Scott Arfield knows the heartbreak of losing a cup final never leaves you and wants Rangers to avoid that fate again.
For self-confessed Oasis nut Scott Arfield, there’s a Definitely Maybe feel about the possibilities in store for Rangers this week.
The Ibrox outfit’s ambitions for the Europa League and the Viaplay Cup will be decided over the course of four pivotal days. But it’s the question marks over Gers’ longer-term potential that is intriguing Arfield ahead of the do-or-die dates against Real Betis and Aberdeen.
Win both and the former Light Blues hero reckons Philippe Clement’s team will be feeling Supersonic marching towards a huge clash at Celtic Park later this month, where their Premiership hopes could really be set rocking. But make a Digsy’s Dinner of this week and it might just be more than just a place in the Europa knock-outs and the season’s first piece of silverware that Rangers see Slide Away. “The word I’ve used is momentum,” said Arfield, now playing for MLS side Charlotte FC after quitting Ibrox last summer.
“If the team can win on Thursday and then Sunday, it can really kick them on to greatness and to achieve what they want to achieve at the end of the year. If Rangers can get two results this week, the confidence and momentum might just see them through to that game at Parkhead on December 30.
“Sunday is ginormous for that feeling. If you have a trophy won in December, after half a season you already have something to look back on and to kick you on. It will also give the manager more respect. When he asks the questions of the team when they are deep into the season and he’s already won a trophy, then that will be huge.
“The league was supposedly done a month ago with Celtic seven points clear. But it shows you that football isn’t played on paper. It’s decided on the grass and any team can beat any team. That was proved on Sunday at Rugby Park. I watched the second half of that game and I thought Kilmarnock really deserved their victory over Celtic.
“They managed to get the win and that now gives Rangers a huge boost going into this week, with the gap now down to five with a game in hand. It didn’t look great for Rangers a few weeks ago. It would’ve seemed surprising then that they could have a game in hand to bring the gap down to two points at this stage of the season.
“Celtic were flying at the start of the year, obviously new management has come into Rangers and now Celtic have hit a bit of a speed bump. That’s Scottish football, it’s what happens with title races.”
Talking of bumps in the road, Gers have crashed into a couple of unlikely potholes during their European travels this term, shipping five points to bottom seeds Aris Limassol.
Now they need to beat Manuel Pellegrini’s side in Spain to guarantee progression or face being re-routed into the Conference League. But Arfield doesn’t buy the notion that dropping down would be a booby prize for Clement’s men.
He said: “People look down at the Conference League but look what it did for West Ham last year. They celebrated that like it was the biggest trophy going. So I don’t think it’s a completion you can take lightly. The fact of the matter, though, is that the Europa League is a higher, more prestigious tournament so you want to go as deep in that as you can.
“So I don’t think you can sacrifice Thursday. In my opinion I don’t think you can prioritise any game, even though I do think Sunday is more important simply because it’s the first chance to win silverware. At this time of the season, lifting that could really kick you on.”
Arfield found to his cost what can happen when you don’t get that fresh spur midway through a campaign. He was part of the Steven Gerrard line-up that dominated Celtic at Hampden in the 2019 League Cup final yet missed out on the trophy when Christopher Jullien’s sucker-punch snatched victory for the Hoops.
There was further agony to come after the January break when a collapse in the second half of the season allowed Neil Lennon’s team to close out Celtic’s ninth straight title. Now Arfield has advised his old side to avoid a repeat by making sure chances are taken whenever they come against the Dons.
He said: “In terms of Old Firm matches it was probably the most one-sided game we ever played. We were at it that game and it showed Celtic in a different light. But they took their opportunity – albeit it was offside!
“They took it and they won the game. We were good that game but ultimately we had nothing to show for it. Of course Aberdeen have got that about them. We saw that in the 3-1 game at Ibrox in terms of how effective they can be with their strike force.
“They get the ball up to the big man Miovski and have runners off him. They’re a team to be reckoned with and it won’t be an easy game. Chances when they come along will be huge and Rangers have to take them.”
The Light Blues still have four survivors from that devastating defeat in 2019. But Arfield is looking to the quartet of James Tavernier, Connor Goldson, Borna Barisic and Ryan Jack to provide leadership. “The game is probably right up there in terms of my biggest disappointments – but that’s life,” he said.