ONLY one team stands between Arsenal and silverware following their progress to the Carling Cup final. Whatever happens at Wembley, it is sure to boost their confidence that they can catch Manchester United in the Premier League title race.
In the past this Gunners team has been guilty of hitting a brick wall at crucial moments in the season. And even if they lift the cup, Arsene Wenger will need to ensure no-one takes their foot off the gas. But they do look a stronger outfit this term, for a number of reasons.
Up front they have more variety, with the rejuvenated Robin van Persie complemented by Marouane Chamakh and Nicklas Bendtner – who proved in Tuesday’s semi-final against Ipswich that he has a happy knack of getting crucial goals.
In midfield they are less reliant on Cesc Fabregas. When fit, the Spaniard has been good but has been helped by those around him, not least the terrific Samir Nasri. Younger players have also grown up, with Jack Wilshere, Alex Song and Denilson all more consistent performers.
At the back Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy look solid while Johan Djourou seems to have turned a corner after his years of injury, and is blossoming into a real star. They could perhaps use one more centre-back but it doesn’t look like Wenger will sign one before the summer.
I like the young goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, too. Until we’ve seen him string 30 games together we won’t know quite how good he is but so far the Pole looks the part.
If, as expected, Arsenal win the Carling Cup and a six-year wait for silverware, it will vindicate Wenger’s controversial policy of persevering with a young team. To have maintained top four status despite budget constraints caused by a new stadium is huge. Adding a long-awaited trophy now would top it all off.