Last night, however, the often belittled League Cup offered a remarkably significant insight on the state of two clubs among this season’s title contenders.
While the final result wouldn’t have made happy reading for Arsenal fans, its implications have far deeper roots and are much more serious than the 2-0 scoreline that brought the Gunners’ League Cup campaign to an end.
As Arsene Wenger swiftly pointed out after the final whistle, the third domestic competition is never one he has dedicated too much attention to, preferring to blood new faces into the team, rather than utilise a limited turnover which would give Arsenal a chance in the competition.
Whether the Frenchman should have taken the competition a little more seriously, considering the eight-year drought that has crippled his club, remains up for debate but last night’s game showed that while Arsenal are top of the table, their title challenge could be short lived.
After a dismal opening day defeat against Aston Villa, the arrival of Mesut Ozil inspired Arsenal to collect 22 points out of a possible 24 meaning that, as the Premier League season enters its fourth month, the Gunners are alone at the top of the table.
A few chinks in the armour appeared last week against Borussia Dortmund, arguably Arsenal’s first test of the season, as the Gunners were perhaps undeservedly beaten by a much better, more accomplished side than any they had faced up to that point.
Last night’s defeat not only reinforced the opinion of those who believe Arsene Wenger’s men have so far made the most of an extremely kind fixture list but it also highlighted the lack of depth at Wenger’s disposal.
Having both played on Sunday, Wenger and Jose Mourinho opted to refresh their sides, but while Carl Jenkinson and Nicklas Bendtner made an appearance for the Gunners, the Chelsea manager was able to summon Juan Mata and Samuel Eto’o.
Despite the relative importance of the competition, the difference in personnel can’t be underestimated, for the players who were given an opportunity to impress last night, are the same players either manager is likely to turn to, should one of their starters be unavailable through injury or suspension.
Mesut Ozil, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud are players any manager would love to have in his starting XI, but while Mourinho can replace Eden Hazard with Juan Mata, Wenger’s options are dramatically limited.
Without even considering the embarrassing pool of players Manuel Pellegrini can count of, Andre Villas Boas and even David Moyes have arguably more options than Wenger.
For all of United’s woes, of which there are aplenty, Moyes can leave Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie on the bench and pick Javier Hernandez up-front, an altogether better option than the ones available to Wenger.
A large squad isn’t everything in football, but with games coming thick and fast over the festive period and players almost invariably suffering from a loss of form at some stage in the campaign, the quality of replacements can have a crucial influence.
Psychologically, a variety of options ensures players are more relaxed as they’re aware of the existence of a plan B, a tranquillity which in turn is transmitted to the fans who know substitutes are more than capable to do a job when called upon.
Furthermore, having a large squad generates competition in training, with players fight for a starting a spot and thus raising not only their standards, but also their teammates’.
Details, one might say. But details that can decide a season, as Arsene Wenger is well aware of.