Arsenal's Best Chance To End The 'Drought'

Arsenal vs Birmingham City
Carling Cup Final 2011
Sunday, 27th February 2011
Wembley Stadium
16.00 GMT

For Arsenal, the drought may soon be over. It is almost six years since Patrick Vieira hoisted aloft the FA Cup on the podium at the Millennium Stadium and a squad still infused with the spirit of the Invincibles of the previous season celebrated the seventh major honour of Arsene Wenger's tenure as deflated Manchester United players skulked from the turf.

That drab and goalless occasion might be more easily forgettable had the trophy cupboard not remained bare ever since. Back then there was an assumption that this club would claim silverware regularly. On Friday Wenger spoke of "a weight" pressing down on his team but, against Birmingham City at an expectant Wembley, his side can be liberated.

There is an irony that it is the Carling Cup, a competition that Wenger has always treated with a measure of disdain despite his team's excellent record in reaching the latter stages, which the Frenchman now hopes will provide a catalyst for more significant prizes. Only last year, when reflecting upon Aston Villa's appearance in the final against United, the Arsenal manager had risked riling Martin O'Neill. "If you win the League Cup," he had said, "for me you cannot say you win 'trophies'."

That outlook has been tempered – Wenger recognises this club needs to remind itself how to win – though he is consistent in his attitude towards the Carling Cup's long-term significance. Victory will be a springboard to further successes, not the culmination of a season's work even if the longest trophyless run of his 27-year managerial career is ended. Arsenal are competing on four fronts and, should they lose against Birmingham but win any of the other three, they would end more satisfied.

"It's not the main trophy," Wenger said. "The most important are the championship and the Champions League. Then the FA Cup and, only then, the Carling Cup. But to win a trophy would give us a lift. It's true that winning it will mean we no longer have to answer that question 'are we able to win trophies?', but I'd still argue that the most difficult thing to achieve is consistency at the top. The proof of that is that only two clubs have been able to finish in the top four for each of the last 12 years: us and United. But winning this trophy will convince my team that they can deliver more."

They have come close before. The Carling Cup may have been considered primarily an opportunity to blood bright young things, but Arsenal have been quarter-finalists at the least every year since 2003. That is a measure of the power of their youth ranks. Wenger considered the lesser domestic cup "a revelation" for developing his players but, this year, for the first time perhaps since the latter days of the Invincibles, Arsenal's squad appears to boast real depth. Their selections no longer feel weakened.

The whole level of squad quality has been raised: fringe players can be expected to excel, youth-team graduates are now first-team regulars. Jack Wilshere, Nicklas Bendtner, Alex Song and Johan Djourou all began the eye-catching 6-0 dismissal of Sheffield United in the third round in September 2008. All will start at Wembley. Cesc Fabregas, too, first made an impact in this competition. "The League Cup gave them their first taste of a big game, and they won't forget that," Wenger said.

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