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Why the Carling Cup final really could become the defining match of Arsenal's season

It is that time of the season when every match feels progressively more important than the last but, for Arsenal, the Carling Cup final genuinely has the potential to be a pivotal moment in the club’s entire history.

That might sound overly dramatic – especially for a trophy that Arsene Wenger has previously dismissed – but just throw your mind forward to Sunday’s Wembley final and the two possible outcomes.

If Arsenal do win, it would not be so much a monkey but a huge great strapping ape that would be lifted from their backs. Even the media are starting to get bored of reminding Wenger and his players that they have not won any silverware since 2005.

Over the space of just 90 minutes, that lingering pressure could completely evaporate. Suddenly, every other club would have had a longer wait since their last trophy.

Arsenal would then face their forthcoming challenges in the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup with the knowledge that, whatever happens, the season would be deemed a success.

The surge in momentum and confidence would surely be huge, something both Manchester United and Chelsea have proved in the recent past when the Carling Cup has been a springboard for even greater achievements.

It would make Arsenal far more likely to also win one of the trophies this season that Wenger regards with more importance.

The clear sense with Arsenal is that, once they do overcome the psychological hurdle of a first trophy, further silverware would flow with regularity over the next five years.

Yet just stop for a moment and consider the consequences of an upset. All the old fears and uncertainties would return. The wait for a trophy would lengthen and the other three competitions could feel like daunting obstacles rather than winnable opportunities.

If Arsenal failed to beat Birmingham City when it mattered most, the players would surely struggle to really believe they were ready to surpass Barcelona or Manchester United. It could significantly damage what has been a growing collective mental strength.

Put simply, Sunday’s match against Birmingham represents both a huge opportunity and threat to the speed at which Wenger’s grand project is fulfilled.

It will be an occasion with the potential to become the breakthrough moment in a whole new era for Arsenal Football Club