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Wednesday, 24 January 2007

4110: Carling Cup Preview; Tottenha

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by : Stephen Orford

More than local pride is at stake when Tottenham host Arsenal in the first leg of the Carling Cup semi-final on Wednesday (January 24).

Foes such as these don’t need a place in a major cup final to stir their passions, but the prize on offer certainly adds an extra dimension to proceedings.

Due to the postponement of Arsenal’s quarter-final with Liverpool back in December, the north London duo enter the first of their two meetings knowing exactly what awaits. Premiership champions Chelsea romped past Wycombe Wanderers over two legs in their semi-final, and meet the winners of this one in February’s all-London final at Cardiff.

If this were a league or FA Cup clash then it would undoubtedly be Arsenal entering as favourites. Yet the Gunners’ relaxed attitude to the competition so far has seen Arsene Wenger give valuable experience to many of his young players, with great success. He looks set to do so again, which on paper at least provides Spurs with a glorious opportunity. In reality, even a first-choice Spurs 11 will face a stern challenge from a second-string Arsenal growing stronger with each outing.

Spurs manager Martin Jol is unlikely to be blas about the chance to pick up domestic silverware, and could make few changes to his line-up. Ledley King’s bruised foot keeps him out, while Jermaine Jenas has an ankle problem and is unlikely to feature. So too are Egyptian striker Mido and right-back Paul Stalteri, although both have fallen out of favour recently in any case. All other established first team players remain in contention for selection, and no doubt all will be keen to feature.

All of which still leaves a strong-looking Spurs outfit, with the likes of Robbie Keane, Jermain Defoe, Aaron Lennon and Dimitar Berbatov all included in a 19-man squad. Jol will hope that these strike players can take advantage of Arsenal’s inexperience, and provide the attacking impetus needed to carry a decent lead to the Emirates Stadium in a week’s time.

Meanwhile Arsenal again rest many of their first team squad, with names like Thierry Henry, Jens Lehmann, Emmanuel Eboue, Tomasz Rosicky and Cesc Fabregas missing from the squad list. Robin van Persie may miss the rest of the season after breaking a foot in the act of scoring against Manchester United on Sunday (January 21), while Gilberto Silva and Gael Clichy will also be rested for the short trip to White Hart Lane. Significant first team experience will be provided by the likes of Kolo Toure, Mathieu Flamini and Emmanuel Adebayor.

More of the onus may therefore be on youngsters like Theo Walcott, but the fringe strike pairing of Jeremie Aliadiere and Julio Baptista looked more than formidable at Anfield in the last round. Baptista helped himself to four goals in the 6-3 walloping of Rafa Benitez’s side, while Aliadiere’s form in this competition has alerted many potential suitors during this month’s transfer window.

The fixture itself evokes memories of the great FA Cup semi-final of 1991, when Spurs beat their rivals at Wembley for the right to return to face Nottingham Forest. Paul Gascoigne’s free-kick in that semi-final clash gets further away from goal with each re-telling of the tale, and it was Tottenham who went on to lift the trophy with victory over Brian Clough’s side.

The teams also met in the FA Cup semi-final in both 1993 and 2001, and it was Arsenal who came out on top on both occasions. Arsenal went on to win the trophy in 1993 as Sheffield Wednesday were defeated after a replay, but it was Liverpool who took the spoils eight years later when two Michael Owen goals gave Liverpool the glory.

Since Spurs’ 1991 success only the 1999 League Cup has been added to the roll of honour, while Arsenal have hoovered up several of the game’s best gongs in a decade under Wenger. The Spurs class of 2007 are unlikely to have a better opportunity to end their drought than in this year’s Carling Cup, so expect them to enter the second leg with a lead.

Verdict; Tottenham 2 Arsenal 0

By Stephen Orford

24 January 2007

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