Arsenal and Birmingham bid to end trophy droughts

LONDON - Arsenal fans feeling depressed about their team's failure to win a major trophy for six years will get little sympathy from supporters of Birmingham City who they play in Sunday's League Cup final at Wembley.

Arsenal's drought since lifting the 2005 FA Cup has been well documented but Birmingham have won nothing of note for 48 years when they beat city rivals Aston Villa in the 1963 League Cup final.

To put Birmingham's lack of success into even sharper perspective, the 136-year-old club have never won the league title or FA Cup and have not been close to a trophy since losing on penalties to Liverpool in the 2001 League Cup final.

Expectations are far greater at Arsenal who start as the overwhelming favourites to end the barren spell and begin a new era of success like the one they enjoyed from 1998 until 2005.

It could be the first of four trophies this season as they are just one point behind Manchester United in the Premier League title race and still involved in the Champions League and FA Cup.

Manager Arsene Wenger guided Arsenal to two FA Cup and League Doubles in his first six seasons at the club and they have won two more FA Cups and reached the 2006 Champions League final which they narrowly lost to Barcelona.

Arsenal face Birmingham without injured captain Cesc Fabregas and winger Theo Walcott.


"I don't know if not winning a trophy for a few years puts more pressure on us or not," Wenger said. "All I do know is that when you go into a final you desperately want to win it.

"It does not matter who the favourites are, it depends on how you play on the day. There is nothing we can do about not winning a trophy since 2005, you have to accept it, but people should consider how consistent we have been."

Arsenal have beaten Birmingham twice in the league this season and have not lost to them in eight meetings.

Birmingham, who have flirted with the relegation zone this season and are currently 14th, have reserved their best football for the knockout competitions having also reached the FA Cup quarter-finals.

Manager Alex McLeish is hoping to give Birmingham owner, Hong Kong businessman Carson Yeung who bought the club 16 months ago, the perfect 51st birthday present.

"Carson has had a great run since he came in here," McLeish said. "The final will be momentous for him, not least because it is his birthday. We would all love to give him the best birthday present ever.

"Arsenal have not won anything for five years and that has got to be at the back of their minds."

Arsenal must find a way to cope with Birmingham's 6ft 8inches tall striker Nikola Zigic, who has scored three times in his last four matches.

Their main injury worry concerns Alexander Hleb who is battling to be overcome knee injury to face his former club.

Central defender Martin Jiranek is fit after recovering from a thigh injury and striker Cameron Jerome should shake off an ankle strain.