by Tony Attwood
About three and a half years ago Mikel Arteta, when assistant to Pep Guardiola was asked by a journalist if he felt anything needed to be changed in English football.
Now the standard answer to this question is “no”, with the foreign interviewee replying that the Premier League is the strongest league in the world and the best league in the world and it is wonderful to be here as a guest and he wouldn’t dare change anything here except maybe the weather, ha ha, everyone chuckle, oh aren’t these foreign chappies wonderful etc etc.
Arsene Wenger went further saying that he could not get used to milk in tea, but otherwise, most played it safe. Because if any foreign person does venture further well, the journalists can always come in quick with the notion that foreigners don’t understand these things, and they will meddle so and don’t these overseas chaps realise we invented the game in the 14th century when the pig’s bladder was kicked from one village into another to destroy the rival village, rape the women and steal the cattle – a bit like Stoke matches under Pulis (see previous article).
Answering the question, and sticking to the injunction to make just one and only one change, Arteta was careful, and he suggested changing the calendar. Not so that the season would run from March to November but to avoid playing three games a week. (I’m not quite sure how Man C managed to play nine games in 27 days, but that’s what he said. And he followed that up with the stupidity of having international matches peppered around the season – which of course many of us can agree with).
He could also have mentioned the impact on the environment of all these players travelling overseas on private jets to play for their countries, but he stayed off that one, which was a shame because it would have been a great opportunity to point out the effect international matches have on the environment. But still…
It is still an issue Guardiola and Klopp were both asked recently and suggested ending FA Cup replays, reducing the size of the Premier League… that sort of thing.
Which is of course what the clubs like Manchester City who have bought their way into permanent participation in the Champions League (at least until the next round of the legal argument) wants. And so I began to wonder, supposing, against all the odds, the CAS actually upheld the Manchester City ban on European competitions for two seasons. Would they still want fewer games?
It is a relevant question for us to ask, because that is what Arsenal are facing for at least one season, unless they can win a few games, and find other clubs don’t annoyingly do the same thing at the same time. We could next season have three competitions (League, League Cup, FA Cup) rather than four. Then what would we do? Invent mid-week tour of the UAE I suspect.
In fact we never used to complain about multiple games. When we qualified for the Uefa Cup under Rioch, on the last day of the season, there was much celebrating, as I recall. And then as the “every year in Europe” series started, Arsenal under Mr Wenger rarely saw the League Cup as a pain, using it as a way to give squad players and under 23s games in front of decent crowds. Showing the kids just how violent football can be in the lower reaches, and reminding them that this was where their careers would go, if they took playing for a club like Arsenal as their right, rather than as a gift to be nurtured.
In the early days of the Wenger revolution, playing every season in Europe it was something of a novelty, but once we had thrashed Sheffield United 6-0 on 23 September 2008 the world changed. Because it turned out that even our youngsters could thrash non-PL clubs.
On that day, when we won 6-0, we put out a team made up of
Gavin Hoyte, Johann Djourou, Alex Song, Kieran Gibbs,
Fran Merida, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere,
Mark Randall, Nicklas Bendtner
Also it must be remembered that at the time, Mr Wenger was out on his own, using the kiddies in the League Cup. Since then others have copied – just as they normally do. But when Arsenal did it, it was because we couldn’t afford a huge squad of established players. There was a stadium to pay for.
Come next season, if Arsenal are not in Europe, the League Cup might give us a few extra matches to watch – and if the club continues its admirable (but generally utterly ignored by the media) policy of just charging £10 for the downstairs seats, it gives families a chance to come and see a game at the Stadium without having to take out a mortgage.
But the pressure is on now for the league cup to vanish. And in the light of this maybe it is interesting to remember that Arsenal did not enter the League Cup in 1961 when it started. In fact they didn’t join in until 1972, when entry become obligatory. Before then the old military guard which eventually took the club into ruins and near relegation in the mid-1970s, had announced they wanted nothing to do with the new-fangled affair and refused to enter. In fact Bertie Mee was trying to implement a policy of having a squad of 18 players, and to scrap the two youth teams.
The fact is that today the League Cup symbolises the different desires of the “have’s” and “have nots”. The former don’t want another competition, the latter, without all that troublesome bother of Champions League or Europa games, quite like it.
And I quite like it. Blacksheep and I normally go to the home games each season, and I show him what it is like sitting in the posh seats upstairs. They charge him £20. I get a discount for being old.
The decision to admit adults for £10 downstairs really is something for the club to be proud of. And if we are out of Europe next season I suspect a few more fans might want to pop along to a League Cup game and take a look and some of the youngsters and see how they are getting on.
And be surprised at the cost of admission.
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