CRAIG Gardner plans to come back and haunt Arsenal this weekend – just eight months after ruining the Gunners’ best chance of silverware in six years.
The midfielder was a Wembley winner with Birmingham City in February as the underdogs pulled off a cup shock against overwhelming cup favourites Arsenal at Wembley.
And most observers thought the Londoners lost the match by failing to dominate the middle of the park.
For Sunderland’s summer signing, it was his best moment in football.
“The cup final was an unbelievable day, particularly for me as a Blues fan,” said Gardner. “It was probably the best day of my career.
“We went to Wembley as massive underdogs and the feeling outside the camp was that Arsenal had already won the trophy before we had even kicked off.
“All the talk in the run-up to the final was that Arsenal would win by five or six and that it would be an embarrassment for Birmingham. But that only served to spur us on even more and so to win 2-1 was fantastic.
“As far as Sunday is concerned, this time it will be Sunderland who are the underdogs but I can’t see why we can’t spring a surprise like Birmingham did. We’ve had a difficult start but Arsenal haven’t done any better.
“People are waiting for them to kick-on, but hopefully we can make them wait a bit longer.”
Arsenal’s cup defeat against Birmingham marked the starting point of the Gunners’ most recent decline, as they went on to be knocked out of the Champions League, the FA Cup and drop out of the Premier League title race.
And the Gunners’ woes have continued over the summer with the departure of key players such as Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri and the extension of their poor form into the current season with a series of disappointing results leaving them languishing down in 15th place in the Premier League.
This Sunday at the Emirates, Gardner hopes Sunderland can compound Arsene Wenger’s problems but he says despite Arsenal’s slump they remain formidable opposition.
“Arsene Wenger has done an unbelievable job at Arsenal,” he pointed out. “When you look back to the players he has had and the teams he has developed – that ‘Invincibles’ side a few years ago was just incredible.
“You can’t take those achievements away from him, and he certainly hasn’t turned into a bad manager overnight. He’s a top class manager and we know that they won’t roll over when we go there.
“They’re still a hard team to beat and we will need to be at our best if we are going to get anything out of the game.
“We have to be mentally strong. We have to respect them. But we also have to try to make the best of the fact that they’re not quite as dominant as they were a few seasons ago.
“Certainly in years gone by you couldn’t imagine an Arsenal side conceding eight goals against Manchester United or four against Blackburn Rovers.
“There’s no doubt that Arsenal have lost several of their best players and teams are now taking them on this season and fancying their chances. That’s the approach we will have on Sunday.
“This is the perfect opportunity for us to show everybody what we can do and kick on from there. To beat Arsenal would be an fantastic achievement but it can be done.
“And if we could do it this Sunday, it would give us just the lift we need.”