Carling Cup: Who will play for Arsenal against Newcastle tonight?
Carling Cup fourth round, Newcastle United v Arsenal, 7.45pm, Live on Sky Sports 2
Arsenal travel to St James’ Park this evening to take on Newcastle United in the fourth round of the Carling Cup, with manager Arsene Wenger expected to name an experienced line-up for the second time in this season’s competition.
The Gunners are searching for a first competitive trophy in five seasons and after years of using the Carling Cup as a platform for his younger stars to build their reputations, the 61-year-old is taking the competition more seriously this year in a bid to end the drought.
Wenger fielded a strong blend of experience and youth in the 4-1 victory over local rivals Tottenham in the third round, and with no fresh injury worries following Sunday’s stunning 3-0 victory over Manchester City, Wenger will again have a strong selection to choose from, as well as the bonus of Theo Walcott and Laurent Koscielny returning from recent setbacks: “It will be similar to Spurs”, he said. We have players coming back like [Theo] Walcott, [Nicklas] Bendtner and [Carlos] Vela. Koscielny is fit to start. They will play”.
Having conceded that the squad would be “80 per cent first team”, there will still be room for the pick of the club’s academy players to impress on the big stage. Youngsters Henri Lansbury, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Wojciech Szczesny can expect to play a part in the tie tonight, along with Craig Eastmond and Kieran Gibbs.
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Captain Cesc Fabregas will be the most notable player to be rested by Wenger, having played two games in a week following his return from a hamstring injury. Goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski and striker Marouane Chamakh are also likely to be rested, along with Bacary Sagna and the in-form Samir Nasri.
Robin van Persie and Thomas Vermaelen are still absent with ankle and achilles problems respectively. Manuel Almunia (elbow) and Aaron Ramsey (leg) also miss out, while Jack Wilshere serves the second game of his three match suspension tonight.
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The match may see some relatively unknown names on the team sheet for both sides, but one man who will be extremely familiar to Arsenal players and fans alike at St James’ Park will be Sol Campbell, who joined Newcastle in the summer.
The 36-year-old centre-back signed for Arsenal for a second time last January after a brief spell at League Two side Notts County, and brought some much needed experience to Arsenal’s injury-hit backline during the final months of the season.
His solid form and no-nonsense style of defending even led to whisperings of a shock call up to Fabio Capello’s World Cup squad for England, although this failed to materialise.
“I respect Sol highly because last year, when we had a difficult patch, he was completely committed and he was our best player in some games”, Wenger said. “Sol can play at the top for as long as he has the motivation. He is a player who needs to work very hard to be sharp physically and it is not easy because when you get older you have to push yourself. But Sol is a fantastic battler and when he has got in his mind that ‘I want this battle’ then he will do it.”
However, the match itself seems to have come too soon for Campbell, who has failed to regain full fitness after a thigh injury.
Despite Campbell’s absence, Newcastle seem set to take a similar approach to Arsenal tonight, balancing first-team experience with young talent as this weekend’s Tyne-Wear derby against Sunderland takes priority for manager Chris Hughton.
Andy Carroll is likely to be rested, with Shola Ameobi – the hero in their surprise third round victory over Chelsea – expected to fill in. Youngsters Nile Ranger and Tamas Kadar are set to get a chance to impress, while squad players Peter Lovenkrands and Danny Guthrie will also be in the running for a rare start.
Arsenal centre-back Johan Djourou looks set to start for the fourth straight match this evening, and is ready for a competitive game in the North-East. “Newcastle is a very tough game and we have not been so lucky with the draw lately but if you want to get to the final you have to beat teams like Newcastle”. Djourou also stressed the importance of the Carling Cup this season: “the Carling Cup is a trophy that we want to win. There are a few big teams not in it any more, so for sure it is a cup we want to win.
“It is very important because it could be the first step on the start of something — the Carling Cup is a trophy and you qualify for the Europa League, so we need to try to win it.”
Djourou’s ambitions are seemingly shared by the boss: “I said to the players we will go for everything we can, as simple as that. And not really specifying one more than the other one, that’s why I believe we are on a good run and we want to keep that going”.
“It’s important to keep it moving no matter what competition it is. That’s what we want to do”.
Potential line-up: Szczesny, Eboue, Koscielny, Djourou, Gibbs, Denilson, Rosicky, Diaby, Lansbury, Walcott, Bendtner. Subs: Shea, Squillaci, Clichy, Eastmond, Emmanuel-Thomas, Vela, Arshavin.