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Carling Cup Final Preview: Arsenal vs Birmingham City

Photo by Ronnie Macdonald

Sunday’s Carling Cup Final between Arsenal and Birmingham City should be a walk in the park for the Gunners. Arsenal has already done the league double over Birmingham. The London side have a team of footballers who are more skilled than Birmingham. However, in football, especially a cup final, nothing can ever be taken for granted.

Birmingham have shown glimmers of hope. Obafemi Martins is a proven goalscorer. Nikola Zigic and Craig Gardner can be deadly in front of goal. James McFadden can be dangerous. And what cannot be underestimated is that Birmingham City has nothing to lose. They’ve already won by making it to a Cup Final at Wembley. Even if they lose, their players and fans will feel that they’ve had a great day out.

With Birmingham feeling a little more relaxed and most of the pressure on Arsenal to finally get their first trophy in six years, it’s quite possible that Birmingham may nick a goal when we least expect. If they can do that, we know that City can be a difficult team to score against especially if they play as defensively as we’ve seen them do for most of this season.

In many ways, Sunday’s Carling Cup Final features the Premier League’s most skillful team against the ugliest football team. Birmingham often play a very defensively minded game which is hard on the eyes. Arsenal does the opposite, knocking the ball around and holding on to possession.

The key in this game is who will score the first goal. If Arsenal get an early goal, then I don’t see Birmingham winning it. However, if the Blues can score, it’s quite possible the trophy will be going to the Midlands on Sunday afternoon.

What do you think? What are your thoughts about this Sunday’s Carling Cup? Are there are keys to this match that important to share? Can Birmingham pull off a miracle? Share your opinions in the comments section below.

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  1. Bluenose-on-Sunday

    February 27, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    Yabba dabba dooooooo

    Back four – superb Johnson
    Zigic and Martins

    Predicted – yeah!

  2. alexander

    February 27, 2011 at 3:53 am

    venger may be he can wins if starting at front with van persie at the back with jhouru and cosiliny 2-1

  3. Danny

    February 26, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    I am an Arsenal fan. If we play passball for the whole game, trouble will be looming. Believe it or not, Bendtner must just be trusted. Do not think that Chamakh can do better. Give Nic responsibility and look what can happen. And ooohh…. Please, please. Forget about that lone striker thing. Thats how our players get injured.

  4. jinhuangdi

    February 26, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    Interesting discussion out there. I have just posted a new post “Will Arsenal Win The League Cup?” I am an Arsenal fan myself, but I am not too certain whether Arsenal will come out the winner. It all depends as to whether Arsenal can play their game the FULL 90 minutes. Visit my blog by clicking the icon or name jinhuangdi.

  5. Suleiman adamu

    February 26, 2011 at 8:43 am

    Arsenal 5 -birmingam 0

  6. Suleiman adamu

    February 26, 2011 at 8:42 am

    Arsenal 5 -birmingam

  7. Sue J

    February 26, 2011 at 2:35 am

    Birmingham might stand a chance against the Gunners. With Fabregas and Walcott on the sidelines, Arsenal must depend on Nasri (if he will play) and the young English sensation, Wilshere.

    My prediction will be 1-0 for Arsenal.

  8. online journal

    February 26, 2011 at 1:56 am

    2-0 for arsenal

  9. Abhishek Jajodia

    February 25, 2011 at 11:36 pm

    I think this game will have a way stronger impact on Arsenal in terms of the season ahead than anticipated.

    Arsenal win would work both ways, with them finding the final piece in the puzzle for their trophy drought, and maybe could act as the last catalyst needed to surge them ahead in the premier league, the UCL, (and the little issue of the FA Cup). It could also force the players to think too far beyond themselves and start getting worked up about being able to achieve something in terms of bagging silverware when no other team has had anything to boast about (until now). We obviously do have to keep in mind that its only February, and its only Birmingham, and more importantly, its only THE CARLING CUP.

    On the contrary, I think if Arsenal manages to lose this game (unlikely but not impossible) then this might just be doors for the gunners overall this season. They’d lose their new found “mental strength” and resilience. Also, the factual/fictional perception of being completely dependent in Fabregas would be ratified. The young gunners might start thinking of themselves as nothing without Fab. And if by any chance Fab does end up making a move to Barcelona next season (which is more likely to happen if our season falls apart from where it is now) it’l be an all time low for the team.

    Being an Arsenal fan, I whole heartedly hope the former prevails, but with either happening, I just hope this night has the impact it needs to have on the team to push them onward and upward from here.

