The Importance Of The North London Derby And The League Cup

Joseph MillardCorrespondent ISeptember 20, 2010

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 14:  Nicklas Bendtner of Arsenal is challenged by Ledley King of Tottenham Hotspur during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal at White Hart Lane on April 14, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Good morning. It's time to move on from the disappointment of the weekend's draw against Sunderland. Annoying as the last minute equaliser was, I maintain that it's early enough in the season to put the result down to experience and hope the team learns from it next time they're defending a one goal lead with seconds to go. 

As expected Chelsea extended their lead at the top of the table to four points but in September a four point lead is nothing to be overly concerned about. Don't get me wrong I don't want the gap getting bigger but four points can become nothing again very quickly at this stage of the season.

The only other thing to mention from the weekend is that there are a few whispers that Arsene Wenger may be facing an FA charge for pushing the fourth official in the aftermath of Sunderland's equaliser. I say whispers because I've seen it said but I've seen no actual reports of the incident. Football365 has a headline about it but the accompanying article has no mention of the alleged shove. If it did take place then it's pretty indefensible conduct from the manager. Nobody can put their hands on a match official and expect to get away with it. If a player did it, a red card would be rightly shown so I would have thought if this story does have truth to it then Mr Wenger may find himself with a touchline ban which would be tough to argue a case against. 

Anyway eyes forward then, and tomorrow sees Arsenal play a very tasty Carling Cup tie against Spurs. If you've been reading my articles for a little while then you may recall me saying before the season began that I'd like to see the Carling Cup taken a little bit more seriously this season, and now that Spurs have come out of the hat I'm thoroughly convinced that the competition needs to be treated like the first team competition that it is.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy seeing some of the younger players we don't normally see in the Carling Cup, in fact I'd wager I've been to more Carling Cup games in the last few seasons than I have FA Cup or Champions League games. I've gone to away fixtures at Wigan and Sunderland on cold midweek nights to follow the youngsters so by no means do I dislike the policy of playing some younger players in the League Cup.

I also understand that in the list of priorities, the Carling Cup is fourth out of four. To lift the Carling Cup would be nice, but the other three competitions carry a lot more prestige and desirability. Not only that but I understand the benefit to Arsenal of resting players when there's league and European games to consider.

However, Arsenal haven't won a trophy for five years. No club, and this includes Arsenal, has a divine right to trophies. However Arsenal have a good enough squad that trophies are a realistic hope and ambition for the club and its supporters. Having been this long without a cup, I don't see that any competition, even the Carling Cup, is expendable. Personally I think a League Cup win could inspire this Arsenal team to go on to other things. There is perhaps a bit of a mental block with Arsenal's players at the moment. They keep coming close, but not winning. Perhaps all they need is to see it can happen, if they can win one trophy perhaps more will follow.

The Carling Cup final is in February. Lifting a cup in February could be the inspiration the team needs to go on to lift more significant silverware in May. This competition has recent history in helping clubs on their way to the top. What was Mourinho's first trophy with Chelsea? The Carling Cup. When Manchester United were a bit short of success by their standards for a season or two, a Carling Cup win was followed the next season by the first of three consecutive title wins. Success breeds success, and if the team could win the Carling Cup, it could be the first step on the ladder to winning a major honour.

Now, I'm not suggesting that the absolute first choice eleven has to go out for every game in the Carling Cup but I think the youth policy needs a bit of revision. If the manager rests Gael Clichy to give Kieran Gibbs, a youngster on the verge of breaking into the first team a game then that's one thing, but if he's bringing in a player who's getting nowhere near the Arsenal first team in the near future, I personally don't think that's competitive enough.

The objective in any competition for Arsenal at the moment is to win it. Having a policy of giving youngsters a chance is all well and good but it has to balanced against the need to put out a team that can win the game in question. If we were playing a Championship team at home then I'd have no problem with a few more first team players being dropped and few more younger faces coming in. As it is, tomorrow sees us away in the North London Derby, against a Spurs team whose main ambition, despite what they've accomplished in the last few months, still remains sticking one on the Arsenal.

Their players know that beating any Arsenal side gives them instant hero status with the Spurs fans, and they'll be up for this game in a way few teams Arsenal might face in the Carling Cup would be. It's hard to predict what sort of team Spurs will put out tomorrow night. If the Spurs fans were picking it I'd have no doubt it would be their strongest eleven. However Harry Redknapp seems keen to make the European Cup a priority, and with those games to think about as well, he may be pragmatic and rest some players.

Whatever side does end up playing for Spurs, Arsenal have to expect a tough, tough game tomorrow night. We always get 100% from Spurs, and that commitment has to be matched by whomever puts on the Arsenal shirt. Last time we played them in the Carling Cup it was a horror show. Spurs ran out 5-1 winners on the night, 6-2 on aggregate. They won that night, and were the better team for the simple reason that they just wanted it more, and that is unacceptable.

For any Arsenal team not to understand the importance of the derby, irrespective of the competition that it's played in, irrespective to the relative success of either side, is not acceptable. I understand why a Carling Cup third round match may not be top of the manager's priorities, but he must understand after all this time how important playing Spurs is to the fans.

Losing to Spurs is thankfully a feeling that we haven't had to deal with as Arsenal fans on too many occasions over the last few years, but that feeling is as bad as any disappointment we may suffer. Losing a Champions League Final, missing out on the title by a few points, the feeling of losing the North London Derby is up there with them.

I'm not saying the derby should be the be-all and end-all of Arsenal's season but I am saying that even if it is a Carling Cup third round match, it has to be taken seriously. It's significance to the fans, and hopefully the team as well, should not be ignored. I'm not necessarily asking the manager to abandon the idea of playing youngsters but if we do play some, then I am asking for them to be youngsters who are up to the task, like Kieran Gibbs or Carlos Vela. Jack Wilshere, I'd be more than happy to see play. 

I see a player like Marouane Chamakh chomping at the bit to get involved tomorrow night, and it annoys me that he probably won't get the chance. A game against Spurs means a lot to our club, it should never be taken lightly and we should never again be in the position of talking about our team getting a drubbing because Spurs wanted it more.

I know that 5-1 game was a few years ago now, but I still think there's a wrong to be righted there. I think this game is important and I think this competition could be important for Arsenal as well.