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