Arsenal take on Liverpool tonight at Emirates Stadium in what is sure to be a memorable occasion. It may only be the Carling Cup and the likes of Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas, Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard might not be on show, but it should be something to savour nonetheless.
The above will be true if the incredible 6-3 victory at Anfield from three seasons ago is repeated, in which Julio Baptista scored four goals in a bizarre match. Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has said that he feels his current squad is much stronger than the one which capitulated then. Tonight will tell.
Both sides faced tricky tasks to reach this stage. Arsenal beat West Bromwich Albion 2-0 in what was ultimately a convincing victory but only after the sending off of former Gunner Jerome Thomas and the introduction of Mark Randall and Carlos Vela, who just seems to thrive on playing in this competition. Liverpool, meanwhile, required a David N’Gog strike to edge past a gamely Leeds outfit and seal their place in the draw.
Now they meet and it should be something to savour. Liverpool are on a high following the pivotal win over Manchester United on Saturday and, even though the majority of the players who featured in that game won’t be involved tonight, the good vibe will surely reverberate around the whole squad. Arsenal are looking to fulfil Arsene Wenger’s belief that this can finally be the year when they end their trophy drought.
Wenger is certainly taking this competition more seriously than he used to. In his post-match press-conference at Upton Park, the Frenchman stated that it will be a ‘mixed’ side against Liverpool and he subsequently revealed that Samir Nasri, Lukasz Fabianski, Eduardo and Nicklas Bendtner will all start the game having recently recovered from injury. Fran Mérida is set to feature having watched the West Ham game from the paddock behind the substitutes, although the bad news is that Jack Wilshere, Nacer Barazite and Armand Traore, who all featured in the last round, have been ruled out through injury. The back four of Kerrea Gilbert, Philippe Senderos, Mikael Silvestre and Kieran Gibbs is likely to remain intact, whilst Vela and Aaron Ramsey should also start. Francis Coquelin should beat off competition from Mark Randall, Craig Eastmond and Emmanuel Frimpong to start in the anchor role.
Liverpool will hope to hand a debut to summer signing Alberto Aquilani, although the midfield player is not ready to start a game just yet so will take his place amongst the substitutes. N’Gog, who sealed the win against United on Saturday, could start as could Ryan Babel, Jay Spearing, Martin Kelly, Philip Degen and Andriy Voronin. Defenders Andrea Dossena and Sotiris Kyrgiakos, a Euro 2004 winner with Greece, have recovered from injury and could be involved.
It should be an encounter to savour and, for some of Arsenal’s youngsters, an opportunity to test themselves against high-quality opposition. Both sides will go full throttle for the win and some of the young Liverpool players who lost to Arsenal over two legs in the FA Youth Cup final may seek revenge.
subs: Szczesny, Randall, Watt, Sunu, Bartley, Frimpong, Eastmond.
Update: Vela is not in the squad
Arsenal under-18s have the opportunity to secure the first half of a presitigious double when they take on North London rivals Tottenham in the Premier Academy League play-off Final at White Hart Lane tomorrow afternoon.
It has been a superb season for Steve Bould’s side, who have only lost two games all campaign, and remain undefeated in 2009. Having topped Group A by a staggering 25 points, they will be full of confidence going into tomorrow’s encounter.
However, last week’s performance in the semi-final against Manchester City left a lot to be desired, with Bould admitting that the Gunners would be ‘turned over’ if they played like that again. Spurs will be looking for revenge for their FA Youth Cup exit against Arsenal earlier this season and will be boosted by the return of Andros Townsend and Jon Obika from a highly profitable loan spell at Yeovil.
The Gunners may be without Jack Wilshere (thigh) after he picked up an injury on international duty, whilst left-back Thomas Cruise faces a late fitness test. Rhys Murphy will be pushing for a start, whilst Luke Freeman and Benik Afobe could return on the bench, although Oguzhan Ozyakup is still in Germany with Holland U17’s.
Bould may opt to rest some players ahead of Friday’s FA Youth Cup final first-leg with Liverpool at Emirates, but this trophy is one which has eluded Arsenal since its formation at the start of the 2004-05 season.
ANDROS TOWNSEND V CRAIG EASTMOND
Live-wire Andros caused Craig all sorts of problems in the FA Youth Cup quarter-final and, after a highly successful spell away at Yeovil, he will be brimming with confidence. Eastmond has had a solid season and was particularly impressive against Manchester City in the semi-finals, but he will have to be on his guard here.
STEVEN CAULKER V SANCHEZ WATT
Sanchez may operate as a lone striker for Arsenal, although he will receive
lots of support from his midfielders. Caulker is a solid, no-nonsense centre-back and will be determined to keep a clean sheet.
