Arsenal crashed out in the third round of the Capital One Cup tonight. This was not a shock victory. Southampton played the Gunners off the park and deserved their 2-1 victory. But Arsenal should not be concerned with their latest cup failure.
For some, the League Cup can be considered a burden, for others it is by far their best chance to win a major piece of silverware. At the height of Arsenal's nine-year trophy drought Arsenal fell firmly into the latter group; now it's over, they have moved to the former.
The trophy drought was a tough time for all concerned with Arsenal. Fans failed to understand why their club were not competing while Arsene Wenger struggled to keep the team in the top four on a relatively shoestring budget.
Wenger admitted, much to his chagrin, that Arsenal's financial situation and the landscape of football meant that a place in the Champions League was far more important to the club than winning either the FA Cup or the League Cup. He was virtually laughed out of the press room, but Arsenal's finely balanced balance sheet proved he was reluctantly right.
However, there were many who saw Arsenal's lack of silverware as indicative of a lack of ambition. Playing weakened teams in both domestic cup competitions was lamented by fans as they saw their team crash out prematurely time and again.
As the pressure to win trophies increased, the teams in these competitions became stronger.
Arsenal's team in the 2007 final against Chelsea, when pressure to win a trophy was low, was full of the youngsters who had helped them get there. By the time the 2011 final came around, when pressure on Wenger was gathering, a full strength side was put out against Birmingham City. The end result in both games was, infamously, the same.
End of the drought
Three more years, no more trophies and the pressure on Wenger was at breaking point. The final of the FA Cup was, for some, the Frenchman's last game in charge of the Gunners unless he beat Hull City.
Their 11th FA Cup victory has reset the metre on the pressure cooker at the Emirates Stadium. Arsenal fans seem to agree that Wenger can take the club into a new era of success. They have financial strength to compete with the best of them and a squad capable of challenging for trophies with bigger financial rewards than the League Cup.
During the drought, there was a growing desperation from everyone at Arsenal to end the drought by any means necessary. Any trophy would have done for fans, but now that drought is over, the Capital One Cup will no longer satisfy the masses if it means compromising their chances in the other three competitions.
Wenger can tell his young squad that there will be no pressure for them to beat Southampton at the Emirates tonight. A win would be nice, but a loss is by no means disastrous.
A similar result last season would have been labelled as Arsenal's best chance to win a trophy out of the window. But with eyes on bigger prizes, it's hard to see Wenger concerning himself with winning the competition regardless of the fact that the trophy still eludes him.
Now there are plenty of promising youngsters that need time in the Arsenal first team. The Capital One Cup is coming at a great time for the Gunners; they need to give some of their best prospects a chance to make their way into the first team picture.
Injuries and departures means there are vacancies in both central defence and defensive midfield. Promisingly, Isaac Hayden seems capable of filling both roles and is also considered close to being good enough for first team responsibilities.
Had the drought not ended in May, Hayden may not have been given the opportunity to play.
The Gunners are in a stronger financial position than at any point since their move to the Emirates Stadium. Their debt, at £240 million, is still the second highest in the Premier League but their cash reserves (estimated £200m) are by far the biggest.
They strengthened significantly in the summer and now have a squad capable of making it to the latter stages of the Champions League. Having crashed out in the second round in each of the last four seasons, there is some pressure on Wenger to make it to at least the quarter-final.
Similarly, Arsenal are also expected to challenge for the Premier League title instead of just fourth place as usual. The Gunners have been helped significantly by the demise of Manchester United but are still considered quite far behind Manchester City and Chelsea.
Liverpool are also strong contenders but have yet to prove themselves after a poor start to the season. If Arsenal are to get themselves in the mix for these trophies, first team stars must be rested for the cup games, especially the Capital One Cup.
There are few fans that would consider this season a success if they finish with the Capital One Cup and another tedious fourth place finish.
As anyone in the Arsenal boardroom will tell you, qualifying for the quarter-final of the Champions League is far more lucrative than winning the League Cup. In fact, thanks to Arsenal's spectacular £300 million turnover, winning the League Cup would barely register on the radar.
Although Arsenal have a healthy situation, they still cannot afford to drop out of the Champions League the way Manchester United can. Their turnover is still trailing Manchester United by an incredible £160 million and no revenue would significantly harm their power to spend next summer.
That leaves fourth place well above the Capital One Cup in priority and arguably the FA Cup as well. Last season, such a sentence would seem ludicrous, but now, Arsenal fans will be a tad more understanding. Arsenal have ended their trophy drought and now there are bigger fish to fry. There will be bigger night's than tonight for Arsenal this season and the loss should not go down as the disaster it once would have.
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