It has finally arrived. Arsenal now have a glorious chance to diminish their notorious five year trophy drought that has continued to haunt the Gunners fans. The North London giants encounter Birmingham City in the Carling Cup final after an arduous journey in which Arsene Wenger's men overcame a number of tough opponents.
Their Cup campaign began with a 4-1 extra time thrashing over arch rivals and North London neighbours Tottenham in the third round. After advancing to the fourth round the Gunners continued to dominate proceedings with a 4-0 thrashing of Newcastle. This followed with an impressive 2-0 quarter final victory over Wigan Athletic before losing 1-0 in the first leg of the semi final against Championship side Ipswich Town.
However, Wenger's men bounced back admirably with a 3-0 win in the return fixture, ensuring a 3-1 victory on aggregate to book a place in the Carling Cup final. What has been most notable about Arsenal's triumph in the Carling Cup is the absence of premium youngsters.
Wenger has primarily utilized the Carling Cup as a breeding ground for his exciting array of young talent. Recent years have seen the Frenchman produce squads that boast an average age of 21—and what was more impressive was the entertaining fashion in which the young Gunners conducted their football.
But the hunger and desire to secure a long overdue piece of silverware has forced Wenger to rotate his squad and enforce a more experienced line up. Fans aren't complaining though, as the Gunners have shown tremendous depth in their squad and have continued to uphold their exceptional style of play.
But can they go one further and finally diminish their five year trophy drought against a tough Birmingham City outfit, or will injuries and pressure intervene? Let's predict the Arsenal starting XI.
In-form youngster Wojciech Szczesny is set to receive the honour of being selected as the starting goalkeeper in the Carling Cup final—and with good reason. The Polish shot stopper has been a tremendous presence between the sticks since predominant first choice keeper Lukasz Fabianski suffered a season ending shoulder injury in January.
Wenger is likely to utilize his strongest defensive line, which of course boasts the centre half partnership of imposing Swiss Johan Djourou and Frenchman Laurent Koscielny.
Koscienly did not feature in Arsenal's mid week win over Stoke City but is set to be fit to play in the final. The duo have enjoyed a formidable partnership since late December and have been integral in Arsenal's recent form.
Bacary Sagna is expected to start at right back with Ivorian Emmanuel Eboue set to receive a role when the Gunners face Leyton Orient in the FA Cup replay next week. At left back, experienced full-back Gael Clichy will maintain his spot in the Arsenal XI with England international Kieran Gibbs set to appear against Leyton Orient.
French defender Sebastien Squillaci will receive a role on the bench alongside Eboue and Gibbs. Defensive leader Thomas Vermaelen is still out with a persistent Achilles injury.
The Gunners have suffered dreadful news—captain Cesc Fabregas is set to miss the final with a hamstring injury. The Spaniard limped off in the opening 15 minutes against Stoke City, which leaves a gaping hole, from an attacking and leadership standpoint, in the Arsenal XI. However, as the competition has shown, Arsenal boast sufficient depth to replace their midfield maestro.
Wenger welcomes imposing Frenchman Abou Diaby back from suspension as he steps into Fabregas' role as the attacking midfielder. There is also the question of defensive midfielder Alexandre Song—the Cameroon midfielder played the full 90 minutes against Stoke City and, prior to that, 90 against Leyton Orient.
This could result in Wenger resting Song and instead handing Samba Star Denilson the defensive midfield role alongside teen sensation Jack Wilshere. The hugely in-form Wilshere will be forced to orchestrate most of Arsenal's midfield attack.
The Gunners will be immensely boosted by the return of Robin van Persie, who missed the Stoke City encounter with a hamstring injury. The Dutchman is in incredible form with 12 goals in 10 games this year. Van Persie will receive the lone striker role and will be the focal point of the Arsenal attack.
However, the Gunners will be without speedster Theo Walcott, who limped off against Stoke City with an ankle injury. This ensures Czech Tomas Rosicky will receive a rare start on the right wing, enhancing Arsenal's experience and creativity. That being said, Walcott's speed would have been a huge asset to Arsenal.
On the left wing, Russian dynamo Andrei Arshavin, who is returning to form, will be given the task to torment the slow Birmingham back line. In-form French play-maker Samir Nasri is set to be demoted to the bench having recently returned from injury and playing 90 minutes against Stoke.
Imposing strikers Nicklas Bendtner and Marouane Chamakh will receive bench roles.
With seven places on Wenger's bench, Spaniard Manuel Almunia will receive the back up keeper role whilst Sebastien Squillaci, Emmanuel Eboue and Kieran Gibbs will be the deputizing defenders. Marouane Chamakh, Samir Nasri and Nicklas Bendtner are the impact attackers.
But will Arsenal's notorious five year trophy drought finally be broken, or will Fabregas' absence and the physicality of Birmingham prove too much?