21st May, 2005 – Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
The Arsenal faced their old adversary Manchester United in the FA Cup Final that season. Without their talisman Thierry Henry, who was out injured, the Gunners needed to get the better of the Red Devils in a season wherein the league win was beyond both teams, totally subjugated by Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea.
Both the teams failed to score in 120 minutes of football as penalty shootout had to decide the faith of the game. Our inspiring keeper Jens Lehmann saved Paul Scholes’ penalty and it was left to our remarkable leader Patrick to win the trophy for us. He didn’t disappoint, of course!
27th February, 2011 – New Wembley, London
Six years of ‘silverware drought’ later, The Arsenal are back into business, trying to ‘get that monkey off their back’ against Birmingham in the Carling Cup Final. The phase which can be technically termed as renaissance for the club based at North London, has been a ‘mixed bag’ for supporters and players in parallel. On one end, the club graduated to a top tier in European Football with the shrewd business mind of Arsene Wenger. While, on the other end, the club failed to populate its Trophy Room since that FA Cup at Cardiff. From a purist’ perspective, Arsenal should have managed to keep a balance between Club Finances, Youth Players Development and winning silverware. But then, you can’t always appease the conformists of the game, even if you are Arsene Wenger, the best football manager of the past decade.
New Wembley – Show Time
One of the penalty takers in that win against United was Robin Van Persie, one of the three Arsenal players who have a Winners Medal playing for Arsenal, the others being Cesc and Clichy. The mercurial Dutchman, in a strange play of destiny, will get his chance to lift Arsenal’s first silverware in six years. Arsenal’s talisman Cesc Fabregas won’t be available for this game due to a hamstring injury just like Thierry was unavailable for that match at Cardiff.
Talking of winning silverware and “doing a George Graham of 87’” is fantastic, but, the team needs to bring their ‘A’ game to Wembley. Birmingham are no pushovers, in fact, any team who has climbed all the way to a Cup Final deserve to be there. The most important thing in this game for the “home side” (Considering Arsenal’s close proximity to New Wembley) is to forget about the past and play their natural game with winning as the only objective and exterminating ideas of trepidation from their mind. They shouldn’t get deterred by Birmingham’s ‘physical game’ which is an obvious ploy to stop the Gooners. If Stoke can be conquered, so can be Birmingham!
The Men on the Pitch
In the absence of El Capitano, Robin Van Persie will certainly wear the arm-band. Labelled as the most in-form striker on the planet in 2011, the Dutchman will never get a better opportunity to win it for the club he loves so much. With even Theo out with an ankle injury, Samir Nasri might be asked to operate in the right wing with Andrei Arshavin starting on the left flank. The Frenchman has clearly been Arsenal’s best player of the season, but with Cesc in the team, he fails to play the clinical playmaker’s position and come up with brilliant goals. Now, with the captain out, he has his first chance to make the biggest headlines in the Nuevo Arsenal history. The Russian on the other hand had a dismal season but his form has been close to top-notch off-late, he needs to understand his ‘moment of truth’ in front of 90,000 fanatics when Arsenal step into the costliest football stadium on this planet.
Wenger might be tempted to play one of Diaby or Bendtner because of their added ‘physical ability’, which would mean Thomas Rosicky, who scored a goal for Arsenal after 13 months, would have to sit out. Jack and Song, the trusted duo in the middle of the park will continue business as usual with the former tasked with the herculean job of emulating Cesc as suggested by the manager. Alex Song, in his classic ‘Makelele’ avatar, needs to give as much of defensive cover as possible.
Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny and Clicy will form the defensive shield to take care of the attacking prowess of The Blues. Djourou has been absolutely incredible for the Gunners after his comeback from an injury exile. He takes up the responsibility of getting out of dangerous ‘dead ball’ situations which helps his partner Koscielny, who is a better tackler on the ground. Sagna, as usual, has been impeccable this season with his defensive duties as well as overlapping responsibilities. Gael Clichy, though had a strange start to the season, has now found his feet and looks much more assured. Last but not the least, the very young Wojciech Szczesny has been remarkable for Arsenal in front of goal. He breeds confidence into the rear-guard and never looks overwrought in any kind of a situation.
C’est votre moment de vérité
The opening lines of Arsene’s pep-talk to his team would probably be this (This is your moment of truth!) and quite understandably so. It is like a culmination of all that went to make this club what it is today. Arsenal being the only team in Europe still playing for four competitions, has proved this season that the ‘long term planning’ can actually work even though fans and experts alike have been quite goaded with Arsene’s obduracy at times.
He may still be a little apathetic with the importance of this cup saying,
“The most important trophies are the Premier and the Champions League. After that you have the FA Cup and, after that, the Carling Cup. But for us it’s a trophy. How big the trophy is everyone will rate differently. We will just try to win it. I’m confident that we’ve been the most consistent team up to now, he concluded, because we’re still in everything. So it will convince the team they can deliver more.”
Those last few words are the most important ones. Once you get a taste of good meat, you crave for more. Carling Cup is a silverware, it might not be excellent meat, but it is certainly tasty and important in Arsenal’s current scheme of things. It can be an incentive to win more things with such an immense philosophy at place. It can help them to bury the ghosts of the past. It can only propel them further to greater glory.
As Charles Curothe famously said
“Most dreams of glory are safe because we never venture to put them into practice.”.
This Arsenal needs to venture into that ‘oblivious territory of glory’ and make ‘winning trophies’ a practise at the club.
Cheers to The Arsenal and a great Cup Final.