Arsenal’s defeat to Blackburn in last night’s FA Cup replay saw Arsene Wenger’s side wave goodbye to their most realistic chance of silverware this season. Following defeats to PSV in the Champions’ League and to Chelsea in Sunday’s Carling Cup Final, the FA Cup provided the North London club with arguably their best chance of taking something from an indifferent year. Benni McCarthy’s last minute wonder goal, however, ensured that Arsene Wenger’s latest batch of exciting young talent would probably end the campaign empty handed.

It could well have been different. Had Wenger played a few more players over the age of 21 against Chelsea, they might have won the Carling Cup and had he not left out crucial first teamers in favour the youngsters again last night, they could and should have been in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup too. But such is Wenger’s way: winning trophies seems to be of little concern when it comes to the domestic cup competitions. He has always treated the early stages of the Carling Cup with disdain, and now it seems, the FA Cup gets indulged with a similar dispassion. It would appear that for Wenger winning is less important than showing off his ability to find and develop great young talent.

Perhaps Mourinho’s comment that Wenger could not be considered a great manager, as he has never won Champions' League had a bigger effect on the Arsenal boss than he would ever want to admit. Wenger himself has achieved fantastic domestic success, but he is probably all too aware that - in the eyes of the general public - his claim to greatness lies in the fact that without huge financial resources at his disposal, he has still managed to develop incredibly successful teams that play exciting, free-flowing football. He has, if you like, done a Clough and created his teams rather than bought them. For this he has reason to be proud and is certainly justified in calling himself a ‘great’ manager.

But, so desperate is he to showcase his ability to unearth and develop young players that he has become temporarily distracted from the overriding objective of all truly great managers: winning competitions. His decision to play his young players in the Carling Cup Final and in last night’s FA Cup replay at Ewood Park showed up a manager for whom personal adulation is the primary concern, with winning coming a distant second. How he would have loved to walk away from Cardiff with all and sundry hailing his ability to turn a bunch of talented youngsters into a force capable of beating the mighty Chelsea.

The Arsenal fans have shown remarkable tolerance and trust in their manager's decisions. His tremendous success at the club has ensured that the knives are not out just yet. However, if he continues to show a total lack of sympathy for the common fan, they soon will be. Both sets of supporters travelled down to the Millennium Stadium on Sunday hoping for a victory, but it was the Chelsea fans who left Cardiff celebrating another success. Understandably, they would have been disappointed had Chelsea lost the game following a decision by Jose Mourinho to play the youth team instead of his best eleven. Without wanting to labour the point, this is because fans go to cup finals hoping to see their captain lift the trophy at the end of the match. They don’t go out of curiosity to see how their stars of tomorrow will compete at the highest level. And this is why there is no justification for Wenger’s policy of blooding young players in important cup games. Although the domestic cup competitions provide the young players with invaluable experience, there are no prizes dished out for having a great side in the future, only for winning in the here and now. Chelsea didn’t use the Carling Cup Final to bed in young players and, as a result they have one more trophy in the cabinet under Jose Mourinho.

In fact, it is probably Mourinho’s success at Chelsea, combined with Arsenal’s disappointing performance in the league over recent seasons, which has led Wenger to attempt such a vain stunt. Whereas once he was universally acclaimed as the one true genius in English football, now the gloss has come off his reputation. His effort to reassert himself at the top of the football management tree has backfired and his vanity has cost the club and the fans their best two chances of silverware this season. When future generations come to pass judgement on Arsene Wenger, they will look at what he has won first and other achievements will come second. If he continues to pass up opportunities for success then his greatness will certainly be called into question