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Which do we win? A Manchester City thought experiment

Let’s make up a world where winning everything isn’t possible.

Arsenal v Chelsea - Carabao Cup Semi-Final: Second Leg Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

If Arsenal were in a better league position right now, this would be considered a crucial point in their season. As it is, it’s still important, but they’re not exactly challenging for the league title, so the importance has shifted somewhat. So, in recognition of that fact, let’s do a little thought experiment, shall we?

We have two consecutive games against Manchester City coming up next week - first in the League Cup final this Sunday, then City come to London the following Thursday in the league. Let’s say, for the sake of this discussion, that Arsenal can only win one of those games. As fans, of course, we want them to win both, because I like it (and I assume you do too) when Arsenal win things; for this piece, though, let’s say winning one of the two is the only possible outcome.

The question thus becomes: Which one do you want Arsenal to win? The league game or the Cup final? We asked two people to weigh in. Well, “we” asked one person, because I’m the other one, and I guess the other person is the one who asked the question in our slack originally, so this paragraph is as pointless as a paragraph can possibly be at this point. Onward!

For me, it’s the League Cup. Why? Because I like it when Arsenal win trophies. Mock the League Cup if you will, but it is in fact a trophy, and Arsenal should win it. And also, from a more rational perspective, Arsenal aren’t challenging for the league this season, and even finishing top four would be a stretch, so rather than expending a bunch of energy trying to be in good position if Liverpool, Tottenham, or Chelsea slip up while not slipping up themselves, I’d rather Arsenal roll the dice on the two trophies that are currently within their reach.

Winning the League Cup would be fun. Arsenal haven’t won the League Cup since 1992/93, which makes it one of the few things Arsene Wenger has never won. Winning the Europa League would be amazing. Either one would be more gratifying to me than limping into fifth place in the league because Tottenham didn’t drop more points than Arsenal down the stretch. I tend to be a “focus on the positive” person in things like this, and two trophies are more positive than one decent league finish. So, that’s what I want: beat City in the League Cup, lose to them in the league. Then go win the Europa League.

Look, everyone loves a shiny pot. They glisten, they look good on the shelf, they allow you to rib your little brother who haven’t won anything in years, but in the long run, the League Cup is just that, a shiny pot. It culminates in nothing more than extra games to clog up your season and a massive bounty of £100,000 in prize money, otherwise known as “you still owe Jack Wilshere £10,000 this week”.

Conversely, League position is worth much, much more. Champions League qualification can mean upwards of £35 million, should you get out of the group stages, something Arsenal is very good at. It can mean more if you go on a long run and a far more popular draw. It would give a boost to attracting new players in the rebuild the team so sorely needs. Arsenal should entirely be more interested in taking that slim swing at the top four than added the quickly forgotten Carabao Cup to their coffers.

Losing to Spurs makes that prospect look slim and Europa appears to be the best route to the Champions League, but even that is full of tough teams for them to face. Conversely, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham all have looked mortal at times in the league. Eight points is a lot to make up but beating Man City is more like found points, given the teams they have beaten this year. It would be a step in the right direction and a massive momentum shift for Arsenal to close out their season on another excellent run of form.

Don’t be blinded by the shiny pot; Man City in the league is still the more important game.