‘Arsenal know they can beat Birmingham and then the sky is the limit’

Carling Cup final win can be just the beginning for this side, says Nigel Winterburn

That was a vital win for Arsenal last night to keep the pressure up on Manchester United, who face some difficult games over the next week.

They have away games at Wigan, Chelsea and then Liverpool and Arsenal will be hoping they drop points - but even if they don’t the Gunners are well in contention for the title with 11 games to play.

Now attention turns towards the Carling Cup final, and no matter what people try to say, playing in a cup final is a completely different experience for a footballer compared to the hundreds of other games you will play in during your career.

The whole build-up to the game is different and the fact you are playing at Wembley makes it special. Even though a lot more games are played at Wembley these days including the FA Cup semi-finals, quite a few of the Arsenal players won’t have played there.

The same goes for Birmingham, and how individual players react to the atmosphere on the day, the hype of the build up and the extra attention can always surprise you.

Personally I couldn’t wait for all that to die down, get the anthems out of the way, and then get down to the business of winning the game.

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Of course Arsenal will go into this final as favourites, and if they play as well as we know they can, then they will win and bring back the trophy.

But Birmingham are a Premier League side and one that have proved very difficult to beat in the last few years. They are well-organised and in Alex McLeish have a good man-manager who gets the best out of his players.

The big call for him will be just how attacking Birmingham are prepared to be. Will he risk playing two up front and trying to win the game? Or will it just be a case of trying to soak up the pressure, deny Arsenal space and trying to hit them on the counter-attack and on set-pieces.

Obviously with players like Nikola Zigic, we are going to see Arsenal tested by lots of crosses and high balls, and they will have to cope with that well on the day.

For me there can’t be any debate about who plays for Arsenal, it has to be the strongest available side. This is the game that matters, the culimation of lots of hard work. It has to be the best players and you can’t be worrying about Barcelona or whoever.

It looks like Theo Walcott will miss out which is a great shame for him personally, but Arsenal have the squad to cope with his absence. The loss of Cesc Fabregas would be a different matter altogether. He is the leader of this side and there will be a nervous wait for the news on his fitness over the next 48 hours.

I have been saying for a long time that this side need a trophy, they need to win something to instil belief and turn them from good players of potential to proven winners.

It is ‘only’ the Carling Cup, and that was the fourth priority at the start of the season and remains so. But Arsenal are in all four competitions and have a great chance in all of them. Everybody would swap places with where Arsenal are at right now.

When we won this trophy in 1993, we felt fairly unbeatable around then and won the FA Cup the next month and the Cup Winners’ Cup the next season. You can get momentum, get on a roll and feel invincible. Winning can create strong bonds in a team.

If Arsenal can take this first step on Sunday and get a trophy, then the sky is the limit for this team.