Arsenal v Birmingham Preview – Carling Cup Final
By kick-off on Sunday afternoon, five years, 9 months and 6 days will have passed us all by since Patrick Vieira clipped his winning penalty past Roy Carroll‘s despairing fingertips - a calm stroke of the Frenchman’s right boot that ensured Arsenal ended the afternoon with FA Cup-winners medals slung around their necks.
Since that final in Cardiff, Vieira has moved on to Man City via two different Italian cities, Arsenal have moved stadium and over 3 million minutes have drifted away into the ether without Arsene Wenger‘s side procuring themselves anything to furnish the disconcertingly barren trophy cabinets at their new place.
Earlier in the season Wenger raised more than a few eyebrows by vowing to make a concerted effort to win this season’s Carling Cup after effectively dismissing the competition ever since being sworn in at Highbury back in 1996 – using the games as nothing more than jumped-up reserve and youth team run-outs on the majority of occasions, without any real concerns over progressing through the latter stages of the tournament.
To outsiders looking in, it seemed that the man that once claimed winning the Carling Cup ‘didn’t warrant a trophy parade’ was showing clear signs of desperation in his bid to validate his youth-orientated modus operandi.
Birmingham will be appearing in the third League Cup final (as opposed to Arsenal’s seventh) after last won the competition way back in 1963 – beating local rivals Aston Villa 3-1 over a two-legged affair.
The Blues’ last final appearance was in 2001, when they eventually losing 5-4 on penalties to Gerard Houllier‘s Liverpool after defender Darren Purse scored an equaliser in the last-minute of normal time – ironically from the penalty spot.
Manager Alex McLeish will be hoping that the afternoon runs smoother than his attempts to get his side ‘suited and booted’ for the occasion, after a joint dalliance between the players and suppliers Harvey Nichols saw the club’s £9,000 order filed too late for the suits to be delivered in time for the pre-match amble on the Wembley turf.
Incidentally, Arsenal have won both of the Premier League meetings between the two sides this season, beating Birmingham 2-1 at the Emirates Stadium in October and leaving St Andrews having won 3-0 on New Year’s Day.
In their one previous Carling Cup meeting, a third round game at Highbury in 1997, Arsenal’s reserve side routed Birmingham during extra time – eventually winning the tie 4-1, despite being a goal down at the end of 90 minutes.
Arsenal’s Road to the Final:
- Second round: Bye
- Third round: Tottenham 1-4 (a.e.t) Arsenal
- Fourth round: Newcastle 0-4 Arsenal
- Fifth round: Arsenal 2-0 Wigan
- Semi-finals (1st leg): Ipswich 1-0 Arsenal
- Semi-finals (2nd leg): Arsenal 3-0 Ipswich (Arsenal win 3-1 on agg.)
Birmingham’s Road to the Final:
- Second round: Birmingham 3-2 Rochdale
- Third round: Birmingham 3-1 MK Dons
- Fourth round: Birmingham 1-1 Brentford (Birmingham win 4-3 on pens)
- Fifth round: Birmingham 2-1 Aston Villa
- Semi-finals (1st leg): West Ham 2-1 Birmingham
- Semi-finals (2nd leg): Birmingham 3-1 (a.e.t) West Ham (Birmingham win 4-3 on agg.)
Selection and Injury Updates:
After spraining his ankle in Arsenal’s narrow Premier League victory over Stoke earlier this week, winger Theo Walcott is certain to miss the final, though doubts remain as to whether Cesc Fabregas will be fit in time.
Fabregas limped from the field after 14 minutes of the aforementioned game with a hamstring problem, and whilst his personal trainer has claimed the Spaniard should be fully recovered by Sunday, Arsene Wenger has ruled his captain out of the running.
Arsenal will also be giving late tests to Robin van Persie (hamstring) and Laurent Koscielny (back), though the club have confirmed that ‘keeper Lukasz Fabianski and Thomas Vermaelen will definitely miss the game.
Birmingham are going to be putting defensive duo Liam Ridgewell (calf) and Martin Jiranek (hip) through their paces on Saturday afternoon, though it’s thought that both players will have recovered sufficiently to play the following day.
However, Scott Dann (hamstring), Eric Valles (ankle) and James McFadden (knee) are- and will continue to be- sidelined.
The Gunners to end their half-decade barren streak, though not particularly convincingly…
Arsenal 2-1 Birmingham