Another curse in disguise for Arsene?

IF the FA Cup is a curse in disguise for Arsenal, what on earth is the League Cup?

Whatever it is called, it has always been the runt of the trophy family, the meaningless irritant for which Arsene Wenger has only ever shown a haughty disdain.

But now apparently it is taking on a new meaning – it is the only trophy he hasn't won and he finds himself in the final against Manchester City.

After Chelsea, City are the club he has railed against the most. Another he accuses of "financial doping" yet for whom he has been an all-too-willing supplier. As City fans never cease to remind him, Arsenal have been their feeder club.

Now it's United. Or is it Chelsea? Or Liverpool? Or anywhere ambitious players feel they can further their careers. (We'll leave out Everton as getting £26m for Theo Walcott looks like good business for a well-documented dud.)

Come on, Arsene, you can't now claim the League Cup matters. Oh, but he is – and it does – to him. First of all, it's a chance to right the wrong of that excruciating loss to Birmingham City when it was in his grasp in 2011.

And it's also a chance to make it four trophies in five years – four lesser trophies, of course – but it would enhance his status with the old buffers on the board – and could delay further the retirement he dreads.

We might even get a peep out of Silent Stan. He could come over if he can afford the time from his legal battle now he's being sued for taking one of his other "franchises" out of its home to one 2,500km away. But if Arsenal do win it, we hope they spare us the open-top bus parade.

Scraping past a weakened Chelsea is being billed as part of a bigger picture - turning the corner. A potentially difficult, even disastrous, week is now being described as a significant one when Arsenal make important moves to become contenders once again.

They're after Jonny Evans and if they can add Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to Henrikh Mkhitaryan, they are giving themselves a sniff of a chance. And they are talking a good game over Alexis Sanchez.

Not many feel Arsenal have got the better of the swap with Mkhitaryan, but the Gunners have removed a world-class player who became toxic for a decent albeit lesser one with something to prove.

The Armenian is a classic Wenger signing and the nearest thing to the much-missed Santi Cazorla, but with goals. Intelligent, multi-lingual and Bundesliga Players' Player of the Year in 2015-16 with 23 goals and 15 assists, his flop at Old Trafford was a surprise.

If he's able to renew his partnership with Aubameyang, we could see Arsenal as a more potent attacking force in the coming weeks. And if Mesut Ozil decides to join the January exodus, Mkhitaryan would assume the role of chief creator.

But if the prolific Gabonese is to arrive, Wenger has to stump up rather more than feels comfortable. And he's already expressed doubts about Auba's character which drew a stinging riposte from Dortmund.

The striker has a tendency to go AWOL both on and off the field and is thus an out-of-character Wenger signing. Indeed, it is a mark of desperation that he appears willing to take the risk.

Cussed to the end, the Frenchman is acutely aware – although he'll never admit it - that the exodus of players abandoning hope of winning the top prizes under him has been going on for years.

From Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas through the Man City contingent to this season when both a player of unrealised potential (Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain) and one of proven pedigree (Sanchez) have decided there's no future there.

Recently, Danny Murphy revealed he'd been told first-hand that: "There's no discipline at Arsenal. There's too many of them [players] who don't really care as there aren't any repercussions."

Hearing that must have hurt Wenger as much as the Ox's explanation for taking a substantial pay cut to go to Liverpool: "I want to take myself out of my comfort zone. A kick up the backside will be good for me," he said.

Creating a 'comfort zone' and departure lounge are the biggest indictments against this once-great manager. Yes, Sanchez must cop some stick for downing tools but the greater blame has to go with the man who convinced him Arsenal were a lost cause.

Sol Campbell is another who doubts the club's current standing. He says: "Arsenal are not able to retain their best players so others will say, 'Why do I want to go there?'" And an even more illustrious Gunner, Thierry Henry, has split the fans after being accused of encouraging Sanchez to leave.

Clearly, the Emirates is not what it used to be. Wenger still believes a top four place is possible and has the Europa League as an alternative route to next season's Champions League.

But if there's another year away from the big boys, a League Cup triumph would be scant consolation. Indeed, you feel the club would be better off losing if meant a change at the top. Victory, like the three recent FA Cup triumphs, would be no more than life support for a doomed old monarch.