JON OBIKA V KYLE BARTLEY
Powerful striker Obika was a thorn in Arsenal’s side in the FA Youth Cup clash and the much-improved Kyle Bartley will have to be on his guard to stop him. Obika impressed on loan at Yeovil and will be looking to impress potential suitors ahead of another temporary move next season.
subs: Shea, Afobe, Freeman, Henderson, Boateng.
Just five days after suffering a humiliating 3-0 defeat at the hands of their fiercest rivals, Arsenal reserves have the chance for instant revenge when they take on their Spurs counterparts again tonight.
That defeat at Underhill continued what has been a miserable start to 2009 for Neil Banfield’s side, who are yet to win this year and haven’t scored since the 2-2 draw with Stoke on January 21st.
Tottenham, meanwhile, are in top form and victory tonight would see them close the gap on leaders Aston Villa at the top of the Reserve League South to just five points.
Arsenal are determined to stop that happening and Banfield makes three changes from the side which succumbed to Spurs last week. Wojciech Szczesny, who was an un-used substitute for the first-team in the 4-1 victory over Wigan on Saturday, replaces James Shea in goal, whilst French duo Francis Coquelin and Gilles Sunu are restored in place of Fran Mérida and Amaury Bischoff, who trained with the first-team today ahead of tomorrow’s game with Villarreal. Jack Wilshere (ankle) is still in light training, whilst Luke Freeman and Benik Afobe make the bench after their terrific run of form for the under-18s recently. Defender Rhema Obed also earns his first Reserve call-up as a substitute.
subs: Freeman, Evina, Obed, Afobe, Shea.
Without the creative Mérida, the Gunners may adopt a more defensive approach, although when they do create chances, Sanchez Watt is far more likely to work harder to win the ball than Amaury Bischoff did last week.
Tottenham name an incredibly strong side for this fixture. As well as Ben Alnwick, Alan Hutton, Gilberto and Ricardo Rocha, who all featured last week, former Gunners David Bentley and Jamie O’Hara are both in the squad, along with Manchester United loanee Frazier Campbell and Welsh international left-back Gareth Bale. Pascal Chimbonda and John Bostock are also in the squad.
The Gunners will be hoping for their first win of the calendar year as they look to end a dissapointing campaign on a high.
There will be no Tomas Rosicky on show tonight, but a large crowd is still expected at Underhill to see Arsenal Reserves take on their Tottenham counterparts in the North London derby tonight.
The visit of Spurs, along with that of Chelsea, is usually one of the most highly-attended second string fixtures each campaign and it seemed that tonight’s clash would have an extra edge to it given the possibility that Rosicky could finally make his comeback from injury.
However, that will have to wait for another day and the Gunners will be looking for a strong end to the season with just four games remaining. They play Spurs in the reverse fixture next week followed by a double-header with West Brom.
Neil Banfield makes just one outfield change from the side which drew 0-0 with Chelsea a fortnight ago, with Luke Ayling replacing Mikael Silvestre in defence. Jack Wilshere is still working his way back to full fitness after an ankle problem and Rhys Murphy (hamstring) is still out. Banfield has French duo Francis Coquelin and Gilles Sunu back at his disposal after international duty, but neither are deemed fit enough to make the starting line-up. James Shea replaces Wojciech Szczesny in goal. Fran Mérida and Amaury Bischoff, who both trained with the first team prior to the Villarreal game both start and the starting line-up includes eight players who played against Spurs in the sensational FA Youth Cup comeback last month.
subs: Sunu, Coquelin, Evina, Dunne.
Spurs include some notable names of their own, including left-back Alan Hutton, centre-backs Ricardo Rocha and Gilberto as well as ‘keeper Ben Alnwick. Dean Parrett, who skippered Spurs in that FA Youth Cup defeat, also starts.
First-team managers Harry Redknapp and Arsene Wenger are expected to be amongst the interested spectators this evening and, with a hint of revenge in the air, the young Gunners might not have it all their own way against their fierce rivals.
Steve Bould welcomes back England U-17 strikers Benik Afobe and Luke Freeman for tomorrow’s Premier Academy League encounter at London Colney.
The pair scored four goals between them during their stint with the Three Lions in Hungary and will look to add further attacking prowess to an Arsenal u-18 side which has yielded nine goals and nine points from their previous three games.
The young Gunners remain unbeaten in 2009 and are still on course for the Premier Academy League and FA Youth Cup double with the Group A title already wrapped up and the second-leg of the FA Youth Cup to come at a packed Emirates Stadium later this month.
