Arsène Wenger considered a move for Owen Hargreaves in the summer only to decide that his existing defensive midfield options were sufficiently strong. As Hargreaves prepared to line up for Manchester City against Arsenal in the Carling Cup quarter‑final at the Emirates, Wenger hoped that his faith in all areas of his squad would be repaid.
The Arsenal manager had tracked Hargreaves in the past but he felt that he did not represent value for money when he left Bayern Munich for Manchester United in 2007.
He could have taken Hargreaves as a free agent this summer, after United lost patience with his fitness record and released him but, in what amounted to a shock, it was the City manager, Roberto Mancini, who signed him.
"When he played at Bayern Munich, we followed him very closely but it was a big transfer – he was sold to Manchester United for £17m and he only had one year left on his contract," Wenger said.
"So we didn't move in for him at that time. In the summer, you consider it but we had players like [Emmanuel] Frimpong and [Francis] Coquelin coming back … [Alex] Song and [Abou] Diaby in these defensive positions, where we were not really in the need."
Wenger indicated that Frimpong would start, together with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Yossi Benayoun and Park Chu-young in what is, for him, a delicate balancing act.
The manager wants to blend youth and experience but the strength of City's second string has influenced his thinking. The situation is complicated by some of his established players being "in the red", in other words, close to burn-out. There is no chance that Wenger will pick, for example, Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey.
"I believe that some players are on the fringe of being really limited," Wenger said. "I will rest some players but I still want to play a team that has a chance to win the game. For example, players like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Emmanuel Frimpong will play but I consider them to be first-team players. I have 90% decided. There is still 10% flexibility."
Wenger and his players were scarred by last season's defeat in the Carling Cup final to Birmingham City, when a last-minute mix-up between Laurent Koscielny and Wojciech Szczesny cost them dearly. The reverse sent Arsenal into decline, which cost them the chance of success in the other, more prestigious competitions. "We would love to make up for it," Wenger said.
Yet he repeated his view that success in the domestic game's secondary cup tournament paled in comparison to Champions League qualification.
"When you are in a competition, of course you want to win it," Wenger said. "The target is to finish in the top four, though. It's as simple as that. What engages the whole future of the club is being in the top four."
Success against City might not even be measured by the result. There have been fears voiced about the strength in depth of Wenger's squad; when the regulars are missing, certain areas can feel significantly weaker. He would take great heart from the back‑ups merely proving their worth. They will surely be required over the second half of the season.
"The squad has more experience and I am confident we can show that on Tuesday night," Wenger said. "We are still a young team – I think we combine. The success of this club is based on the development of young players and we still want to show that."
City have become a bugbear for Wenger because of their financial might, which he finds distasteful, and one of the symbols of it is Samir Nasri, who was prised from the Emirates in the summer by an eye‑watering pay rise. Wenger stressed his wish for the home crowd to "respect" the midfielder.
He was also questioned about whether he envisaged City going unbeaten through the Premier League season to emulate his "Invincibles" of 2003‑04. He did not rule it out, although he feels that, after 13 league games, it is very early to address the notion. To him, City cannot be considered as champions-elect.
"Financially, it is impossible to compete with them," Wenger said. "On the football pitch, it is possible."