  10. jinhuangdi

    February 25, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    The injuries to Fabregas and Walcott may impact on Arsenal’s chance of winning the Carling Cup. I do not agree with your assessement that if Arsenal scores the first goal, then Arsenal would win the Cup. Look at how Arsenal squandered a 4 goal lead against Newcastle! But if Arsenal play their game the FULL 9o minutes, then I am confident the Cup is theirs. Otherwise, you never know. In a Cup encounter, anything goes.

  11. Jon Sharp

    February 25, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    I think the first 20 mins will be key. If Blues can keep it tight early on and not completely surrender posession, then there is every chance of wearing Arsenal down and beginning to exploit their (relative) weakness in defence – partic if Zigic can start making a nuisance of himself. But therein lies the problem. To have a chance of containing Arsenal early on, Blues will need to play 4-5-1 with Ferguson, Gardner, Bowyer, Larson and perhaps Beausejour in midfield. Unfortunately, Blues don’t have a striker who is effective at holding the ball on his own up front. So this invites continuous pressure and has been a problem all season. Blues have looked at their best playing 4-4-2 with a combo of Zigic, Martins, Jerome (and Philips) as the front two. Will be interesting to see how McLeish resolves this.
    Yes Arsenal have injuries, but we will be missing Bentley (who has been great since joining) and Scott Dann. I am disappointed for Walcott who was looking for his first shot at a trophy, is a great player and seems like a genuinely nice guy.
    Up the Blues!

    • Bluenose-on-Sunday

      February 25, 2011 at 5:15 pm

      I agree – I would have liked to see both players play: Fabregas and Walcott. They are fun to watch – I don’t wish injuries upon any team. Let’s see the best play the best.

      Thanks for clarifying the midfield – you don’t mention Hleb? Do you know if he is likely to play?

      • Jon Sharp

        February 25, 2011 at 5:40 pm

        Hleb has a badly bruised knee, but no ligament damage, so it’s possible he will be available. He combined well with Bowyer on the left against Wednesday in the FA Cup, has undoubted quality and could make a difference. But who do you leave out of the midfield to make room? Gardner and Ferguson were rested against Wednesday, but both are certain to start on Sunday. Larson is a shoe in as outside right/winger because of his ability to deliver accurately into the box. Bowyer is in great form and has experience for the big occassion, so I am confident he will start. That leaves a choice between one more midfielder, or two strikers. In my mind, Beausejour has proved he can provide good defensive cover on the left and forage forward. He netted his first goal against Wednesday = confidence up. Hleb is less effective defensively but is better at holding the ball and seeing the opportunites for forward runners. But, if you only have one striker, who is Hleb going to pass to? Therefore, in a 4-4-2 there’s no room for Hleb. In a 4-5-1, the objective is containment and Beausejour would get my nod. Ergo, if Hleb is fit, I expect him to start on the bench. But who knows? In Eck we trust!

  12. andybrum

    February 25, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    The writer of this piece has no idea what he is talking about. To say that JamesMcFadden can be dangerous might be true, but as he has ben out for several months proves that he is just making it up.

    Orient v Arsenal was another push-over for Arsenal.

    • The Gaffer

      February 25, 2011 at 4:33 pm

      Andy, James McFadden has been injured since September, yes. But the striker is back in training and should be ready to play again for Birmingham City either this weekend or next week. Source:,,10412~2296224,00.html Here’s hoping he may be available on Sunday.

      The Gaffer

    • Bluenose-on-Sunday

      February 25, 2011 at 4:38 pm

      I agree to single out a player that is not on the squad sheet, shows that the writer has not much knowledge of Birmingham City – much as I dearly appreciate all the Gaffer does for us EPL fans in the US, he rarely has knowledge below those in the top 7 of the table.

      The player I would have singled out is Jiranek – or rather the back four: Carr, Ridgewell, Jiranek and Johnson.

      • The Gaffer

        February 25, 2011 at 4:47 pm

        You’re entitled to your opinion, but I would disagree. I’m an equal opportunity Premier League viewer. I try to watch as many games as I can, and many of them feature teams from the bottom half of the table. But I’m definitely not going to know as much as Birmingham as you and other Brummies.

        The Gaffer

        • Bluenose-on-Sunday

          February 25, 2011 at 4:55 pm

          Gaffer – I was too harsh – written in the spur-of-the-moment. I appreciate all you do. Keep up the good work – I’m just trying to redress the balance and educate some of the Arsenal fans about who they should appreciate this weekend.

        • Jon Sharp

          February 25, 2011 at 5:00 pm

          OK Gaffer, but “ugliest”? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

          • The Gaffer

            February 25, 2011 at 5:10 pm

            They’re definitely committed to the cause and team spirit seems to be high (as witnessed by Roger Johnson’s anger at getting substituted last week when he banged the bench, but I’m not sure if that was more at anger aimed at McLeish). Bentley has added some more attractive football skills to the team, but I see the squad as more of a collection of proven journeymen who get the job done. Ugly is perhaps a bit harsh.

