Lee Dixon: Wenger is right to alter his Carling Cup attitude – a trophy has become vital - News & Comment - Football - The Independent

Lee Dixon: Wenger is right to alter his Carling Cup attitude – a trophy has become vital

The Weekend Dossier

Judging by the results of the past five years, you would have to say that Arsenal have forgotten how to win trophies. At times they play some of the best football around, so for them not to have won a single trophy in that period since the FA Cup in 2005 suggests they are missing some self-belief.

The shift in policy towards the Carling Cup this season, in which they have fielded stronger teams than in the past 13 years, shows that as a manager Arsène Wenger can adapt. In the past he has been criticised for being too stuck in his own ways, for being too rigid, but this change shows he has learned to be adaptable.

The team has developed, albeit slower than he would have liked. Now maybe it is a good time to add something else, to teach players coming through about taking that next step, players who have come into the team at a time when it has not been a success.

Over a period of time the team has fallen short of challenging right at the top. So he has shifted his attitude towards the Carling Cup and I think it is good management. He is not too stubborn to think his way is the only way.

Five years is a long time without a trophy of any description, and there is no doubt that there is a way to winning. I have always felt that to get the first win under your belt in a tournament or championship is vital. Arsène is a great believer that players must have a winning mentality, but the only way you get that is by getting your hands together and picking up a cup.

When I joined Arsenal we won the title in my first full season in 1989, and again two years later. We didn't win it again for seven seasons, until Arsène joined and we won the Double in 1998. But in those years in between we won the FA Cup, the League Cup and the European Cup Winners' Cup, so we didn't have such a barren run as the club are experiencing now.

For the past six seasons Chelsea and Manchester United have shared the Premier League and dominated the domestic cups. Players are creatures of habit, and get used to that winning feeling – or the other side of it, they get attuned to missing out. It can make the difference in big games, which is where Arsenal have fallen short in recent years.

I look at Arsenal this season and I still see a few problems when they don't have possession of the ball. Those failings were particularly exposed by Barcelona in the Champions League last season, when Arsenal paid a heavy price. The quality of the opposition in the latter stages of the Champions League means any defensive weakness in a team is likely to be exposed.

But not so domestically. This season in the Premier League Manchester United and Chelsea are also dropping points and look fallible, so maybe Arsenal's defensive problems are not so important. The bigger issue is winning something, getting the monkey off their back and losing that habit of losing.

They will never have a better chance of winning a trophy than this season's Carling Cup. They play Ipswich Town over a two-legged semi-final, and if they win will meet either Birmingham City or West Ham United in the final. Arsenal are now expected to win it, and the transformation of the team could happen overnight if they do.

I suspect this is the reason behind Arsène saying he does not want to buy any new players in January. There are areas of the team that could do with strengthening, but if you do buy new players that can have a detrimental effect on dressing-room morale.

Tottenham Hotspur's manager Harry Redknapp says he wants a couple of new faces and that suits his style. Spurs have regularly brought in new players and the impact that Rafael van der Vaart has had makes it very tempting to try to find another bargain.

But Arsenal are different, and Arsène may feel that shortcomings in certain areas can be better improved through collective effort rather than by buying new players, which could have a negative impact. Knowing him as I do, I know he is very aware of that aspect. He is a wonderful manager to play for, because he puts a huge amount of faith in his players.

His approach is coming under close scrutiny but he has shown himself capable of change. If that change means they win the Carling Cup, and it gives them the little bit of extra confidence they need, it could prove to be a masterstroke.

Five Asides

1 Never mind England, the US are devastated

I've been in Los Angeles this week, and it has been amazing to watch the American reaction to the World Cup announcement. They were bidding for the 2022 tournament and lost out to Qatar, and the people are devastated. I look at it from two angles. As a fan, I am sad at the injustice of the decision concerning England's bid for 2018. But as a neutral I think Russia and Qatar will put on a really good show.



2 Balotelli and Co make Mancini earn his pay

Mario Balotelli is starting to become a player who embodies all the good and the bad at Manchester City. He has all the talent in the world, but his attitude and behaviour are so unpredictable. It's the same with his team. They must be a nightmare to manage, but that's why Roberto Mancini is getting the big bucks.



