Arsene Wenger claims that his current crop of youngsters are ‘the most complete set’ he’s ever had. And while some are suggesting that he says that every year, his alteration of his approach to the Carling Cup is confirming it.
One thing that has gone largely unnoticed is that Wenger never used to field a team of youngsters in this competition, not a whole team at least. Six or seven years ago, the team used to be a mix of youngsters and first teamers, designed to give a few a run out without weakening the side too much. Whenever too many kids were put out there, they lost.
It all began to change around five years ago, but in the 2006 run to the semi final, where we actually lost to Wigan, there was still a mix, with the likes of Toure, Gilberto, Eboue and Van Persie regularly featuring. A year later, the side that famously hammered Liverpool at Anfield still had Toure and Cesc in it from the first team. Flamini and Baptista were also more reserve than youth at the time.
Only last season did Wenger’s policy of putting a new eleven out for the Carling Cup become complete. Instead of backing the reserves and youths up with a couple of experienced names, he finally began to make eleven changes between matches. Squad players such as Denilson, Diaby, Eduardo, and Bendtner were not first team names then, and it was the first time that Wenger seemed to put complete faith in his squad, believing they could win without the smattering of stars previously helping them along.
And this season, the team has got even younger. Despite the 4-5 injuries, Wenger still changes the team in its entirety. Gone are the days when doing so would see his side get completely outclassed, the three or four decent players held back by a set that would clearly never make the grade. Now, the squad has real depth, to the point where the teenagers have such ability that they are able to beat a strong Premiership outfit with ease and a maturity far beyond their years.
No longer does this seem a surprise to Wenger. The subtle policy change made over the past two years is only emphasising just how many youngsters might make the breakthrough. Look back five years, and the Carling Cup sides contained players who, if they weren’t in the first team squad then, would never make it. But look back to last season, and suddenly the difference is clear – Bendtner, Eduardo, Denilson, Diaby and Song are five names that are already in and around the first team.
How many of this eleven will follow in their footsteps? One thing is for sure – actions speak louder than words, and from his complete trust in them, it seems Wenger really does believe this set is the best he’s ever had.