By Chris Harris
Laura Harvey is 90 minutes - or maybe 120 - from probably the proudest moment of her career.
The Arsenal Ladies manager will enjoy a 'homecoming' on Saturday when she leads her team out for the FA Women's Cup Final at Coventry's Ricoh Arena. Harvey grew up not far from the stadium and will have plenty of local support when the favourites take on Bristol Academy.
Arsenal are no strangers to the big occasion - they have won the Cup a record ten times, including four of the last five competitions - but Harvey admits that their latest Final appearance will be extra-special for her.
"There has been a lot of press around the fact that is where I am from and it will be great to go back home," Harvey told Arsenal.com.
"I don’t really like to think about lifting the trophy that much because I think that is tempting fate. But it would be amazing to do it in front of a local crowd, my friends and family. We have got to make sure we do the job properly first.
"I drive past the stadium every day and there are signs on the M6 about a major event in Coventry and that is what it is. That is how women’s football has grown. The Cup Final is a major event now and it is a major day on the sporting calendar. Hopefully we will get a big crowd there."
Before Harvey's dream can come true, Arsenal must overcome a stubborn Bristol Academy side. The Ladies handed out 8-0 and 4-1 beatings to their rivals last season but it has been a different story since the Women's Super League got underway.
Arsenal needed a stunning long-range strike from Jennifer Beattie to secure a 1-0 win last month and were held to a 2-2 draw last Thursday despite leading twice. The teams will reconvene in Coventry this weekend and Harvey acknowledges that the gap has closed.
"The gap has closed everywhere because of the Women’s Super League," she said. "Teams are prepared, organised and have got a little bit of a ‘will to win’ with the high-profile league being like it is.
"Their key players are Jess Fishlock and their captain Corinne Yorston. They are an organised, hard-working team and have got that attitude that no matter what the score is they are going to work hard. They have proved that with the results they have got this year. They are hard to break down and don’t concede many goals and they have got a lot of momentum at the minute. Getting to the FA Cup Final for the first time is a great achievement for them.
"Having said that, in both games, especially the 2-2 draw, we could have been 4-0 up at half time. That is something we have worked on and looked at to make sure that, if we have got a team under so much pressure, we make sure we finish them off.
"We know that if we can perform at the levels we have in our ranks then we can beat anybody. We know that. We have just got to make sure we do that and we cut out the silly mistakes and sloppy missed chances higher up the pitch. Anyone who plays us on our day, when we get everything right, needs to be wary of us."
Faye White and Jayne Ludlow usually get the honour of lifting major trophies for Arsenal but Harvey will be without both for Saturday's showpiece. Katie Chapman will wear the captain's armband and everyone else, in the manager's words, is "fit and ready to go".
Bristol have pushed Arsenal to the limit this season but you can understand why the Ladies are favourites to prevail this weekend. Their opponents are preparing for their first Cup Final while this will be Arsenal's 12th. Harvey suspects that experience of the big occasion - at home and abroad - will give her players an edge.
"It can definitely work for you if you are used to those environments," she said. "The girls that have been here a season or two, even this year, have appreciated the big crowds.
"Going away to Lyon was a massive crowd and a huge stadium so we are used to those types of days. We have got to make sure that we take it all in, enjoy it and put in a performance worthy of an FA Cup Final. I think if we do that, the result takes care of itself."
And if Arsenal's players are tempted to take it easy, Harvey will remind them of last May when Everton inflicted a last-gasp Cup Final defeat - Arsenal's first in 11 appearances.
"This competition never loses its sheen because we lost it last year," she explains. "To know how that feels, you don’t want that feeling ever again. If you ever did get a little complacent that definitely brings you back down to earth with a bang.
"But sometimes you need those disappointments to maintain your desire. If you look at us as a group over the last 12 months I think we’ve gained a bit more hunger and that showed massively in our Champions League campaign where we had a never-say-die attitude.
"We have got to try and take those experiences into Saturday."Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 18 May 2011