Arsene Wenger played a team with the average age of 21-years-old for Arsenal’s last game of the Champions League group stages against current Greek champions, Olympiacos. Wenger sensibly looked to the weekend and rested his best players with the hope of picking up three points in their next league game.
Unfortunately for Standard Liège, who had played Arsenal’s strongest team on two occasions, losing both games, Olympiacos’ win meant that they couldn’t qualify. Did Wenger care? Course not. He was concerned with his own team, as he should be. As Sir Alex Ferguson was on our last game of the season against Hull when he rested pretty much every starting player (not that it had an effect on the league because we won regardless). As Rafael Benitez was towards at the end of the 2007 season when playing a weakened team against Fulham (which did have an effect on the league, with Sheffield Wednesday relegated by 1 point after Fulham claimed 3 from Liverpool’s B team).
Two weeks after Arsenal selected a considerably weaker team in the Champions League, Mick McCarthy rested loads of players against United midweek with an eye on the weekend, wanting to pick three points up against Burnley. He wanted to do what was best for his club. Did he care what effect this had on other clubs? Course not. Just like Benitez didn’t care about Wednesday, Ferguson didn’t care about Newcastle and Wenger didn’t care about Standard Liège.
Still, that didn’t stop the Arsenal manager moaning about having to compete against United over 37 games rather than 38. I’d argue that when you consider we’ve been playing with two or three midfielders across our back four, as well as a second choice keeper, for the past month, teams competing with us should be ashamed they’re not running away with it. But that is beside the point…
Gary Neville has today argued that McCarthy is entitled to play whichever set of players he chooses. Given that Wolves returning players earned themselves three points at the weekend, moving up to 12th in the league and two points away from the top ten, it’s fair to see McCarthy’s plan worked.
“It’s the prerogative of a manager,” said Neville. “Mick McCarthy has the whole season to think about. It’s wrong for people with big squads like Arsene Wenger to criticise Wolves when they have a different agenda. Wenger doesn’t know what is going on at Wolves, neither do we, and Wolves should be able to prioritise what game to play each player in. Clubs have squads so they can rotate players. It’s not for anyone to criticise – Wolves can decide what they want to do. They can go and play their youth team next week if they want; it’s entirely up to them.”