It’s the only domestic trophy that evaded Arsene Wenger during his 22 year tenure. Now Arsenal are 180 minutes away from ending a 25 year wait for the League Cup.
The Emirates Stadium becomes the battleground for a place in the Carabao Cup final as Arsenal go head-to-head with Liverpool in the semi-final second-leg. It’s all to play for with both sides playing out a goalless draw at Anfield a week ago. Liverpool were left to rue their missed chances as well as their one-man advantage as Gunners midfielder Granit Xhaka was handed a straight red card in the first-half.
These two gargantuan giants of English football are sure to serve up a much better second-leg, especially because there is not another match to fall back on, with extra-time and penalties deciding who will face Chelsea at Wembley Stadium in a month’s time. Both clubs have experience of lifting this historic trophy in the past, but it has been a while since either basked in the glory that the three-handled goblet bestows.
The Gunners have won the League Cup on just the two occasions, back in 1987 and 1993, three years before the Arsene Wenger era dawned in north London. For the great things that the Frenchman achieved at the club in terms of titles, the League Cup was the one that got away. Wenger experienced three finals with the Gunners during his reign, one at the Millennium Stadium and two at the redesigned Wembley Stadium, but tasted defeat on each occasion.
Firstly, they were beaten by London rivals Chelsea under Jose Mourinho in 2007. The Gunners got off to a brilliant start when Theo Walcott put them ahead and it looked like it was the start of a defining afternoon for Wenger. But it was not to be, Ivorian goal machine Didier Drogba equalised swiftly eight minutes after the opener and he struck again late in the second-half to complete the turnaround.
The next final came back at the home of English football where they took on Alex McLeish’s Birmingham City. Arsenal were paraded around as the winners as soon as the finalists were confirmed and many expected this game to be a white wash for Wenger’s team. Everyone, including the Gunners, underestimated the Blues that day. After luckily avoiding a penalty against them in the opening stages, Arsenal went behind as towering forward Nikola Zigic guided the ball past Wojciech Szczęsny. Dutchman Robin van Persie levelled the score before half-time, but it was Birmingham who snatched the victory at the death. Substitute Obafemi Martins was gifted the easiest of cup final-winning goals because of a mix-up between the goalkeeper and Laurent Koscielny, marking two missed occasions for Wenger.
The Frenchman’s final attempt came in his final year at Arsenal, and he was given his toughest opponent to tussle with, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. It was a very different team to the Arsenal we see before us now, and they were comfortably beaten 3-0 by Man City, and it just seemed like fate had written it so that this trophy was the one he could never have. For all the success Wenger had at the Emirates, and before that Highbury Stadium, it’s hard to imagine him having many regrets during his 22-year tenure at Arsenal, but the one domestic trophy that evaded him and the missing piece of his collection is sure to irritate him to this day.
For Liverpool, a decade has now passed since they last won the competition, as they beat Cardiff City in a penalty shoot-out. That was the eighth time in their history that they lifted one of English football’s most prestigious titles and compared to Arsenal, they have enjoyed that honour considerably more. They are of course the joint-record holders for most League Cup wins, alongside Manchester City and this year they have the chance to solely claim the record for themselves.
Arsenal fans are desperate to taste league and European glory again but they will still be happy to add another domestic cup to their cabinet, after all it’s been a while since they last won this particular competition. Mikel Arteta has the chance to add the League Cup to the FA Cup and FA Community Shield he has already attained in the Gunners hot seat and it would mark another step in the right direction for his side’s evolution.
His players battled brilliantly and defended resolutely last week, and now with the home advantage he will be hoping his players can pounce on Jurgen Klopp’s side. Klopp will also gee his players up for this match, because he may have handed Liverpool a Champions League title, a Premier League title and a UEFA Super Cup, but he is still yet to get his hands on a domestic cup competition, and this second-leg provides him with a great chance to get closer to another honour on his glowing CV.
Regardless of the dull first-leg we witnessed, this second-leg will likely serve a match of higher quality and more intensity as a cup final place awaits one of these two footballing giants. History is on Liverpool’s side, but Mikel Arteta will be desperate to achieve something that even the great Arsene Wenger did not.