The door to Arsenal’s trophy room might need some oiling because it hasn’t been opened since 2005, which was the last time the London club won anything. It hopes to add some new silverware this weekend though when the second-place English Premier League team takes on 15th-place Birmingham in the Carling Cup final at Wembley on Feb. 27th. In case you’re wondering, the Carling Cup is basically the old League Cup, just with a sponsorship name attached to it.
To be honest, Arsenal has been a club of underachievers since winning the FA Cup six years ago. In fact, they’ve been outright chokers in a number of big games. This is pretty hard to fathom considering the strong squad the team possesses. It might even be the best collection of players this side of Spain.
However, the team seems to be too frail and several of its best players are usually out with injuries of some sort. You can add captain Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott to this list as both of them will likely miss this cup final after getting hurt against Stoke on Feb. 23.
Fabregas might still make it to the bench for the game if he heals in time, but it’s likely that manager Arsene Wenger will want to save the Spanish midfielder for the return leg in the European Champions League. Arsenal upset the Spanish champions 2-1 at home at the Emirates Stadium in the first leg. Walcott is believed to be in worse shape with an ankle injury, but Abou Diaby, Laurent Koscielny, and Robin van Persie should all be back after missing the 1-0 win over Stoke. Defender Thomas Vermaelen is still out though with a long-term injury.
Birmingham will probably be without former Arsenal winger Alexander Hleb, who’s on loan from Barcelona, since he has an injured knee. Winger David Bentley isn’t able to play since he played for Tottenham Hotspur during the earlier rounds of the Carling cup competition. Bentley is on loan at Birmingham from Spurs. Colin Doyle and Curtis Davies are also cup-tied, so we might see Sebastian Larsson of Sweden in the lineup.
Wenger will likely field a strong squad as he’s desperate to win something after a relatively long drought. Birmingham manager Alex McLeish will probably be more negative by fielding a 4-5-1 formation, even though his club beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-0 in an FA Cup game last week going with a 4-4-2. If McLeish does show he lacks the courage to take on Arsenal he’ll probably do so by starting Cameron Jerome or Nikola Zigic up front as the lone striker. This is a waste since he has a third striker in Obfamei Martins ready to play.
Arsenal has plenty of skill and scoring power with Jack Wilshere, Samir Nasri, Tomas Rosicky, Andrey Arshavin, and van Persie in the lineup. Birmingham comes nowhere close in the skill level and if McLeish goes with a lone striker he’s going to have to depend on the likes of Lee Bowyer, Barry Ferguson, Larsson, and Jerome or Zigic to find the back of the net.
Birmingham won the League Cup back in 1963 when they beat cross-town rivals Aston Villa in a two-legged affair. They were beaten 2-1 on penalties by Liverpool in the final in 2001 in Cardiff, while Wembley was being rebuilt.
Arsenal won the League Cup in 1987 and again 1993. They’ve also lost the final three times, in 1969 to Swindon Town, in 1988 to Luton Town, and in 2007 when Chelsea beat them 2-1 in Cardiff.
Don’t look for this to be a classic since it’s likely there’s only going to be one team attacking. Arsenal should finally rid themselves of the chokers label at least until they meet Barcelona in the second leg of their Champions League tie.
Bodog.com seems to agree as the online sportsbook has Arsenal as firm favourites with odds of 2/9 with Birmingham at 3/1 and a draw after 90 minutes at 3/1.