Gunners meet Birmingham in Cup final

2011-02-25 13:06

London – Birmingham will look to shatter Arsenal’s bid for a historic haul of four trophies in one season when the two Premier League teams meet in Sunday’s League Cup final at Wembley Stadium in London.

Arsenal is still involved in the latter stages of the Champions League and the FA Cup, and the London side is also close behind Manchester United as the race for the Premiership title goes down to the wire.

The four-pronged assault on honours could be catching up on the Gunners, however, with star players picking up injuries in recent weeks.

Captain Cesc Fabregas and England winger Theo Walcott are definitely out this weekend, while striker Robin van Persie has struggled with a hamstring problem over the past week.

Birmingham, whose sole piece of silverware came when it won the League Cup in 1963, is sensing the chance of an upset, with the pressure also on Arsenal to end a six-year trophy drought.

“They are overwhelming favourites and everyone is writing us off outside of our camp,” Birmingham striker Cameron Jerome said.

“That is going to add the pressure on them, and also them not winning a trophy for a while. They had a league game on Wednesday, have a narrow lead in the Champions League against Barcelona, and have also got an FA Cup replay. They are in a lot of competitions so hopefully we can catch them slipping.”

Recent results suggest it will be one-way traffic at Wembley.

Arsenal has lost only once this year, and the come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Barcelona in the first leg of their last-16 Champions League match will have increased the belief and confidence within the squad. The Gunners also beat Birmingham 3-0 in the league at St Andrew’s in January.

“We want to go for every single competition,” Wenger said. “How far will we go? I personally believe we can go in every competition to the end but we can as well stop very quickly.”

How many trophies Arsenal wins this season, if the club wins any at all, is likely to depend on how fit the squad stays.

Fabregas and Walcott are both out with injuries sustained in the 1-0 league win over Stoke on Wednesday, which put the Gunners a point behind United.

Van Persie and centre-back Laurent Koscielny were declared fit by Wenger yesterday after they missed the Stoke game but goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski and defender Thomas Vermaelen are long-term absentees.

Arsenal will arguably miss Fabregas the most.

“He is disappointed. We all feel sorry and sad for him,” Wenger said. “The only way we help him now is to win the cup as he contributed a lot in this competition.”

Arsenal’s last trophy came in 2005 when it beat Manchester United on penalties to win the FA Cup.

Birmingham has excelled in the cup competitions this season – it is also in the FA Cup quarterfinals – but is under the threat of relegation from the Premier League.

Blues manager Alex McLeish is relishing his team’s underdog tag.

“They (Arsenal) have not won anything for five years and that has got to be at the back of their minds,” he said. “I know that maybe they won’t talk about that openly but I’m sure it will be at the back of a few of the players’ minds.”

Former Arsenal midfielder Alexander Hleb is Birmingham’s major injury concern while winger David Bentley and defender Curtis Davies are both cup-tied.

With Arsenal in League Cup action, the team’s rivals in the title race will look to take advantage.

United has two away games in the space of four days – at Wigan tomorrow and fifth-place Chelsea on Tuesday – and could pull seven points clear with back-to-back wins.

Third-place Manchester City, which is seven points behind Arsenal, hosts Fulham on Sunday, when Liverpool travels to second-bottom West Ham.

Tomorrow, bottom-place Wolverhampton Wanderers is at home to Blackpool, fifth-bottom Aston Villa hosts Blackburn, Sunderland goes to Everton and Bolton visits Newcastle.

Stoke hosts fourth-bottom West Bromwich Albion on Monday.

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