Sunday, 25 February 2018

Arsenal v Manchester City: Carabao Cup Final Preview

Arsenal are Wembley bound yet again as we face Manchester City in the Carabao Cup Final this afternoon. It’s a competition Arsene Wenger has never won as a manager although he has lost the final twice before. As a club our League Cup final record is pretty poor with only two wins and five defeats to our name.

Amongst those defeats there were some low points for us such as defeats against Swindon Town, Luton Town and Birmingham City. The Luton defeat in particular sticks with me, but the team from that day went on to bigger and better things as they won two league titles and a European Cup Winners Cup too. For me that will always be the Gus Caesar final as that game more or less ended what looked like a very promising career at Arsenal for him.

That final came a year after a glorious win in the same competition against Liverpool which paved the way for the team that was to come. Liverpool were the best team in the country at the time and if memory serves me correctly they had never lost a game when Ian Rush had scored. He got the first goal that day, but a Charlie Nicholas brace saw Arsenal lift the trophy against all the odds.

If we’re going to do the same today we will have to defy those odds again as we take on an impressive City team. They are running away with the Premier League and they’re the favourites to win the Champions League too after spending a fortune to assemble an extremely strong squad. They play the sort of football any fan would want their team to play and they score goals almost for fun at times.

It’s been a poor season so far for Arsenal with very few highlights, but we have the chance today to at least win a trophy even if it doesn’t exactly rank up there with the Champions League, the Premier League or even the FA Cup. We have managed to win the FA Cup in three of the last four seasons though and Wembley has almost become a second home for us. We just about beat a very similar City team in the FA Cup semi final last season and we went on to stop Chelsea doing the double in the final too.

We seem to be able to raise our game in cup competitions in particular and they are our only route to success this season. As it stands a top four finish in the Premier League seems beyond us and our only hope of playing in the Champions League next season is winning the Europa League. A win today would see us qualify to eat at the kids table that is the Europa League next season, but we need to be eating at the big table.

A lot has been made this week about our potential lineup today and even more so about our formation. There won’t be too many surprises in the team though as the manager has to play the strongest team he can so it’s down to the formation he chooses. I honestly don’t think the formation will matter too much though as it’s all about our attitude and commitment on the day.

Whether we play with two or three central defenders won’t be important if we play like we did against Spurs or Ostersund in our last two games. Once we went behind against Spurs we were clueless and we were clueless from the first minute to the last against Ostersund on Thursday night. That team might have been fairly different to the one we will see today, but it was so representative of how we have played far too often this season.

There’s a good chance Aaron Ramsey will return from injury today and if he’s fully fit I expect him to play. He is very fond of winning goals in Wembley cup finals and he could be the man to get a goal breaking forward from his midfield role. As good as City are they are vulnerable to a fast break and we have players who can take advantage of that weakness.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang seems to have been at the club for a long time already, but we have hardly seen him play as we are out of the FA Cup and he is ineligible in the Europa League. He is available today though and he has all the attributes needed to take advantage of City’s defence. If we can get Mesut Ozil on the ball in the right positions to feed him he can hopefully be the man to make the difference.

As I said already it’s really down to attitude, commitment and belief and I think we will know fairly early on if the players are up for it. Even if we are up for it we will probably have to ride our luck at times and take our chances when they arrive. I don’t think a victory is beyond us, but it would be a brave man who would bet on Arsenal today.

That’s it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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