3 United's second string is exposed by Hammers

Manchester United's 4-0 defeat to West Ham in midweek raises worrying questions about their strength in depth. Those players will have earned a black mark from Sir Alex Ferguson and you can't afford too many of them.



4 It's too soon to judge Houllier era at Villa

Gérard Houllier takes Aston Villa to Anfield on Monday and should get a good reception, given the success he enjoyed at Liverpool. It is far too early to judge whether he can bring similar success to Villa.



5 I hope all goes well in Hong Kong for Nicky

Good luck to Nicky Butt, who has come out of retirement to join a team in Hong Kong. He told me recently he was looking to have a change of scene, I hope it works out for him.

Dixon's verdict on all the weekend action

Arsenal vs Fulham

Dixon's verdict: Arsenal seemed to have learnt their lesson about switching off at half-time at Villa last week, holding on for an impressive win. I can't see Fulham giving them much trouble at home today.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.20pm)

Prediction: Home win

Birmingham City vs Tottenham Hotspur

Dixon's verdict: Birmingham will have Wembley on their minds after beating Villa this week and that could help Spurs. However, with a European tie ahead on Tuesday for the visitors, the spoils could be shared here.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.20pm)

Prediction: Draw

Blackburn Rovers vs Wolverhampton Wdrs

Dixon's verdict: Blackburn were utterly outclassed at Old Trafford last week and Sam Allardyce will be desperate to make amends. Even with their injury worries, I think Rovers will have enough to beat Wolves.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.20pm)

Prediction: Home win

Chelsea vs Everton

Dixon's verdict: Michael Essien and John Terry's return to the Chelsea side will be a big factor and Everton have been poor recently, especially against West Brom. This match ended 3-3 all last year but it's a home win for me.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Setanta Ireland; Highlights BBC 1, 10.20pm)

Prediction: Home win

Manchester City vs Bolton Wanderers

Dixon's verdict: City struggled a bit at Stoke last week but improved after the break and in midweek and they should continue that form here. Bolton have impressed but nearly came unstuck against Blackpool last Saturday.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Setanta Ireland; Highlights BBC 1, 10.20pm)

Prediction: Home win

Wigan Athletic vs Stoke City

Dixon's verdict: Wigan didn't offer much at West Ham and could do with a win here to climb out of the bottom three. Stoke impressed at West Brom in their last away match, however, and I think they will win again here.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.20pm)

Prediction: Away win

West Bromwich Albion vs Newcastle United

Dixon's verdict: Both sides have been blowing hot and cold, West Brom winning at Everton but poor at Ipswich, while Newcastle won at Arsenal but got thrashed at Bolton. I can see a draw being the likeliest outcome.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 1.30pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC 2, 10.30pm)

Prediction: Draw

Sunderland vs West Ham United

Dixon's verdict: The return of Darren Bent has actually seen a downturn in Sunderland's form but he offers them more options and, despite West Ham's fine win against United, will be key to the Black Cats' chances of victory.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 4pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC 2, 10.30pm)

Prediction: Home win

Liverpool vs Aston Villa

Dixon's verdict: Liverpool looked good at Spurs on Sunday and were unlucky to come away with nothing. With Aston Villa's injury problems, and Ashley Young suspended, it's another home win for me.

Kick-off: Monday, 8pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights, Sky Sports 2, Tues, 1am)

Prediction: Home win

Postponed matches

Premier League

Blackpool v Manchester United



Championship

Doncaster v Barnsley; Hull v QPR; Nott'm Forest v Bristol City; Portsmouth v Burnley; Sheff Utd v Reading



League One

Brentford v Notts County; Brighton v Colchester; Dag & Red v Huddersfield; Hartlepool v Southampton; L Orient v Carlisle; MK Dons v Plymouth; Rochdale v Charlton; Walsall v Oldham; Yeovil v Peterborough



League Two

Accrington v Shrewsbury; Aldershot v Bradford; Bury v Chesterfield; Cheltenham v Lincoln City; Crewe v Wycombe; Gillingham v Rotherham; Hereford v Morecambe; Port Vale v Stevenage; Southend v Macclesfield;

Torquay v Burton Albion



Scottish Premier League

Aberdeen v Celtic; Hibernian v St Mirren; Inverness CT v Dundee Utd; Motherwell v Kilmarnock;

Rangers v Hearts; St Johnstone v Hamilton

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