Tuesday will see Groan’s fourth birthday as a blog – I started it a few days after the 2007 Carling Cup final defeat to Chelsea, and since then I’ve haven’t had the opportunity to preview or cover another showpiece day. Tomorrow, that all changes as we take on Birmingham in the final of the same competition. I’m tempted to say things have come full circle from the week I started, but in reality this season could barely be more different – that year, defeat to Chelsea was soon followed by an insipid Champions League exit to PSV that rendered every remaining game meaningless. There will be no petering out this time around.
The attitude to the Carling Cup has also changed in that time – in 2007, a partnership of Aliadiere and Baptista propelled us to the final, where they were joined by a host of young players, some of whom have gone on to become regular first teamers (Walcott memorably opened his Arsenal account that day), with others (Hoyte, Traore) falling by the wayside. It was a long way from being a first choice XI, up against a full strength Chelsea team approaching the peak of their powers. Looking back, it was to our credit that we avoided a hammering.
This season, despite temptations to prioritise given our position in four competitions, it will not be taken lightly. Not just because we need to end the barren run without trophies, and not because our aims have lowered, but simply because it is a trophy within our grasp, and any such event should be taken seriously. That it builds momentum for the rest of the season, or acts as a springboard for a trophy spree is almost irrelevant – it is a chance to see silverware lifted above a podium of Arsenal players. That alone is comfortably enough.
And Wenger knows it. He believes that the squad has enough depth, fitness and quality to attack four competitions, and has shown that in his selections. The absence of Cesc and Walcott tomorrow provide him with something of a headache, but most of the team still picks itself – Szczesny will cap his meteoric rise in goal, the back four of Sagna-Djourou-Koscielny-Clichy are in form, and the front three of Arshavin-Van Persie-Nasri are obvious choices with Theo out. Wenger’s only dilemma lies in the centre, choosing who will play alongside Song and Wilshere. Denilson and Diaby are the two obvious candidates, and I’d favour the latter as long as he is fit enough to start.
It leaves us options from the bench too – Bendtner, Rosicky and Chamakh can come on and make a difference if required. Not bad for a squad supposedly suffering an injury crisis.
For those who haven’t got tickets, the match is live on a selection of channels, but perhaps the most interesting one is the BBC. Alan Hansen has gone on for years about our trophyless run (I remember him banging on about it when it was three years without a trophy), but he will finally have to change his tune if we win. I wouldn’t be surprised if he started excluding the Carling Cup as a valid competition just so that he can continue harping on, but I’m really hoping to see him squirm tomorrow. He hates complimenting us, he really does.
Of course, he’ll be utterly unbearable if we lose, but if that happens, I doubt you’ll be torturing yourself with his analysis anyway.
Sixteen hours to go.