Carling Cup Preview. Newcastle United v Arsenal.

Young Guns set to be pushed to the side as Wenger goes in search of silverware.

As ever, Wenger’s third round Carling Cup team selection prompted a number of questions as his red-and-white charges prepared to face, and then sweep aside Spurs in a gripping North-London Derby. However this time such questions escaped the norm of ‘Who’s that?’ and ‘How do you say his name?’, such has been the case in previous years as Wenger habitually uses this competition to blood new talent, exemplified by a plethora of the current first-team. Instead fans begun to cautiously ask themselves whether Wenger has decided he is to have a proper crack at winning this trophy, something he has never truly committed to before, despite reaching 3 quarter finals, 3 semi-finals and a Final since 2004. As the boss makes early insinuations as to his line-up this evening, it looks as though the allure of a trophy may at last prove too tempting to a man with a trophy cabinet desperate for inhabitants.

Wenger’s inclusion of established and vital first-team players such as Laurent Koscielny, Samir Nasri, Andrei Arshavin and Marouane Chamakh in the previous round initiated the debate as to whether this decision was based on the nature of the opposition, or of the tournament itself. As the squad gear up for what’s sure to be a ferociously tricky encounter at St.James’ Park tonight, Wenger has revealed he will again be giving a start to the rehabilitating Koscielny, as well as Theo Walcott and Nicklas Bentnder, conceding his squad will be made up of 80% first-team players. A wise move it must be added, as although a Carling Cup triumph won’t individually quench the supporter’s thirst for a first trophy in 5 years, conventional wisdom states that a victory in this competition will be the first of many for a team thought by some to be on the verge of something special.

Afterall, this was the formula used by the Special One himself, as Jose Mourinho looked to instil a winning mentality in a team that had not one the league for 50 years when he joined Chelsea in June 2004. It was his task to turn Roman Abramovich’s roubles into trophies, a feat he achieved with aplomb as he followed up an early Carling Cup success with two more, along with an FA cup, Community Shield and two League titles in a 3 year trophy-laden stint. A popular school of thought is that it is this winning mentality that Arsenal are yet to fully acquire, an argument only bolstered by the team’s poor record against their title rivals in recent years, winning a puny 18% of ties against Chelsea, Manchester United and City since 2008.

A victory in this competition may well give the team the confidence and necessary savoir-faire needed to win the more prestigious awards, and with the final of this competition coming in February, such an eventuality would have a priceless effect towards the business end of Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup campaigns, three trophies Arsenal have consistently surrendered during the latter stages in recent years.

In their way stand a resilient Newcastle side, who have surprised few people by continuing their impressive form from last season, as they ambled to first-place in England’s second-tier, and smashing the 100 point barrier on their way. Newcastle will have no problem avoiding relegation this time around, with a strong and experienced squad garnished with an array of talented youth and all held in place by the astonishingly pragmatic Chris Houghton, for once Newcastle United have been able to abandon the media circus that has followed them in recent years. Although it is unlikely that the likes of Joey Barton, Kevin Nolan and the brilliant Andy Carroll will start tomorrow, a tough battle will surely ensue, with the Toon’s well-established yet slightly less intimidating Army able to create a cauldron-like atmosphere. Their victory at Chelsea in the previous round was not only a marvellous tie, but showed Newcastle’s ability to upset any audience, and it will take a high-quality performance from Arsenal to muscle their way into the next round. A tie that may have been regarded as akin to a reserve fixture in previous years now looks to be arguably the most important match of the season to date, with a potential trip to Wembley looming in four months’ time and far more than a small trophy up for grabs.


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