            The Gaffer

          • Jon Sharp

            February 27, 2011 at 4:05 pm

            Who’s ugly now Gaffer 😉
            Have to say I was proud of the way Blues played, that it was an entertaining and exciting game, and, of course, the best team won! Up the Blues and KRO!

            • The Gaffer

              February 27, 2011 at 6:01 pm

              Ugly can sometimes be beautiful! Congratulations to you Jon and other Birmingham City supporters, and commiserations to Arsenal supporters.

              The Gaffer

              • Joe

                February 27, 2011 at 6:15 pm

                There was nothing at all ugly about the way Birmingham played today. Very positive play all around. From the few times I’ve seen Birmingham this year, it seems like their reputation as being hard to watch is not all that justified. I like watching them a lot more than Stoke, for example.

  13. Bluenose-on-Sunday

    February 25, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    I think this will be an exciting tactical game – and ejoyable for those that appreciate that style of play. Arsenal play very good possession football, and I think they will be frustrated by Birmingham’s disciplined defensive play. As long as Birmingham do not concede a goal in the first 20 minutes – which they did on New Year’s Day and then things started to fall apart – I think their discipline in the back-line will start to frustrate the Arsenal players.

    Remember that Birmingham have the superior goalkeeper – probably England’s best on current form (sorry, Hart – you should have stayed with Birmingham’s more perspicuous goalkeeper-trainer, you’ve started to punch too much again). Arsenal is indeed unlucky with recent injuries, but so to Birmingham – Johnson has lost his best defensive partner with Dann – although I have confidence in the current back four.

    I disagree that Birmingham ‘have nothing to lose’ – they would dearly like to take home a trophy – it has been a difficult season with so many teams compressed in the lower reaches of the Premier League table. McCleish took a long time to wake up to the need for a more attacking style of play. I think with Zigic and Martins starting, the amazing back-four, a decent tireless midfield, and Jerome coming on 20 minutes before the end of the game at 0-0 to mess with Arsenal’s heads and Birmingham City will win the trophy. Not dreamin’… predictin’…

    Please don’t post the result in the EPL Talk headline as the game is delayed on until 9pm West Coast and my blog ticker shows headlines.

  14. Jason

    February 25, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    Go Birmingham! Lets see a smaller and traditionaly lower division club take the cup.

  15. Jose

    February 25, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    I more worried about Arsenal’s defensive frailties, especially from set pieces, than I am about their ability to score.

    Even if Arsenal get an early goal, I’ll be biting my nails waiting for someone to make a mistake in the back thereby gifting a goal to the Blues.

    Look what happened with Newcastle. With Arsenal 4 goals to the good, who woulda thought that the Toons could come back and almost win the game at the end?

    • Cheese

      February 25, 2011 at 2:35 pm

      With Djourou marshalling the back four the defensive frailties have been few and far between.

      • jonathan

        February 26, 2011 at 4:47 pm

        so true, arsenal have been solid at the back this season, djourou, kozzer, and szczesny have had a huge hand to play in that…and on the note that arsenal need to score first, not true. i’ve seen a fighting spirit in this team that i have not in recent years…the lads won’t give up until the final whistle.

    • Matt

      February 25, 2011 at 3:41 pm

      Six of the eight Premier League goals Birmingham have scored against Arsenal have come from set pieces

    • Chris

      February 25, 2011 at 3:54 pm

      I agree also. One goal won’t do it. Arsenal needs to score 2 for me to feel confident.

  16. Agwu

    February 25, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    If nasri will play 2morrow we definitly win the cup. bcos we have been defeating many big team without fab nd walcot.

  17. SeminoleGunner

    February 25, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    I have a really bad feeling about this one. If Arsenal manage to lose the “trophy drought” we’ve all heard so much about will be mentioned even more.

    I agree that Jack Wilshere may be key. If not him, maybe Nasri or Arshavin will have one of their can’t miss games.

  18. Vernon Hall

    February 25, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    A great summing up from The Gaffer. I disagree about the ugliest team – Stoke is it!

    And reference to the above comment – Fabregas has often been missing this season. Just watch Wilshere – his moment is now!

    • Drofdarb

      February 25, 2011 at 2:01 pm

      That’s a great point about Wilshire – he’s been playing great lately.

  19. Drofdarb

    February 25, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    No mention of the injuries to Cesc and Theo that will keep them out of the final? Arsenal never looks quite the same without Fabregas in the lineup.

    • The Gaffer

      February 25, 2011 at 1:44 pm

      I don’t think Theo will make that much of a difference, but the loss of Fabregas definitely will.

      The Gaffer

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