Arsenal’s Carling Cup exits in recent seasons have tended to be tinged with immense feelings of disappointment. The humiliation at the hands of Burnley in 2008, the disappointing defeat away to Manchester City a year later and, of course, last season’s last minute capitulation at the hands of Birmingham who went on to be relegated to the Championship.
Last night’s loss to City, however, evoked different feelings, with many, rather than dwelling on the negative aspect of missing out on a feasible chance for a trophy, instead remarking on the impressive nature of much of Arsenal’s play and, despite a familiar lack of cutting edge up front, an impressive night for several youngsters on the fringes of the first-team squad.
The City game was, perhaps, Arsenal’s best performance in the competition this season, and the three games that the run encompassed, all of which took place at Emirates Stadium, provided a platform for several individuals to bolster their first-team experience and, in some cases, enhance their claims for regular action.
So, who were the primary beneficiaries this time around? Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain immediately springs to mind, with the sprightly winger signed from Southampton returning to his usual impressive self last night after a rather indifferent outing against Bolton in the previous round. Chamberlain forced City goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon into a fine save with an effort from distance and provided a constant threat. This competition has been of particular importance in the embryonic stages of his Arsenal career as, besides a goalscoring debut against Olympiacos and a cameo appearance in the 8-2 mauling at Old Trafford, he has largely been isolated from the matchday squad in the Premier League and Champions League. His performance last night may well persuade Arsene Wenger to name him on the bench on a more regular basis.
The midfield axis of Emmanuel Frimpong and Francis Coquelin also drew much praise last night. There have been murmurings that Coquelin may seek to leave the club in January, but, in light on last night’s display, Arsenal would be best advised to keep hold of him as he complemented his usual ruggedness with a canny knack of assurance in his passing. Frimpong is much adored by the Arsenal crowd, perhaps even more so after his supposed spat with Samir Nasri, but has also undergone an improvement on the pitch during the club’s progression in this competition this season and now appears more assured when using the ball as well as at winning it back.
Ignasi Miquel started all three games, the latter two at left-back and, despite initially struggling against Adam Johnson and company last night, he grew into the match and made several interventions before being replaced by Thomas Vermaelen. A loan spell beckons for the Spaniard, who has now made six first-team appearances, in the New Year.
Other players gained their first competitive action via the Carling Cup this season. Nico Yennaris did himself proud whilst operating at right-back against Bolton, Oguzhan Ozyakup was assured in his two substitute outings, and Chuks Aneke and Daniel Boateng received brief tastes of the limelight.
In all, then, the Carling Cup has not been a wasted experience for Arsenal this season and those that benefitted from it will now be hoping to put what they have learned to good use.