Unless you are a Bradford City fan, it is probably hard to remember when the visit of Arsenal to Valley Parade was a Premier League fixture, but if any set of fans deserve another night in the limelight, then it is probably the Bantams’ loyal followers.
Bradford’s fall from grace has been as painful for the City faithful as it has been complete and having gone from the Premier League to League Two in record time – only to remain there for season after season of struggle – the Capital One Cup quarter-final against the mighty Gunners is symbolic of the optimism that is now sweeping through the club.
And about time, too. For years the biggest club in the bottom tier, manager after manager have failed to get Bradford out of League Two and City have spent more time fighting relegation than promotion.
It is a lifetime away from the heady days when Bradford could attract talents such as Stan Collymore and Benito Carbone, but Phil Parkinson looks to have finally turned the tide.
Parkinson is in the middle of instigating a promotion push at Valley Parade and his side currently sit fourth in League Two, just three points off the automatic promotion places.
A club of Bradford’s stature should rightly expect to be at the top end of the division and it finally looks like after years of financial woes and poor football, the City fans have something to cheer.
Arsenal’s trip to West Yorkshire gives the supporters something else to look forward to in this positive time for the club and the plum tie is the least Bradford deserve after a great run in both this competition and the Football League Trophy.
Parkinson’s side have beaten opposition from higher divisions in four of their six cup ties this season, including Notts County, Watford, Hartlepool and, most notably, Wigan Athletic at the DW Stadium in the last round of this tournament.
But can they cause the ultimate upset by beating Arsenal?
The bookies at bwin think not, making Bradford 6/1 to win inside 90 minutes, with the draw at 4/1 and the Gunners at 2/5, and even with Bradford’s renewed sense of purpose and high confidence, you would still have to say Arsenal will get the job done.
That’s not to say it will be easy. Bradford are yet to lose a cup match this season (their last defeat was an FA Cup third-round loss to Watford back in January) but even in defeat, they have proved hard to beat in these one off-matches for some time.
Five of their last seven League Cup ties have gone to extra-time at least, while five of their last seven Football League Trophy victories – including wins over Sheffield United, Huddersfield Town and Sheffield Wednesday – have been won on penalties.
In fact, their stunning spot-kick win over Wigan was their eighth straight triumph in shoot-outs – an incredible statistic and one which should have you reaching for the laptop to back them in-play if tonight’s clash goes the full distance.
And roared on by a vociferous full house that have been starved of top-class opponents for years, Parkinson will set his team out to be hard to beat and will hope to take advantage of any fragile confidence that might exist in the Arsenal ranks.
But aware of all this, Wenger has promised to play an experienced side against the Bantams, no doubt aware that it will be a tough game and the ramifications of defeat to a League Two side are unthinkable at a stage when Arsenal are struggling for consistency.
He could do with a trophy, too, and the League Cup has provided Arsenal with their best route to one over recent years, with lost finals to Chelsea and Birmingham City the closest Wenger has come to lifting silverware since the FA Cup win back in 2005.
An experienced Gunners side should be beating a team from the bottom tier, but instead of the 2/5, I’ll take the evens on Arsenal giving Bradford a goal headstart.
Five of Arsenal’s six Premier League wins have been by at least two goals, as well as two Champions League wins and a 6-1 victory over Coventry in this cup, and the even-money shout represents good value for Arsenal to confirm their extra class.