by JAMES CURTIS – Imagine breakfast in the Wenger household and you might hear Mrs Arsene snapping at her husband’s indecision whether or not to play his Young Guns against Liverpool tonight: “Oh for heavens sake, let the kids play why wont you,” she trumps.
It’s a point well made, as for Arsenal fans the more exciting prospect of Carling Cup football is the chance of seeing the talented youth in a real pressure setting. Sometimes it is just to catch up on their development.
To a certain degree, this has become more important that winning the trophy itself, but obviously the further the team progress the more fans get to feast on their unbridled exuberance.
This brings around Wenger’s usual dilemma of balancing the team so as not to deny the youngsters their stage while at the same time granting them some chance of advancing by mixing in senior faces.
Wenger will certainly be using the game to test Philippe Senderos and Mikael Silvestre and his 18-man squad hints he might let the Young Guns loose as well.
The early news is that Samir Nasri, Eduardo, Nicklas Bendtner and Lukasz Fabianski all start, ensuring that some of those who led against West Brom in the previous round must make their mark from the bench.
Nasri and Fabianski are the real stories, both returning to action after lengthy spells out with injury.
For Nasri, it will be his first competitive game of the season since fracturing his leg in training during pre-season in Austria. Liverpool will be a good test for the Frenchman as he looks to regain some sharpness, and seen as the tie must end tonight there is no room for slackers.
Fabianski times he return well. The goalkeeping situation remains a grey area at Arsenal where Manuel Almunia looks to have been ousted by the inexperienced Vito Mannone.
The Italian’s mixed performances haven’t quite captured the confidence of onlookers and Fabianski could quite easily get a run in the first team by producing a stout performance tonight.
If Wenger does choose to announce a majority youth side though, it might be with one partially-opened eye on the north London derby this coming weekend.
There was plenty of talk about learning lessons after surrendering a two goal lead at Upton Park last week and the only upside from the trip to West Ham is that it came before the crucial NLD.
If the West Ham game was the lesson, then surely the exam is Spurs, so some good advice for Wenger would be to leave those players who are pining out of the Liverpool game in the hope that their willingness to make good is fresh for Saturday.
Whatever Wenger’s decision to play his youngsters resides upon there shall be no doubting their potential to cause an upset. Many of the players who sailed past West Brom were part of last year’s FA Youth Cup winning side.
Players like Sanchez Watt and Fran Merida have the attention of Wenger, who talks about them pushing for first team action. Watt in particular catches the eye, possessing raw pace and a finishing gift that might edge him in alongside Eduardo and Bendtner.
He opened the scoring against West Brom and is the likeliest youngster to start. Add Aaron Ramsey and Kieran Gibbs to the list and we begin to see Wenger’s dilemma.
One name Wenger will not ponder over though is Jack Wilshere, ruled out with a knock to the ankle. For many Gooners, watching Wilshere tonight would have been more exciting than Nasri’s return. The 17-year-old’s forward thinking, tricky, Gascoigne-like game is the epitome of such Carling Cup nights.
Whoever plays, well the omens are good. Liverpool have been knocked out of this competition by London clubs in each of the last five seasons, suffering defeats against Chelsea (twice), Arsenal, Tottenham and Crystal Palace.
Head-to-head, Liverpool are unbeaten in the last seven league and cup matches against Arsenal, where five have been drawn. Arsenal’s last win against Liverpool was the 6-3 trouncing at Anfield in the League Cup quarter-final in January 2007.
The Gunners have reached at least the last eight in each of the last six seasons and might fancy going that distance once more, boasting a 100% home record this season, having won all of their seven matches at the Emirates Stadium. Let’s make it eight. Who wears number eight?
From: Wojciech Szczesny, Lukasz Fabianski, Philippe Senderos, Kyle Bartley, Mikael Silvestre, Kieran Gibbs, Kerrea Gilbert, Fran Merida, Francis Coquelin, Craig Eastmond, Emmanuel Frimpong, Aaron Ramsey, Mark Randall, Samir Nasri, Eduardo, Gilles Sunu, Nicklas Bendtner, Sanchez