Carling Cup final preview : time to deliver

Morning finalists,

in a few hours from now we’ll be kicking off against Birmingham at Wembley. Our first final since Paris Chelsea in 2007 and the closest we’ve come to a trophy since then also. Plenty of water has gone under the bridge since but this team now have a chance to show they’re mature enough and good enough to win things.

There are those who might scoff that it’s just the Carling Cup. I don’t pay any attention to that. The aim of any tournament is to win it, and we have that chance today. So much has been said about our trophylessness (yes, it’s a real word) that it really does feel like a monkey on our backs. Today, we need to shake off that monkey, kick him squarely in the bollocks and say ‘Fuck off monkey, you little cunt’.

In terms of the team I think the only decision the manager has to make is how to replace Cesc. Earlier in the week I was thinking he’d bring Diaby into midfield and play Nasri on the right. This morning, bearing in mind Diaby is just back from injury, I think he’ll put Nasri in the Cesc role and play Bendtner on the right, giving us a line-up of:

Wojscez©® – Sagna – Djourou – Koscielny – Clichy – Song – Wilshere – Nasri – Bendtner – Arshavin – van Persie

For some it’s an opportunity to add silverware and winners medals to their established Arsenal careers. For others it’s a first chance and hopefully the first of many. Two of our most important players today are in their debut seasons for us. Wojscez©® and Jack Wilshere will have had hopes of making the breakthrough this season but a cup final so soon was probably not in their thoughts. Thankfully for us they have real character and won’t be fussed by the importance of the occasion.

The team, despite some issues in the FA Cup, is on an excellent run of form. The confidence gained, in different areas, from beating Barcelona and then Stoke, puts us in good shape. Defensively we’ve been much more solid and the centre-halves today will have to work very hard to deal with the aerial threat of Zigic. It’s not just their job though, the best way to nullify a player like Zigic is to cut off the supply. Set-pieces and the delivery of Larsson will be a threat today and we have to be mindful of that.

We know as well that Birmingham like to play a physical game. Bacary Sagna will remember well Lee Bowyer from the game at St Andrews, and there were moments at the Grove game earlier in the season, but I don’t think this is a team that will be bullied today. Perhaps Stoke was the best preparation for this game. Holding out for a 1-0 win against a team that provide as big a physical and aerial threat as any other is good for the confidence.

At the other end of the pitch Birmingham will be worried by the in-form van Persie and the return of Arshavin to something approaching his best. The absences of Cesc and Walcott do rob us of some of our attacking verve, no doubt about it, but that’s not something we can dwell on. Nasri is capable, Song has got a few, Bendtner provides us with a different option if needed, and what a day it would be for Wilshere to step up and show he can add goals to his game, so I’m not that worried.

We didn’t create a huge amount against Stoke, to be fair, and I expect Birmingham to defend in a similar fashion today. When we’re in possession they’ll get men behind the ball and make life very difficult for us, so we may have to be patient. Other than that all you can ask from the team is that they give everything and remember the rewards that working hard brings. Think back to the games against Chelsea and Barcelona and how the high-tempo when we had the ball created opportunities.

No Arsenal fan needs any reminding how important today is. As well as kicking that monkey in the nuts we need a trophy because good teams win trophies. At the end of the day flowing football and nice passing and being technically excellent means little if you don’t have success to back it up. There’s been more than a little impatience on the way to this final. The players, the manager, the board, have all been questioned to varying degrees, depending on your point of doom, but today this Arsenal team have got to show they’re ready for the next step.

In recent years, when push has come to shove, we’ve been found wanting. Let’s go out on that Wembley pitch today and show that things have changed, that this is no longer the case. As much as the fans want success, so should the players. Perhaps there’ll be a measure of nerves and trepidation, until you get that first one under your belts it’s natural, but winning becomes a habit. Knowing you can go the distance and overcome that pressure is invaluable.

Robin van Persie will lead out the Arsenal team today knowing that it’s time he won something again. Andrei Arshavin, Samir Nasri, Bacary Sagna, Johan Djourou, Alex Song – all established experienced players who have no measurable success during their time at the club. On the bench Diaby, Denilson, Rosicky, Eboue – not an Arsenal medal between them. It’s time to make that right. Cesc says:

As soon as we win something together, we will realise we can really go on and win more.

That’s what makes today’s game even more crucial. It’s a final and you obviously want to win any final but you just feel the benefits of doing so today would mean so much to this team.

It’s now a little before 9am and the excitement is building. By kick off I’m sure nerves will be frayed and nails bitten but then that’s all part the game. We’ve had some painful moments in the last few seasons, we’ve come close but not quite got there, fingers crossed that today is a day like April 5th 1987 (Liverpool 1-2 Arsenal) , like April 18th 1993 (Sheff Weds 1-2 Arsenal), like the cup final days that live long in the memory. And that it signals the start of something more.

Come on Arsenal!

As usual you can join me for live blogging of the game, I’ll put up another post with more details later on. Also, the live blog has a brand new sponsor, TeamOdds, and those of you who fancy a flutter might want to check out our Arsenal Odds page, which provides a series of bets and finds the best Arsenal odds from a range of bookmakers. There are some interesting free bets with some of them too so feel free to sign up and take advantage of those.

iPhone app – to those of you experiencing problems with the iPhone app we’re aware of it and looking into it so please be patient. In the meantime you can return to the old fashioned, archaic method of visiting the site in your browser!

As well as that today is something of a celebration for Arseblog. This day nine years ago the blog began so it’s a fun day to have a birthday. I can’t really believe it’s nine years, time flies, eh? I’d just like to thank everyone who reads the blog, listens to the Arsecast, Twitters, Facebooks, Tumbls, emails and everything else. Your support in the last few months, since the blog returned to its former home, is hugely appreciated.

The community here is something a bit special, online and offline, and I’m very proud that it’s grown out of this website. We might have our differences at times but Arsenal fans really are the best. Obviously you’re a huge part of Arseblog, without you it’d be nothing etc etc, so I hope later on we can raise a glass to an Arsenal win and I’ll send you on a piece of the birthday cake.

Thanks all. I love you almost as much as I love Bob.

*swoons*

Until later.

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