24 February 2018

Man City, a League Cup, and a tremulous treble...

So. Pep Guardiola's quest for footballing immortality has foundered on the shoals, has it? His fountain of youth hath run dry. His unslakeable thirst for trophies, not unlike that of Tantalus's thirst for food or drink, threatens to endure a second straight year. His arrival in Manchester cruelly crushed his previously pristine curriculum vitae; he had never suffered a trophyless campaign until his arrival on English soil. Now, a second year in, he seems now more than even before like a remorseless eating machine, devouring talent over the summer to the tune of some £285m to bolster what was already one of Europe's deepest and most-talented squads. Wigan ruined his Quixotean quest for a quadruple. Into the breach steps Arsenal—can they deny the Spaniard his treble?

At first blush, the answer might have to be a rather resounding "no!". After all, Arsenal barely eked out a two-legged win over Oestersunds FK, that Swedish Sultan of Swat. But for Kolašinac's goal to make it 1-2, we might very well have found ourselves on the very ironic and bittersweet (not to mention oh-so-wrong) end of the most Arsenal-ish of Arsenal ends: winning the first leg of a European knockout only to succumb on away-goals in the second. As such, it hardly seems as if we are in any position to deny Guardiola's Man City anything.
And still.

File:Melman the Giraffe.pngAgainst Oestersunds FK, we have to admit that there were some selection-dilemmas. For one, Aubameyang was unavailable because of some rather-arbitrary cup-tie rules: he had played in the Champions League for Dortmund, Dortmund dropped into Europa League, and he is thereby ineligible for the rest of Europa League play. Elections have been decided on less-arcane, less-arbitrary standards. Lacazette was injured, and so Danny Welbeck, he who makes Madagascar's Melman the Giraffe look positively competent if not triumphant, was called upon. Suffice it to say, he did not answer the call. Unconfirmed reports suggest that Welbeck squibbed the chance, fell down, and hugged whoever it was who did answer.

Still, we have to recognize that our Europa League misadventures owe something to Arsène's not-unwise decisions. After thrashing Oestersunds in the first leg, was he really so wrong to select Holding and Chambers as CBs with Elneny and Maitland-Niles to shield? I wonder if Arsène was looking for a chance to rest the likes of Koscielny and Mustafi on the assumption that we had booked passage through to the Europa League's round of 16? At some level, I suspect that Arsène was looking past this second leg—as were most if not all of those selected to play in it—as we prepared for Sunday's clash.

Let's face facts: the League Cup is only ever a bridesmaid, never a bride. Even when it features two top-flight opponents—2016's Man City-Liverpool or 2015's Chelsea-Tottenham—this cup still struggles to get the respect it craves. Be that as it may, this is one that does raise the stakes. Arsène and Guardiola have a long history dating back to the latter's time at Barcelona and extending through his time at Bayern and now at Man City. His hopes of joining Arsène in the undefeated El Dorado expired, but he must still harbor hopes of a treble. The Prem—the precious—is all but his already. His squad are the putative favorites to win the Champions League. Can he add to that the rather diminutive glory that is the League Cup?

I'm a big fan of schadenfreude. It drives me. It compels me. It consumes me. I would love nothing more than to see Arsenal triumph on Sunday. I don't even care about the League Cup all that much (well, maybe a little). All I really care about is denying that dastardly bastard just one piece of silverware, however humble or half-hearted it may be. Should we win on Sunday, I'll raise a toast or two to our triumph. If I'm drinking down Guardiola's tears, well, I can live with that.