When Arsene Wenger made 9 changes to his Arsenal team that travelled to Nottingham on Sunday, and did not even have any of his top First team players on the bench in case things didn’t go to plan, was this a sign that he was saving his best side to face Chelsea on Wednesday in the Caraboa Cup semi-final?
Despite Wenger’s brilliant record in the FA Cup, he knows that in the latter stages you have extra fixtures that can distract you from the fight for the Top Four and this season the Gunners could even be in a tougher fight than usual, and as he said before the Forest game, it is far from easy to win. He was asked if he had extra pressure as holders and he replied: “Yes, of course, but there is an incentive as well to maintain our record, and overall the FA Cup is a very important competition. To win trophies – in every country – is so difficult, that everybody really goes for it, absolutely and completely.”
And it is tough. Arsenal had to beat Man City in the semi’s last year and Chelsea in the Final, so perhaps he thinks it would make more sense to actually go for the League Cup (which he has never won) and he only has to beat Chelsea over the two-legged semi final before facing Man City in the Final. That will be less of a distraction than a long run in the FA Cup, so maybe he took a bigger chance with his FA Cup selection than he usually would, in the hope that his first team would be fresh to face Chelsea. In fact the BBC pundit Chris Sutton thinks this is exactly what he has done. He said: “It is super arrogant to think you will breeze past Forest,”
“If you knew the game was going to be difficult, why would you not pick your strongest team? He has prioritised the League Cup over the FA Cup.
“Wenger has taken Nottingham Forest too lightly. He has to carry the can for that. Arsenal are regressing under Wenger.”
Are they regressing? Or has Wenger simply taken a calculated gamble (that went wrong) to keep a stronger team for the League Cup game on Wednesday?