Friday, February 25, 2011

What Will Carling Cup Success Or Failure Mean To Arsenal And Birmingham?

When Patrick Viera scored the decisive penalty kick against Manchester United in the FA Cup final of 2005, few of Arsenal's celebrating fans realized that the 2005 success would be their last for at least another six years. Now, in 2011, Arsenal find themselves facing their best chance at winning a trophy since that victory in Wales. On Sunday, they will face a Birmingham City side that they have already beaten twice this season, including a 3-0 victory at St. Andrews earlier this year. Many Arsenal fans see their third game of the year against Birmingham as a bit of a formality, but these are dangerous thoughts. If the Gunners are to take home their first trophy for six years, then they will have to prove they want it more than a group of players that may see Sunday's final as their best, and last, chance at winning silverware.

Arsenal have already been dealt a double blow in the build up to the final, with both Theo Walcott and Cesc Fabregas ruled out through injury, but if Arsene Wenger's side are to win, then they will have to push the two absences to the back of their minds, and concentrate on overcoming a fully committed Birmingham team. The truth of it is, even without Fabregas and Walcott, Arsenal have more than enough in reserve to overcome Alex Mceish's side. However, Arsenal have been proved psychologically delicate on numerous occasions this season, and one wonders whether they would be able to respond to an early Birmingham goal. Last year, Manchester United successfully overcame a 1-0 deficit against another Midlands team in Aston Villa, but, as we all know, United have the title winning nous to maneuver themselves out of any situation.

For Birmingham, this final marks the culmination of what has been a fantastic cup run, and the Birmingham players will feel that they have nothing to lose in the final. They surely don't expect to win, and if  they don't, they always have the consolation of their continued progress in the FA Cup. What would a cup victory mean for Birmingham's season? One would imagine Alex Mcleish would refuse to let his players undergo a Spurs like collapse following cup victory, but Birmingham fans will have to hope their players can get themselves up for less fashionable games in the weeks following their Wembley trip.

So for which team is this match a more important game? If Arsenal were to win the final, then one could see them using their cup success as a platform to launch assaults on both the League and Champions League. However, the blow that defeat would deal, could be equally detrimental to Arsenal's hopes in other, more important, competitions. In fact, since the turn of the century only one Carling Cup final loser has rebounded well enough to win the league title that year, with that team being current Carling Cup holders Manchester United, in 2003. If Arsenal were to come unstuck, then Arsene Wenger would be keen to avoid the fate met by the title campaigns of the likes of Chelsea in 2008 and Arsenal in 2007, following their respective Carling Cup disappointments.

If Birmingham were to produce probably the greatest cup final shock since the opening of the new Wembley, then how would they react? Would they become distracted ala Tottenham Hotspur circa 2008, or would they use their victory as the inspiration behind a renewed charge for Premiership survival? One things for sure though, if the Birmingham players begin to let their standards drop in the slightest, Alex Mcleish will be onto them in an instant, and the problem may well be nipped in the bud. The last struggling team to reach the Carling Cup final, Wigan in 2006, managed to stay up in the months following the loss, and Birmingham supporters will pray that their side can manage a similar feat, if victory does not arrive on Sunday.

Who will win the 2011 Carling Cup final?

What effect will the result have on the two participating sides?

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