Belfast Telegraph

Carling flops Arsenal left with nowhere to hide

By Mark Fleming

Tomas Rosicky called it “the big mistake”; Marouane Chamakh said it was “stupid”. The Arsenal players were referring to the calamitous mix-up between their goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and defender Laurent Koscielny that handed the Carling Cup to Birmingham City in a dramatic conclusion to Sunday’s Wembley final.

The question is whether that same withering verdict can be applied to manager Arsene Wenger’s decision to make the Carling Cup a much higher priority this season.

It is a gamble that ultimately backfired, when the final turned on one unforced error between Koscielny and Szczesny, two young players who only 10 days earlier had been so excellent in the club’s turbulent but ultimately thrilling victory over Barcelona in the Champions League.

It was so close for Arsenal, who had been the dominant side particularly in the second half, but that only goes to make the manner of the defeat all the more galling.

On one simple level Wenger’s gamble can be said to have failed, as it was Birmingham who ended their long drought without silverware and not Arsenal.

It is also likely the defeat, to a side that Arsenal were expected to beat comfortably, will also have caused some psychological damage to the team’s morale, although to what extent that will be the case remains in the realm of pure speculation.

Wenger had hoped that by ending the club’s six-year run without a trophy he might get disgruntled supporters off his back and at the same time inspire his developing team to greater things.

What Arsenal’s Carling Cup run has achieved however is to add significantly to the workload of the players.

Arsenal made the final in 2007, but that was using by and large the youth team and academy players who would otherwise not get

a chance at playing in the first team, a policy Wenger had adopted for several seasons.

From the opening game against Tottenham Hotspur in September, it was clear that Wenger had changed his mind this season about the competition, picking a stronger side than he might have done in years gone by.

Arsenal’s run to the final constituted six games for his first-team players and although the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri did not play in all rounds, it clearly placed a heavier workload on the squad collectively.

The injuries last week to Fabregas and Theo Walcott that ruled them out of Sunday’s final at Wembley cannot be attributed directly to Arsenal’s run in the Carling Cup, but it is generally considered to be true that the more matches a team has, the more susceptible its players are to stresses and strains.

Now Robin van Persie is added to the injury list after he injured his knee in scoring at Wembley.

Chamakh admitted it will be hard for the players to lift themselves ahead of tomorrow’s FA Cup fifth round replay with Leyton Orient.

“We are all responsible for the defeat. That’s football,” said the striker.

“You have highs and lows. We lost a final and it’s hard to take.

“The way we conceded the second goal doesn't matter.

“If we had conceded a top class goal, the result would have been the same, we would have still lost.”

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