Arsene Wenger has said that the prospect of winning tomorrow's Carling Cup final with Birmingham City would lift a "weight" from his team. Arsenal have not won a major trophy since 2005, with a different generation of players.
A victory tomorrow would, according to the manager, "convince the team they can deliver more" as they continue to compete for the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup over the remaining months of the season.
The last meaningful honour Arsenal won was the 2005 FA Cup. Of the current squad only Cesc Fabregas started that final against Manchester United, with Manuel Almunia and Robin van Persie on the bench. Since then a new crop of Arsenal players has come through, and Wenger sees it as being very important to the mentality of this group that they win a competition. "Because people are so much after us about trophies, we want to win one," he said. "But mainly because to win it would give us a lift. There is a weight on the team. We have to deliver trophies because we have not won any. I'm not the only one who's important on that for the players' feelings: they get that from you, from everybody. They say: 'OK, we want to win a trophy to show you we can win one.' But I believe to win would give us a lift for the rest of the season."
Wenger described himself as a "futurist"; saying that he does not dwell on the medals that he has won. "One of the things in this job is you look always for the next game, the future", he said. "This job turns you forward". He therefore sees success tomorrow as a catalyst for future triumphs, both in the remaining competitions this season and in future years. While a victory would be welcome, should they win there would be no open-top bus parade. "On Monday morning we come in and practise to win against Leyton Orient," the manager added.
Winning would complete what Wenger (above) described as a "mental unblocking" of his team. "We have a young squad and this will do much for their confidence," he said. "Winning the Carling Cup will be like beating Chelsea, or Barcelona; another step forward."
Arsenal's new generation will have to do it, however, without their captain, Fabregas. The midfielder injured his hamstring in the Premier League game against Stoke City on Wednesday and will not feature.
Wenger said that the prospect of future success was consoling the Spaniard. "He's disappointed, but his disappointment is diminished by the fact that we have other main targets after this game. Like the league, the Champions League, the FA Cup. If he was playing, he could damage his participation in all the other targets after that. Of course, he accepts it with disappointment, but our job isn't just about good things. It's also about disappointments."
Despite his absence from the final, Fabregas will be as much a cup-winner as any of the Arsenal players should they triumph tomorrow, according to the manager. "I'm against the idea that you have only won the trophy if you play in the final," said Wenger. "It is all the players who participated in the competition. But people look at the photo: sometimes one guy has played only the final, and others aren't involved who have played all the games before." When asked about the prospect of seeing Fabregas lift a trophy, Wenger described it as his "deepest wish".
In Fabregas's absence, Van Persie will captain the side. Wenger said he was delighted that the Dutch forward will return, having missed the Stoke match with a back injury. Theo Walcott will also miss out, however, his ankle injury sidelining him for "two to three weeks". Some of Fabregas's duties, though, will fall to Jack Wilshere. "His confidence has grown, his responsibility has grown, certainly", said Wenger. "Our game goes naturally through Fabregas. When he's not there, it will go more through Wilshere. He will enjoy this game."
Arsenal v Birmingham: Three key confrontations
Robin Van Persie vs Roger Johnson
Johnson’s fine form has him pushing for an England call-up, and his presence at set-pieces, including a goal in the semi-final win over West Ham have aided Birmingham’s cause. He will face a huge challenge containing the in-form Van Persie. The Dutch striker has recovered from injury problems to score 13 in 13 games.
Jack Wilshere vs Sebastian Larsson
The 19-year-old Arsenal midfielder billed as the future of English football will have to track wide to close down former Arsenal midfielder Larsson. The versatile Swede has scored twice this season and contributed five assists, while Wilshere will be looking to replicate the form he showcased for England and against Barcelona earlier this month.
Laurent Koscielny vs Nikola Zigic
The 6ft 7in Serbian striker has become a key part of Alex McLeish's side in recent weeks, scoring three in his last four games. Koscielny prefers the ball at his feet and may be unsettled by the aerial approach of Zigic. The forward has six inches in height on Koscielny and will seek to dominate any balls coming in from out wide.
Classic League Cup Finals
1967: QPR 3-2 West Bromwich
In the first League Cup final at Wembley, third division QPR came back from two goals down to beat holders Albion, with Mark Lazarus scoring the winner.
1969: Swindon 3 Arsenal 1
With eight players suffering from flu and a poor surface at Wembley, Arsenal lost to a team two leagues below them.
1988: Luton Town 3-2 Arsenal
Goals from Danny Wilson and Brian Stein (two) won the Hatters' first major trophy. Arsenal, who missed a penalty, had led 2-1 with eight minutes to play.
1994: Aston Villa 3-1 Man United
A Dean Saunders double and one from Dalian Atkinson ended United's treble hopes; Andrei Kanchelskis was sent off.
2007: Chelsea 2-1 Arsenal
Arsenal led through Theo Walcott before Didier Drogba struck twice. John Terry was accidentally kicked in the face, and three players dismissed after a brawl.
Arsenal's fixture pile-up
Tomorrow / LC / Birmingham (n)
Wednesday / FA / Leyton Orient (h)
Sat 5 March / PL / Sunderland (h)
Tues 8 March / CL / Barcelona (a)
Sat 12 March / FA / Manchester Utd (a)*
Sat 19 March / PL / West Brom (a)
Sat 2 April / PL / Blackburn (h)
Sun 10 April / PL / Blackpool (a)
Sun 17 April / PL / Liverpool (h)
Wed 20 April / PL / Tottenham (a)
Sun 24 April / PL / Bolton (a)
Sun 1 May / PL / Manchester Utd (h)
Sat 7 May / PL / Stoke (a)
Sat 14 May / PL / Aston Villa (h)
Sun 22 May / PL / Fulham (a)
If Arsenal win replay v Leyton Orient