Wednesday 3 December ~
When a Championship side triumphs over one from the Premier League, it is almost always considered a shock. Yet there was something distinctly underwhelming about Burnley's triumph over Arsenal in the quarter-finals of the Carling Cup last night. Whether it was the bitterly cold weather, the long journey up to a frozen Turf Moor or perhaps the high level of expectation following Sunday's 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge, this game always looked like one where Arsenal's young side were bound to stutter.
Now, it would be extremely naive to say that the team that faced the Clarets last night should have coasted through on the back of the weekend victory over Chelsea. As many an Arsenal fan will no doubt tell anyone who'll listen, as well telling themselves, the side that ran out yesterday was little more than a reserve side plus the additions of Nicklas Bendtner and Mikaël Silvestre. A side that won 3-0 at home to Wigan Athletic, far more able and capable opponents, in the last round, without the help of Bendtner or Silvestre.
But, as anyone who has experienced either (or both) will tell you, playing at the Emirates and playing up at Turf Moor are very different things. That setting would prove much tougher for what James Ducker in the Times calls a "cosmopolitan bunch of kids plucked from around the world and brought to a north London finishing school". But eliminate any suspicion you may have had that Arsenal's youngsters were in for a rough ride along the lines of what their senior colleagues tend to face whenever they visit Burnley’s Premier League neighbours Blackburn and Bolton. Burnley's performance was actually highly polished and fluid, with attacking wing play the order of the day.
The truth is that Arsenal's youngsters were found out. Clarets boss Owen Coyle will have noted that Wigan's failure to properly attack the Gunners in the last round for fear of being caught out by a fast counter-attack was their downfall. The youthful side were, as a result, allowed the time freedom to build attacks and break down the Latics' defence. A determined and hard-working performance by the lower-league side last night was enough to counter anything that Arsène Wenger's shivering side could offer, and it duly paid off.
Wenger's seniors would do well to heed a valuable lesson from their young colleagues' defeat last night: don't believe the hype. Perhaps this side, with an average age of less than 20, had listened a little too much to what pundits had to say about them following their success so far in the competition. Let's just hope that Robin van Persie and co don't do the same following their own impressive triumph at the weekend. Jim Lucas