I’ve just discovered what EFL actually stands for. I’d long since given up paying too much attention to all the names by which the League Cup has styled itself. I never warmed to the Milk Cup, Littlewoods Cup nor the Rumbelows Cup, and by the time Coca-Cola got on board I’d had it with the corporate name changes and just stuck the the good old fashioned League Cup. So when I first saw EFL I assumed it was probably some multi national energy conglomerate or Chinese baby food manufacturer and, like a man at a buffet table who reaches a tray of undercooked and rapidly cooling eggs, I moved swiftly on.
You may readily imagine my surprise on discovering that, far from the Ezhou First-foods Laboratories or Energie Für Leben corporation, EFL simply stands for English Football League. Why then, given this simple return to a football based name, could they not have simply called the bloody thing the League Cup? Makes you wonder doesn’t it?
This is a competition which has always ruffled the feathers. Born a only couple of years before I was it was conceived as a consolation prize for those knocked out of the FA Cup. As such it has always been a poor relation to its illustrious forebear and occupied a similar place in the football hierarchy as the Europa League does today. Worth winning yes, but very much the silver medal contest. In fact clubs often disdained even to take part, until compelled to in the 1971-72 season. The ‘big’ clubs, an amorphous description if ever there was one, only really sat up and took any notice of it when the final moved to Wembley and the winners were guaranteed a place in European competition.
So when anyone suggests that Arsenal are disrespecting a venerable competition by fielding a second or even third string team you may blow a long, wet and noisome raspberry at them. When launched back in the early sixties the average attendance at League Cup games was about that of a third division match. I don’t actually believe that Arsène disrespects any competition. In fact I’m not entirely sure an imaginary construct such as a football tournament can be disrespected. It can’t exactly take offence can it? In any event our manager is competitive by nature, prizing winners above all other sportsmen and would want to win every match, every competition in which his side takes part.
I enjoy the League Cup enormously. There is slightly less pressure around it and given the presence of fringe players and ebullient youth we have been treated to many exciting matches during Arsène’s reign. I always want us to make it to the final if for no other reason than to see the likes of Jeff, Noddy Holding, Chuba and Ospina get a good run of games. Also it is the perfect opportunity to settle new faces into the first team away from the intensity of the Premier League.
Tonight we travel to the City Ground Nottingham where we’ll face, among others, one of our old League Cup alumni, Henri Lansbury. Lansbury’s most famous moment came when he scored against the Tiny Totts in the 2010 iteration of the competition and I confess to thinking that surely here was a future star of the Arsenal first team. His, and the experience of many others before and since, is not merely a salutary warning to those of us who think we can see into a young player’s future. It also serves as a timely reminder as to just how breathtakingly good the likes of Hector and Alex Iwobi are to make it through from the youth teams to the first.
Raw talent is not enough. Scoring against frail and second rate opposition like Spurs in a third rate tournament is not enough. The blend of composure, skill, strength and whatever the magic X factor is which only Arsène can see are so rare that it is incredibly difficult to correctly predict which of the youngsters will go on to make the grade. Given our increased muscle in the transfer market, the gap through which they must squeeze has now become even more narrow.
So my advice is to enjoy watching the kids that manage to make it into the League Cup side and don’t bother looking too much farther ahead. This may be the only night or the only season they get to shine for us and so we should take their performances at face value and not project too much of a future for them. Of course, given the depth of our squad and the quality of players who cannot even be guaranteed a place on the subs bench these days there may not be too many fresh faces in the first eleven anyway.
What of our opponents tonight? Managed by Philippe Montanier, after eight Championship matches they suffer the indignity of sitting below the second best team in Bristol. They are, on their day, a free scoring side who have racked up eleven goals in the three league games they’ve won this season. They won both of their previous League Cup matches away from home and, despite setbacks at Brighton and Brentford, should not be underestimated.
Montanier has come under some criticism for his policy of rotation having used more players than any other Championship manager so far this season. While I accept that a settled first eleven which can build real and deep understandings all over the pitch is as important an element in a winning team as any other, I believe that in the modern game learning to manage and employ a big squad is a vital skill. With playing staff pushed to the absolute peak of fitness injuries seem almost inevitable. With so many matches being played and at such a ferocious pace players have to be rested in order to maximise their potential. It’s a balancing act and keeping all those plates spinning is the lot of the modern manager.
Apart from Henri Lansbury another familiar name on the Forest books is Armand Traore. Still only twenty six, Traore was another League Cup player from our academy who never quite bridged the gap to the top level. Oh and there is one other you may remember. Six feet four inches tall, twenty eight years old, former star of both Tårnby Boldklub and Kjøbenhavns Boldklub, Danish international, top knot wearing, tattooed, hat-trick scoring star of one of our greatest ever League Cup triumphs, the five nil drubbing of Leyton Orient. I speak of none other than Lord Bendtner of Copenhagen.
Love him or really love him, I will always remember with great fondness his winner against Spurs after coming on as a substitute way back in 2007. He high fived Emmanuel Eboué, trotted into the penalty area and scored with a Roy Of The Rovers header. Timed at 1.8 seconds (the clock only started ticking when the corner was taken) it remains the fastest ever goal from a substitute.
Well, that’s enough from me. Enjoy the fun and games if you can, I’m not sure who if anyone is screening the match. I have a band practice tonight so will be going dark until the highlights are posted online. Ciao for now Positivistas.