If Arsene Wenger was not feeling the pressure before, he most certainly is now. Tuesday night’s humiliating defeat to League Two side Bradford City saw Arsenal crash out of the League Cup and leave Wenger’s future, in the opinions of much of the media and Gunners fan base, hanging by the most delicate of threads.
Embarrassing is the only way to describe the result, even if Wenger himself refused to admit that his team should be ashamed of their performance. Indeed, Bantams keeper Matt Duke did not have to make a save until well into the second half of the game.
And the League Two club, of course, were facing what was essentially Arsenal’s first team. Jack Wilshere, Lukas Podolski, Santi Cazorla and friends were all included in the starting line-up. Still, though, the Gunners had to wait until the 88th minute to cancel out Bradford’s early opener before failing to seize the momentum in extra time and suffering an undignified exit.
The League Cup has traditionally been used by Arsenal and Wenger as an opportunity to blood promising youngsters. It is seen as the fifth priority behind the Premier League, Champions League, qualification for the Champions League and the FA Cup.
The Official, club-sourced reason that Wenger started with such an experienced and able 11 was that the Gunners do not have another match until next Monday, when Arsenal make the trip to Reading. But most saw through this excuse.
The fact that Wenger felt that he had to include the likes of Cazorla, Thomas Vermaelen and Podolski, in a match they would not have even been considered for in seasons gone by, shows the extent of the Frenchman’s current desperation.
On the other hand, a large selection Arsenal supporters have been complaining for a long time about the club’s lack of silverware in recent seasons – a dry run which stretches back seven years to 2005.
Isn’t Wenger right, therefore, to put out a team which he feels has a realistic chance of lifting the trophy?
Even if that is not a decision taken for the fans’ benefit, a trophy would not harm Wenger’s popularity levels, in the stands of the Emirates Stadium or in the boardroom. Not that he needs any status boosts among the Arsenal directors, with whom it increasingly appears that he enjoys deity status and immunity from queries about his decisions.
In spite of his team selection, the upshot is that Wenger and Arsenal lost to Bradford, rarely bothering the Bantams’ goalmouth in the process and seeing another great opportunity for silverware go up in smoke.
Balance sheets at the club remain as admirable as ever. But with the Gunners continuing to limp along in the league, another season with profit but without silverware could prove hard to validate.
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