By Graham McNorthbank
With Arsene Wenger urging his squad to win the Carling Cup for injured skipper, Cesc Fabregas, it was great yesterday to see the captain urging his team mates to forget about him and win the trophy for the fans and the club.
Speaking to fellow Addicts, I sense there's a fair degree of nervousness about this afternoon's final and I have to agree that if the Arsenal don't win then the whole season could be in danger of unravelling. A win and I predict it won't be our only silverware this campaign.
The bottom line is that Arsenal are a better team than our opponents today. In our Premier League games against Birmingham this season we've taken maximum points, scoring five goals and conceding only once. They are 16th in the league compared to Arsenal currently in second place. Arsenal have scored more than double the goals that Birmingham have (57 compared to 25) and conceded fewer (27 compared to 35).
But this is a one-off game and I fully expect Alex McLeish's to raise their game. However, if Arsenal can play to anywhere near the level we all know they are capable of, it doesn't matter how much the Brummie lads play out of their skin, the Gunners should win.
With both Cesc and Theo missing, we're not at full strength, but we have more than enough class and firepower with which to dominate at Wembley this afternoon.
Our goalkeeping situation is far better since Wojciech Szczesny took over the gloves and our defence has improved markedly in the past couple of months thanks to the form of Johan Djourou and Laurent Koscielny, while both Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy are enjoying their best season at the club in three years.
At a guess, I reckon Le Boss will opt for Alex Song, Jack Wilshere and Samir Nasri in midfield with the latter duo providing the inspiration and guile to find a way through the Birmingham defence.
And up front the combination of Nicklas Bendtner (our top scorer in the Carling Cup), Andrey Arshavin and Robin van Persie should be enough to get Arsenal goals and bring home the first trophy since the club moved to Emirates Stadium.
If you're going to Wembley today, then here are some stats, courtesy of @OptaJoe and @Orbinho, to bore your mates with in the pub:
Birmingham have scored the highest percentage of goals from set plays (56%), while Arsenal have conceded the highest % (52%). Matched.
Samir Nasri has scored in all three of his appearances for Arsenal against Birmingham City.
Nicklas Bendtner has scored six goals in his last seven Carling Cup appearances.
And finally, this will be RvP's first start in a final for Arsenal after a sub appearance in the FA Cup in '05 and no minutes in the Champions League final in '06 or the Carling Cup in '07.
For those of us lucky enough to have tickets for this afternoon, let's try to match the atmosphere we created against Barca at the Home of Football two weeks ago - we didn't lose faith that night and the 12th man today could make a difference in helping the players believe they have the talent it takes to be champions.
Arsenal Addict XI
Sagna Koscielny Djourou Clichy
Wilshere Nasri Song
RvP Bendtner Arshavin
COME ON YOU REDS!!