Sam Wallace: It is time for Wenger to display a ruthless streak in the League Cup

He owes it to himself to win the first Mourinho clash of a new era

Since they lost the 2007 League Cup final to Chelsea, the list of clubs who have eliminated Arsenal from the competition, or beaten them in the final, is a curious one: Bradford City, Manchester City (twice), Birmingham City, Burnley and Tottenham Hotspur. It is not hard to spot the more embarrassing defeats.

Elimination at the hands of Bradford, then of League Two, in the quarter-finals last season was humiliating, especially given what a trophy would have meant to Arsene Wenger’s players. So too the defeat in the final to Birmingham in 2011 when Wenger played his strongest team and still lost to a club that was relegated from the Premier League that season. On other occasions there have been mitigating circumstances.

When Arsenal lost 2-0 to Burnley at Turf Moor in the quarter-finals in December 2008 they had a team with an average age of 19, including the likes of Mark Randall, now possibly the only Englishman playing in Italy, at Ascoli in the third tier, and Paul Rodgers now at Billericay Town. Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere were also in the side that night.

It is the one domestic trophy that Arsene Wenger has not won and ahead of tomorrow’s fourth round tie at home to Chelsea, the Arsenal manager should not reproach himself too much. Many times he has stuck his neck out in the competition by picking young players, including the final against Chelsea in 2007 when his team included Theo Walcott (then, 17), Armand Traore (17), Denilson (18), Cesc Fabregas (19), Abou Diaby (20), Justin Hoyte (22) and Jeremie Aliadiere (23).

Chelsea only narrowly won the game at the Millennium Stadium with a full-strength side. Come tomorrow night at the Emirates with Chelsea having less time to recover after yesterday’s win over Manchester City, and Jose Mourinho’s threats to play a weaker side, Wenger should do himself a favour. This time he needs to win.

What is a weakened Chelsea side? Judging by what Mourinho said after yesterday’s game, it means no player who featured against City. That still gives him the scope to pick the likes of Juan Mata, David Luiz, Cesar Azpilicueta, Michael Essien and Demba Ba, among others.

The example that Wenger has set in years gone past, allowing younger players to compete in the competition, right up to the final, has been a far-sighted, even unselfish, tactic. Other managers would have sought to pursue the trophy and certainly that was Mourinho’s approach in his first spell at Chelsea. Wenger has seen a long-term benefit in playing youngsters.

Enough of those he has placed his trust in have flourished to make it worthwhile. Fabregas made his debut in the competition against Rotherham ten years ago this month. Wilshere scored his first goal for the club aged 16 against Sheffield United in that marvellous 6-0 win in the League Cup in 2008.

By contrast, most Chelsea managers have been reluctant to give the kids a chance in the League Cup, deferring in the past to a senior dressing room that always demanded to play every game. Andre Villas-Boas was the only exception, picking Josh McEachran, Oriol Romeu and Ryan Bertrand in 2011. Roberto Di Matteo gave the likes of Lucas Piazon a chance last season but by the time they reached the semi-final, Rafa Benitez was picking a senior team.

Would giving some young players an opportunity over the years have made a difference to Chelsea’s famously unproductive path from academy to first team? It is impossible to tell, but one thing is for sure: no-one will know whether these young men are good enough if they are never afforded the chance.

As for Arsenal, they have made that long-term investment in the past. This season, however, winning the Capital One Cup in February should be the priority. What a tonic for a team that will surely still be in the hunt for the league title come then.

In the third round win on penalties over West Bromwich Albion this season, Wenger took some familiar risks. He gave starts to Isaac Hayden, Ryo Miyaichi, Thomas Eisfeld and Serge Gnabry. Hector Bellerin, Chuba Akpom and Kristoffer Olsson came off the bench. Naturally he would rather beat Chelsea with these young guns in the side – so much the sweeter – but why take the risk?

Wenger said on Saturday that he would “rotate” his players tomorrow but give himself “a good chance to qualify”. He should go one better and give himself the best possible chance.

There is a ruthlessness about Mourinho which means he will want to win tomorrow, whatever restrictions he might place upon his side because of the scheduling of the tie. His instinct may tell him that Wenger, with his unshakeable faith in youth, could well stick with the kids and that there is a chance there to ambush him with a much more experienced Chelsea team.

Now would be a good time to see the ruthless streak in Wenger. To see him pick his strongest team for this game to beat whatever side Mourinho chooses (he has already reneged on his initial pledge to select a side from the Under-21s). Chelsea did not celebrate their triumph in 2007 any less because their first team had beaten a young Arsenal side. A trophy is always a trophy in Mourinho’s world.

Neither should Arsenal regard a victory over a weakened Chelsea team as devalued. If it does turn out to be Mikel Arteta lifting the League Cup at Wembley come February there would not be an Arsenal supporter in the stadium grumbling about having beaten a weaker Chelsea team on the way to the first trophy in what would be almost nine years.

After the seventh league win of the season on Saturday, the momentum is with Arsenal and it is the ideal time for Wenger to show that when there is a trophy at stake he is prepared to get tough and let the grown-ups finish this part of the job. There will be other chances for the young players, perhaps even later in this competition, but for now Wenger owes it to himself to win the first Mourinho clash of a new era.

The ugly truth about Ferguson and Veron

On page 94 of Sir Alex Ferguson’s autobiography he recalls the briefest details of a “fall-out” Juan Sebastian Veron had with Roy Keane after a European tie. “That became a bit ugly,” Ferguson says, and moves on.

Sadly, he seems not to remember the game but I would hazard a guess that it followed the second leg of United’s Champions League semi-final elimination to Bayer Leverkusen on away goals in 2002. The Sunday after the second leg, away, one newspaper reported that Veron had been in a row with a team-mate and had gone back to Italy.

The following week United lost at Old Trafford to Arsenal, who were crowned Premier League champions. Before that game, Ferguson was asked about the Veron story by a room of Manchester reporters (of which I was one) who had not written it.

His response was this: “Listen, you have been going on about fucking Veron. You tell me what’s wrong with Veron. It’s absolute nonsense. You know it’s nonsense. Absolute lies. He’s a fucking great player. Youse are fucking idiots.”

Even as he furiously ejected us from the training ground – “On you go, on you go” – I did suspect at the time that he protested a little too much.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor