We know what Steve Bruce’s team talk will centre on ahead of the FA Cup final. He will pin up a picture of the sign that was this week attached to a lamp-post in Islington giving timing details of Arsenal’s triumphal open top bus parade through the borough on Sunday. What more motivation for his players could there be that the certain knowledge their opponents think the game is already won and are planning their celebration.
Never mind that there will certainly be plans in place for a similar trip through Humberside should Hull’s David Meyler lift the cup – these things, after all, have to be worked out in advance, have to be planned with police and local councils – the fact the sign was left hanging in the air, to be photographed and endlessly retweeted, does create an image of unwarranted complacency. Arsenal, Bruce can tell his team, think all they have to do is turn up to beat you.
And Arsenal have been here before. They have form on this one. I was speaking recently to a Birmingham City fan who recalled the League Cup final against the Gunners back in 2011. He said that afternoon the Birmingham supporters could not believe the arrogance of the Arsenal followers, a large number of whom turned up at Wembley about fifteen minutes before kick-off, certain that they were there simply to witness a routine win.
It was, he suggested, an attitude which permeated the team. Watching them walk round the pitch before kick-off, he thought their body language was that of a group who assumed the cup was theirs for the taking. When it didn’t turn out like that, how the Brummie fans enjoyed their moment rubbing superior noses in the dirt. Things may have been in a distinctly downward trajectory since that occasion, but my Bluenosed contact said he would happily put up with any indignity suffered subsequently in the certain knowledge his team had won that trophy. It meant that much to him. Which, he probably rightly surmised, was not a view of the League Cup shared by Arsenal supporters.
Arsene Wenger will be more than aware he cannot allow such an approach this time. If it was complacency which undid them in 2011, he has to ensure his players are utterly focussed and prepared for this challenge. Because make no mistake, Arsenal and their manager need this trophy. Another mistake like 2011 and the consequences could be catastrophic.
The statistics are extraordinary. Chelsea have had nine different managers since Arsenal last won a trophy – the FA Cup in 2005. In that time, the blues have won every competition going, home and abroad. Since Patrick Vieira scored the winning penalty against Manchester United in Cardiff nine years ago, every single club in all four divisions has changed their manager at least once.
While such continuity is admirable, it remains astonishing that Wenger has managed to survive in such a climate for so long despite not landing a single trophy. For a club of Arsenal’s scale, generating match day revenue unmatched anywhere in the country, to remain without need of silver polish is in itself remarkable. But to do so without seeking to change manager is simply unprecedented, in England or across Europe.
Wenger is more than aware of this damning flaw on his CV. Sure, every season since 2005 he has steered his team into the Champions League. But that is the slightest of consolation. He is as aware as anyone that he needs a trophy. If nothing else, he needs it to still the ugly jibes of Jose Mourinho; he has to prove he is not a specialist in failure.
Saturday represents an opportunity that cannot be squandered. Win, and together with Champions League qualification, this will be the kind of season a club like Arsenal should be enjoying. Win and he can embark on that open top bus trip wearing a broad beam smile of achievement. Win and Mourinho – who has won nothing for the second season on the bounce – may have to start reassessing his insults. Win and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere can join the England party with the kind of spring in their step that comes from having a medal in their pocket.
But should Laurent Koscielny and Wojciech Szczesny contrive to get in the same muddle they managed against Birmingham, should the rest of the team play with the same lack of application they demonstrated that day, should Steve Bruce follow the path of Alex McLeish up the steps to the royal box to pick up the trophy, should Arsenal lose, then all bets are off. Things could get very messy in north London.
- Sports & Recreation
- Steve Bruce
- League Cup