As Arsenal gears up to take on Manchester City in Sunday’s Carabao Cup final, some Gunners fans may secretly be hoping their team will lose.
On paper, that looks likely, seeing that 27 points separate Arsenal from the runaway leaders of the Premier League, but finals often produce upsets that go against the form book.
In last season’s FA Cup final, for example, Arsenal overcame the odds to defeat Chelsea, a victory that allowed Arsene Wenger to claim the season hadn’t been so bad after all. It had been, of course, with Arsenal failing to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in 20 years.
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Wenger’s reward for a season of unprecedented failure was a new two-year deal - inexplicable to a growing number of Gooners who despair of ever seeing the Frenchman step aside despite overseeing a decade of steady decline.
With Arsenal languishing in sixth spot in the league - despite not having to contend with the pressure of the Champions League, a respite that last season enabled Chelsea to win the Premier League title - Wenger has suddenly started taking the Carabao Cup seriously.
In past seasons it was an unwanted distraction, an opportunity for Wenger to blood some youngsters or to ease back some players from injury. But having been humiliatingly dumped out of the FA Cup in the third round by Nottingham Forest, many believe Wenger doesn’t really care what silverware he wins this season as long as there’s something in the trophy cabinet come the end of May.
The Europa League is the title that Arsenal are really gunning, as winning it would give them a place in next season’s Champions League, but Wenger could use success in the Carabao Cup as a weapon to ward off his detractors.
On the other hand, should Arsenal lose on Sunday, and then fail to qualify for the Champions League next season, it would hard to see how the board could keep faith in him.
Profit has always been paramount to owner Stan Kroenke, and two seasons without Champions League football may finally force the American to do what he’s hitherto considered unthinkable: sack Wenger.
Pep now the top dog
Wenger, of course, was once considered the top dog of Premier League managers, an innovator in an English game that had failed to keep up with the rest of Europe. That mantle now belongs to Pep Guardiola, and Sunday’s match is very much yesterday’s man against today’s.
The Spaniard is still without any silverware in 18 months of managing City, but barring a sensational collapse in form, they will win the Premier League title. The side are also all but guaranteed a place in the quarter-final of the Champions League, having thrashed Basel 4-0 in their last-16 first leg last week.
A shock defeat to League One Wigan in the FA Cup on Monday was a reminder to Guardiola that even the best-laid plans can go awry, however.
The result also underlines how much more competitive English football is compared with what he experienced in Spain and Germany. With Barcelona, Guardiola won 11 major trophies, and seven more then followed during his time in charge of Bayern Munich.
Meanwhile, Arsenal are recovering from the drama of last night’s Europa League tie against Ostersunds. What many thought would be a formality against the Swedish minnows turned out to be anything but, with Ostersunds inflicting a humiliating 2-1 defeat on the Gunners.
It wasn’t enough to prevent the north Londoners progressing to the next round of the Europa League, courtesy of their 3-0 away win in the first leg. But it was yet more confirmation for the Arsenal fans - who booed their team off at the final whistle - that it’s not new silverware the club needs but rather new management.
Carabao Cup final guide: Arsenal vs. Manchester City
We look at the match facts, team news, predictions and betting odds for the Wembley clash.
- When: Sunday, 25 February
- Where: Wembley Stadium, London
- Kick-off: 4.30pm
- TV channel: coverage starts at 3.30pm on Sky Sports Football
Carabao Cup final team news
Team news and injury updates for Arsenal and Manchester City.
- Arsenal team news: Arsene Wenger confirmed to Sky Sports that David Ospina will start in goal against City at Wembley. Aaron Ramsey is a major doubt because of a groin injury, but fellow midfielder Mesut Ozil “should be OK” after suffering from illness. Striker Alexandre Lacazette is ruled out because of a knee injury, while Henrikh Mkhitaryan is cup-tied.
- Manchester City team news: the Manchester Evening News says that Kyle Walker, Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne, Fernandinho and David Silva are “almost certain starters” for Wembley. Fabian Delph is suspended so Pep Guardiola will have to decide on who will play left back. The City boss is expected to pick goalkeeper Claudio Bravo. The Daily Telegraph says that Raheem Sterling and Nicolas Otamendi are available, while according to The Sun, striker Gabriel Jesus could make a “heroic” return from injury.
Predicted line-ups according to the London Evening Standard.
- Arsenal starting XI: Ospina, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Xhaka, Ramsey, Wilshere, Welbeck, Ozil, Aubameyang
- Manchester City XI: Bravo, Walker, Kompany, Otamendi, Zinchenko, Fernandinho, Silva, De Bruyne, Sterling, Sane, Aguero
Arsenal vs. Manchester City predictions
Who will win the Carabao Cup? We round up the predictions...
Mark Lawrenson, BBC: “I look at Arsenal and think, if City are at their best offensively, I can’t see the Gunners keeping them out. 2-0 City.”
Kolo Toure, former Arsenal and City defender, speaking to Sky Sports: “Arsenal have a lot of experience of playing finals - this is the thing, but I will go for City. City at the moment are playing the best football in the league right now, even in Europe they are playing amazing football. If they play with the same performance level they are used to, there is no drama [for them] for sure.”
The Daily Telegraph: “Arsenal have a fine Wembley record in cup competitions, but we cannot look past the champions elect. To have success against City, you either need to press intensely to stop their build-up play from the back or retreat into a deeper defensive shape and look to frustrate them. Arsenal do not really look suited to either strategy, and while Wenger’s side have enough attacking talent to score, we cannot see them halting the waves of light blue attacks. Verdict: Arsenal 1 Man City 3.”
Carabao Cup final betting odds
The latest best prices according to Oddschecker (as of 23 February).
- Man City to win: 8/13
- Draw: 18/5
- Arsenal to win: 9/2
- Sergio Aguero (Man City): 7/2
- Gabriel Jesus (Man City): 9/2
- Raheem Sterling (Man City): 6/1
- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal): 13/2
- Leroy Sane (Man City): 7/1
- Bernardo Silva (Man City): 9/1
- Kevin De Bruyne (Man City): 9/1
- Danny Welbeck (Arsenal): 10/1
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