Wembley. As I sit in front of my keyboard, safely back in London after three days in Germany's capital city and with about an hour before I set off for the north west of our capital, I don't really know what to say. I don't really know what to write. So, it seems a good idea to start with the stadium where Arsenal will hope to end a run of six years without a trophy. When you say it aloud- try it- it doesn't really sound like that long a time. Not when you consider the trophy droughts that certain other clubs have endured. But it seems that there is a growing feeling around the Arsenal that this particular trophy drought is about to come to an end, hopefully in some style too.
I'm not so sure it will be like that today. Nor will I care particularly, as long as it's van Persie who lifts the trophy come 6pm. We know Birmingham will try and make it difficult for us and, particularly if they were to score first, we're unlikely to get the open game of football we'd all love to see. Mainly as it would more than likely mean us winning and winning with ease. I don't expect it to be like that today though. I think, despite the fact that we are still in a good position in three other competitions, that there is a hell of a lot riding on this afternoon. In the two finals we have played since we last won something, we had to play the English champions (and so nearly beat them despite playing with Aliádíčre and Baptista up front) and then followed that with a final against a team that was just growing into the all conquering outfit FC Barcelona now are. I don't think anyone expected us to win either of those finals, today is different. Today, against a well organised but somewhat limited Birmingham side, we are expected to win and that means the pressure is on us. As we know, pressure can do strange things to, well, anyone.
It ocurred to me in the week, after Arsenal.com ruled Cesc out of his first final as captain, that our recent history has been littered with final appearances devoid of our main men. One has only to think of Dennis Bergkamp deployed as a lone front man in 2005 with Henry injured. Or 2003 and how we beat Southampton without Vieira and Campbell, or 1998 and the injury to Bergkamp. But we won all those finals despite these setbacks. It is my opinion that we are even better suited to cope with absences than we were in any of those situations I've just mentioned. In Cesc's position, we have any number of options capable of playing there. As the man who has really stepped it up this season, I don't think it would be any surprise to see Samir Nasri assuming the position. Though I wonder if Arsčne might be tempted to throw Abou Diaby in there and keep Nasri wide. We don't really have a direct replacement for Theo Walcott's combination of blistering pace and, usually, dead eyed finishing. But Andrei Arshavin, in recent weeks, has seemed like a player a world away from the guy struggling through a January slump. He, clearly, has the pace and the quality to hurt any team in the world. Assuming Nasri reverts to the centre, I hope that Nick Bendtner gets a chance to play out on the right- because I would rather him than Rosicky. Bendtner also, according to the Football Weekly pod, has the second best shots to goals ratio in Europe. Quite impressive for someone who continues to divide the fans.
On the way back from Berlin yesterday, I picked up the only English tabloid in the airport and read Cesc's heartbreaking admission of defeat in his battle to play today. I say heartbreaking, but really, when there is still so much to play for his injury should only give him added incentive to take the team onto further glories this season. As he himself says,
"Let's hope Arsenal could also be playing in the FA Cup and Champions League finals at Wembley. It could be a once-in-a-liftime season."
This is no time to be feeling sorry for himself and it's good to see that the captain recognises that and recognises what is still on offer for this football club. In the same paper, they had a player by player rating, which Arsenal came out massively on top. But I don't set too much store by that, how could I when they identified Johan Djourou as the weak link in the Arsenal defence? I hope I'm not Indian signing him by pointing out that the player, who once spent a season on loan at Birmingham, has been the main reason we've barely missed Thomas Vermaelen this season.
My stomach is now churning so much that it's making life a bit difficult for my brain and my fingers, so I haven't got too much else to add here. Do I feel like this because of the six years without a trophy? Or because I know that, like so many of our players, I will be making my own Arsenal Wembley debut today? Lee Dixon, writing in the Independent yesterday, gave voice to his belief that a Carling Cup victory today should presage greater things for this Arsenal side. He believes that their time is now. It's easy to see why when you look at a football team that has accounted for both the Spanish and English champions in the last two months; a team that is now playing with such confidence and skill, a team that seems to be growing by the game.There hasn't been too much seen of the "other" Arsenal recently, you know, the one that does silly things like giving away two goals leads, or losing at home to promoted teams. Which, I think we can all agree, is a good thing.
I hope with all my heart that we get the real Arsenal today, because if we do then, for me, Birmingham haven't got a chance. Is that arrogant? It's just what I believe.
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