Arsene can use Carling Cup as title springboard
Published 23:00 08/01/11 By Steve Stammers
Arsene Wenger can use victory in the Carling Cup to ignite Arsenal’s challenge for Premier League and European glory.
That is the view of former Arsenal manager George Graham who won the competition – then called the Littlewoods Cup – in 1987 at the end of his first season.
He then used it as the foundation for the title-winning campaigns of 1989 and 1991.
Graham said: “Arsene can do the same. Everyone keeps saying that, for all their great football and top-four finishes, they haven’t won a major trophy for five years.
“Well they have a great chance to change that this season.”
Arsenal play the first leg of their semi-final against Championship strugglers Ipswich on Wednesday and are hot favourites to lift the trophy with either West Ham or Birmingham awaiting them in the final should they overcome the Tractor Boys.
Graham added: “If they win, it’ll do the young players at Arsenal and the ones who have been so close, but so frustrated over the last few years, so much good.
“You can’t show a medal for finishing second, third or fourth in the league, can you? True – Wembley is the loneliest place in the world if you lose.
“But it is a fantastic place if you win and Arsenal can do that this season in the Carling Cup.
“The players enjoy the day so much and it gives them belief and hunger. Belief that they can win a significant trophy – and hunger for more of the same.
“In previous years, Wenger has used the competition to blood youngsters – and stayed true to that philosophy all the way through Arsenal’s progress in the tournament.
This season has seen a shift in that policy as the club search for their first honour since winning the FA Cup in 2005.
Graham said: “I used it as a stepping stone.
“It was my first season, I had just moved to Arsenal from Millwall and there were big-name international players that I had to win over.
“Nothing does that better than winning a cup.
“We were the underdogs in that final, no question.
“We were playing Liverpool and they even took the lead through Ian Rush. At the time, when he scored, Liverpool never lost. But Charlie Nicholas scored twice and we won.
“I used that cup win as a platform and the foundations of the team that won the League title two years later were in the team or on the bench.
“It gave them a taste of what it is like to be winners and it will be the same for Arsene’s team should they reach the final and then win it. The cup final experience is great and I am glad Arsene has decided to field stronger teams this season.”
Wenger believes that glory in the Carling Cup will give his players a huge confidence boost for the rest of the season.
He admitted: “If we were able to win the Carling Cup, it can give the players more belief in their quality.
“Not winning a trophy has become a bit of a burden on their shoulders. We are in the semi-final and we are looking to get to the Final.”
Wenger has been a winner and a loser in finals and he said that victory would increase the self-belief of his players.
He added: “Psychologically, it can have a big importance if we manage to win the competition.
“It can be a massive lift and it will help give us more confidence and belief.”