Wenger’s recent interview (in which he talks about how he would have done things differently with Arsenal this season) has been doing the rounds today, so I thought we’d take a look at it here. Interesting stuff.
“We should have sacrificed the FA Cup this season. It is a competition we love but last year, when we went out early, we reached the final of the Champions League.
So this year, once we knew we were in the final of the Carling Cup, we should have completely sacrificed the Carling Cup because in the end it caught up with us. We had two replays in the FA Cup, one just before the PSV tie and one right in between it.
We had already given a lot, playing 17 games in December and January. Also, we had no possibility to rotate the side because we had many injuries and then all the suspensions.
So I think it was a mistake on my part. When we drew Blackburn at home we didn’t think we would go to a replay.
When you have 60,000 fans in your own stadium you can never say you will sacrifice the game. But the replay? Perhaps I should have sacrificed it.”
Wenger is absolutely right when he says that there were a lot of injuries and a lot of games, which left Arsenal’s squad very stretched. And yes, considering that Wenger knew this at the start of the season, it follows that if he was not going to bring in any significant resources (and instead build an Arsenal team for the future) he should have backed off on the replays and given his players more rest.
At this part I disagree with Arseblog – yes, a better rested team would probably have beaten PSV.
But in my view there are two problems with this theory.
One, it adheres unwaveringly to Wenger’s long-term view of building a team of talented youngsters. This is a problem because it is very important to realise that Wenger and Arsenal did have alternatives in the summer in terms of being able to raise money. Wenger chose this path for Arsenal (which he agrees to).
Two, it doesn’t communicate to the fans that that long-term policy may fail and that Wenger could be left with a team that is not as good as he thinks it is, or those players could move away after a couple of years if big offers come in.
Still, it’s one way of doing things, and if Arsenal and Wenger are ok on this strategy then we’re not to blame. I would probably have thought that Wenger could have brought in a couple of loan deals in January to help Arsenal out (it’s not a crime for a top club to bring in a loan player you know) but Wenger stuck with the same group of over-worked players.
“In future I will not play senior players in the Carling Cup. But I will not say the same for the FA Cup.
I think in future our priority should be to qualify from the Champions League group – then take it from there.
I also feel that we will not be in the same position in future seasons where we have two strikers injured and another suspended. That gave us no possibility to rotate.
This is the first time in my time here that we do not have anything to look forward to.
We have had years where we didn’t win trophies, but we have always had a cup final or a title race to come.”
While it’s a good thing that Arsenal are getting their priorities right, I’m not sure that it’s the best thing to do at this point in time to completely discount a competition from next season. Blooding youngsters in the Carling Cup is a fantastic policy but cup games offer little in terms of experience – regular league games do much more for youngsters (which is why Rafa’s suggestion of reserve teams playing in the Championship is good).
Have enough players to rotate the squad throughout the season and not have a situation where Arsenal is forced to choose. It’s difficult to keep a big squad happy if there are no injuries, but it’s hard to play with a lean squad if there are injuries. It’s a balance game and I think Wenger can handle it, even if that’s not his strength.
All in all, a good, honest interview and an interesting insight into what’s going through Wenger’s mind – he must be under tremendous pressure from what has happened this season.