Freeman’s return tomrrow is likely to see Jonas Rasmussen return to the right flank, with Oguzhan Ozyakup moving in-field to partner Montaigu-bound Chuks Aneke in central-midfield. Sam Byles (back) is doubtful, as is Zak Ansah (foot), so schoolboy Jordan Wynter is likely to retain his place on the bench. Anton Blackwood and Samir Carruthers are on trial at Crystal Palace and Fulham respectively and Rhys Murphy (hamstring) and Conor Henderson (medial knee ligaments) are both ruled out.
These sides last met just over a month ago and Freeman’s goal proved the difference that day. The chances are that he could do the same tomorrow as he is in a rich vein of form, although he is likely to feature on the left-wing tomorrow.
subs: Mann, Emmanuel-Thomas, Yennaris, Wynter.
Tomorrow’s game is likely to provide another opportunity for Arsenal’s young Gunners to shine.
Arsenal reserves travel to face their Chelsea counterparts tonight still looking for their first win of 2009.
The Gunners have drawn against Stoke and Aston Villa, whilst their two most recent results were defeats to Fulham and West Ham.
One of the key reasons for the poor results in recent months has been the inability to select a consistent starting line-up and that trend continues tonight.
The Gunners are without Jack Wilshere who misses out through injury, whilst Kieran Gibbs, Francis Coquelin and Gilles Sunu are all on international duty.
Neil Banfield makes five changes from the defeat to the Hammers, with Wojciech Szczęsny replacing James Shea between the sticks. Thomas Cruise returns at left-back, whilst Mikaël Silvestre has been drafted in in a bid to improve his fitness. Elsewhere, Fran Mérida returns to the starting line-up as well as Sanchez Watt, whilst James Dunne is on the bench.
Chelsea have some notable names on their team-sheet, with out-of-favour winger Florent Malouda selected along with Franco Di Santo, Miroslav Stoch and former Arsenal trialist Mineiro. The Blues have been through a rough patch as well recently and were thrashed 4-0 by a strong Tottenham side last weekend.
With both sides looking to get back to winning ways and some familiar faces involved, it promises to be an enthralling encounter at Griffin Park tonight.
subs: Shea, Ayling, Dunne, Evina, Deacon.
As we enter the business end of the season Arsenal u-18s are still in the hunt for glory on two fronts. The primary aim is success in the FA Youth Cup, with the first game of a two-legged sem-final against holders Manchester City to come on Wednesday night. On the other hand, the Premier Academy League in nearing its conclusion and the Gunners remain in pole position to top group A for the third successive season.
Sitting seventeen points clear of Crystal Palace, who host Norwich tomorrow, and with only eight games remaining, it would take an upset of epic proportions to deny the young Gunners a place in the Academy League play-offs, but the trick will be progressing past that point as they have faltered at the semi-final stage in the past two seasons.
Tomorrow sees the visit of Gary Brazil’s Fulham to London Colney and it is expected to be an even game. Arsenal required an equaliser from debutant Benik Afobe to salvage a point in the 1-1 draw at Motspur Park in the reverse fixture in October, and the Cottagers recently thumped Neil Banfield’s Reserves 3-0 at the same venue, although it could be argued that the presence of a few more experienced players swung the game in favour of the hosts. Nonetheless, they are on a four-game unbeaten run at under-18 level and beat Chelsea 3-0 a fortnight ago.
Arsenal beat the same opponents by a slightly more slender scoreline last weekend, with a Benik Afobe brace adding to strikes from Jonas Rasmussen and Rhys Murphy to seal the win.
Steve Bould will be back in the dugout tomorrow morning after missing the trip to Cobham to go and scout City first-hand in their quarter-final with Norwich, which they won 1-0. His return is likely to mean that the Gunners will revert back to their custom 4-3-2-1 formation, having adopted a more standard 4-4-2 under the stewardship 0f Liam Brady last time out.
Bould has a big decision to make as to what team he puts out tomorrow. Will he opt for what is likely to be the starting XI on Wednesday with the likes of Emmanuel-Thomas, Frimpong and Coquelin? Or will he plump for the younger group of kids that have began to show real promise in recent weeks, such as Miquel-Pons, Freeman and Obed.
His hand may be forced somewhat with injuries to key personnel. Rhys Murphy (hamstring) joins Conor Henderson (medial knee ligaments) on the sidelines, whilst there are also doubts over Sam Byles (toe), Roarie Deacon (thigh) and Oğuzhan Özyakup (back). Thomas Cruise (sprained ankle) is fit again but may not be risked, whilst Charlie Mann should be available for selection after recovering from an illness.
The main aim for Arsenal at this level and in the Premier Academy League in particular is the development of players. However, with such a huge gap between the Gunners and Palace, Bould’s boys will be looking to wrap up Group A as soon as possible so they can turn their attentions to the FA Youth Cup, starting with tomorrow’s 10.45am kick off against their West London rivals.