(*Note: Cesc Fabregas was ruled out after this article was posted)
Who would have thought it? All us Gooners are getting excited about the Carling Cup - I suppose the final, and the prospect of some silverware will do that to us!
Losing Theo has been a blow, but its nice to see the strength in depth come into play - how many other teams could just call upon Andrey Arshavin to come into the starting XI like we can? The same goes for Cesc! If he isn't available to play, Wenger can just move Nasri in off the wing. Options are always nice.
To get some feel of how optimistic we are going into Sunday's game, I caught up with some of the fine folk at Arsenal, Arsenal to get their views on the game.
Considering the route that got you to the final, how deserving are Arsenal of not alone a final place, but the possibility of bringing home the silverware?
Dandan: Anyone who reaches a final of a knock out competition by definition deserves it. As for winning this trophy, the determination and silky skills of this young squad will not just earn the right to bring the cup home but do it in style.
Chary: We started off with an away tie to our want-away neighbours where Sammy Nasri’s song was first heard in earnest. I had a spud friend who was in the block next to the away end at WHL and he told me he was heartily sick of that song by the end of the evening – excellent stuff! Next the Bar Codes away was another potentially sticky tie but comfortably beat them and it’s strange that they subsequently beat us at home in the league (I was there and didn’t enjoy that one bit). So Arsenal’s journey to the final was front loaded with difficulty with a later, little hiccup at Portman Road therefore we fully deserve to be there. We’ve definitely not been blessed with an easy path to the final.
Big Raddy: Three Premiership teams including Spurs and Newcastle away.... Yes, we deserve our place. Arsenal have been the best footballing side in England for a decade - of course they deserve silverware.
Does Arsenal's form coming into this game give you hope or is it a cause for concern?
Dandan: On the back of the Barcelona performance why should we doubt this team or their potential?
Chary: Overall I’m quite happy with our form, especially since the beginning of the year as we’ve not had any disastrous results with our first choice XI, the only exception was the Dowd inspired comeback by the bar codes which combined with our best defender going off injured, two penalties awarded (the second of which caused the french commentators on the stream I was watching on to laugh hysterically when it was awarded) and a sending off that was as a result of inconsistent refereeing
Big Raddy: Absolutely. Apart from a poor performance away to Ipswich, Arsenal have not lost since early December. Beating last season's Double winners 3-0 and the "Best Team of All-Time" indicates a side at the top of it's game. Plus we beat Birmingham at St Andrews only six weeks ago, and quite frankly, B'ham were lucky to escape with a 3-0 loss!
What selection/formation/tactics do you expect Arsene Wenger to employ?
Dandan: Arsenal's fluidity of movement and speed of pass makes it difficult to nail down an exact system, But 4,4,2.. 4.3.3 and 22.214.171.124. will all be employed at times as the midfield and forwards interchange during the game.
Chary: Wenger has to pretty much use his first choice XI on Sunday as the damage caused by not winning the Carling Cup will be greater than the benefit caused by winning it. A strange thing to say maybe but we’ll see a major collapse in our teams confidence should they fail at Wembley.
As we are playing a McLeish side we should expect the old cliche that they “will get in our faces” to be banded about by various talentless midfielders such as Bowyer and we should expect the ball to be hoofed up in the direction of the hyperthyroid Zigic as City’s preferred method of attack. Our ice cream loving ex-Belarusian player is a doubt so I don’t expect to see much tippy-tappy from City.
For this reason we must ensure our midfield retain possession and City are not allowed to run at us through the channels so that long throw ins can be launched into the box for knock downs. Also we mustn’t allow anyone to run at our centre backs and draw fouls for them in order to exploit the resulting set pieces
Big Raddy: I expect Mr Wenger to play the Arsenal way with pace and precision. A mix of fast counter-attacking and complex close passing patterns.
Who will be the most important player on the pitch for Arsenal this Sunday?
Dandan: Again hard to call, any one of the midfield is capable of a MOM performance, But Fabergas is determined to win something this year and RVP is on a hot streak, but if really pushed Cesc's desire will probably carry the day.
Chary: As Cesc is well and truly known by all our opponents I think our two most important players will be the goalie (to deal with the set piece threat) and whoever partners Cesc in central midfield who I would guess will be Jack. He’ll have to exploit space left by City midfielders double teaming on Cesc.
Big Raddy: Van Persie.
What about the opposition? Who do you fear in the Birmingham side? Do you fear them?
Dandan: They are a robust side, who as their manager would say, like to get in peoples faces. We have good reason from previous experience to be concerned about the likes of Mr. Shawcross determination to do just that but football wise we have nothing or no one to fear.
Chary: As I said before Zigic will be a handful and despite his other “qualities” Bowyer can pop up and cause havoc so he will have to be watched, not just for where he plants his studs this time but the gaps he runs into.
Big Raddy: If fit, Hleb is a fine player but no individual really frightens me, Birmingham will be looking to press Arsenal all over the pitch and teamplay is their only hope. They will win or lose as a team and not through individual brilliance (I hope!), whereas Arsenal have a host of players who can win the game single-handedly.
Finally, what does playing at Wembley mean to Arsenal's staff and fans?
Dandan: It is the culmination of a 10 year youth development plan, conceived by AW not only to meet the constraints imposed by the need to finance our magnificent new stadium, but to also to produce a winning side who's brand of football is the envy of every fan in the land.
Chary: Admittedly we’ve mocked the Carling Cup in the past, especially when the wannabe Stratford FC Spuds have got disproportionately giddy when the won this last, but purely to get the suffix to our name (”Arsenal-who’ve–not-won–a-trophy-in-5-years”) removed it’s important. The knock on effect of breaking our trophy drought will surely mean more trophies will follow.
Big Raddy: We need silverware. Only Clichy has won a trophy with Arsenal and we have to get the monkey of our backs. For the fans Wembley is always a special day.
Anything you wish to add?
Dandan: If the referee is brave Sunday football will be the winner.
Chary: Be brave, committed, watchful and confident then, my Gunners, we will prevail!
Big Raddy: Being such overwhelming favourites is to Arsenal's detriment. We have seen recently that the team can be arrogant and expect to win without giving their all. 100% application and concentration is essential for us to win. ..... And we will!
So there you have the thoughts of some of the bloggers from Arsenal, Arsenal. Let's hope we will be returning to them next week for some celebratory words.