second leg.
Having raised the stakes in the competition by saying, in words and deeds, how much they want to win it, Arsenal now face greater embarrassment should they prove unable to do so.
They failed to progress in similar circumstances against Wigan Athletic in 2006, when Jason Roberts' late goal in extra-time saw the visitors progress on the away-goals rule. Paul Jewell was the manager that day, and returns today in charge of Ipswich.
Wenger yesterday ruled out the fear that history might repeat itself. "You cannot compare, you know? Every season is different. The history does not play tomorrow, what plays tomorrow is the players on the pitch and the quality of our game is important. That is what we want to focus on," he said.
"We play against Ipswich, we don't play against Paul Jewell, so we want to find a way to score goals and we want to find a way to win the game."
Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas moaned about Ipswich's "rugby" tactics in the first leg, and Ipswich fans with a sense of humour are planning to take inflatable rugby balls with them to the Emirates tonight.
Wenger attempted yesterday to play down the significance of the Carling Cup, saying: "We want to win everything and at the moment tomorrow is the Carling Cup so we go for the Carling Cup. Sunday is the FA Cup so we go for the FA Cup. At the end of the season, we will see whether we have won trophies but at the moment I think the most important is to live the moment for us, and not to be looking forward too much."
However, it would prove a major embarrassment if they failed to overcome Ipswich in the semi-finals, and either Birmingham City or West Ham United in the final. A month ago, Manchester United defender Patrice Evra derided Arsenal's lack of recent success, calling the club a "training centre". It will be harder for Wenger to contradict that perception if his side fail to overcome Ipswich.
Arsenal have no fresh injury problems although Wenger is expected to rotate his starting XI from the team that beat Wigan on Saturday. Kieran Gibbs, Emmanuel Eboué, Denilson, Andrei Arshavin, Nicklas Bendtner and Marouane Chamakh are all likely to feature after being substitutes against Wigan, while there could yet be a debut for young Spanish centre-back Ignasi Miquel.Reuse content