League Cup offers glimpse of giants' futures

LONDON: It might be one of English football's grand occasions but Wednesday's League Cup match between Arsenal and Liverpool is likely to reveal more about their future prospects than their current form.

Both Arsene Wenger and Rafael Benitez are likely to make a raft of changes for the game at the Emirates Stadium, mindful of the need to keep their regulars fresh for more pressing priorities in the Premier League and Europe.

In the third round win over West Bromwich Albion, Arsenal's line-up was composed of players almost exclusively under the age of 21 - Mikael Silvestre and Philippe Senderos were the sole sops to experience - and Wenger has promised to do likewise this week.

"It will be a mixed team but we want to win every single game we play, no matter who plays," he said.

Wenger will also be mindful of the possible benefits of piling more pressure on Benitez by inflicting an early exit on his team.

The Spaniard has ridden the immediate crisis created by four straight defeats by engineering a victory over Manchester United last Sunday but Liverpool's season is still in danger of sliding away, with the club's Champions League hopes hanging by a thread and a six-point gap separating them from league leaders Chelsea.

Being dumped out of the League Cup would not precipitate any drastic action at Anfield but it would deal another blow to morale and Wenger, while he would never admit to it in public, would consider that incentive enough ahead for his makeshift team.

There are more prosaic concerns for his players, as well, not least convincing Wenger that they could be worth a place in his regular starting line-up.

Teenagers such as Francis Coquelin, Sanchez Watt, Jack Wilshere, Mark Randall and Kerrea Gilbert - all of whom can expect to be involved at some point on Wednesday - might still be too raw for Premier League football but that does not apply to all the stand-ins.

Carlos Vela, the Mexican winger, and Croatian striker Eduardo will be determined to re-establish themselves in Wenger's thoughts after frustrating spells out with injuries.

And with Manuel Almunia out of favour and Vito Mannone low on confidence following several errors, there is a chance for goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski, recently recovered from knee surgery, to stake his own claim with an assertive display in north London.

"It has been a frustrating time for me because of the injury but it's gone now and I need to look forward to the future," Fabianski said.

"I want to get back into the team, fighting for my place really hard. I want to show my quality and, hopefully, win a trophy with Arsenal. I can think about this now that I am completely fit, which is the main thing. I want it to stay that way."

Another player set to strain every sinew at the Emirates is David Ngog, the Liverpool striker whose clinching goal against United last Sunday should earn him a huge ovation from the travelling contingent from Merseyside.

Ngog has fond memories of the League Cup, having scored the winner in the third round tie at Leeds United, and the French striker is seeing the trip to Arsenal as another chance to impress the notoriously demanding Benitez.

"The goal against United was a fantastic moment for me and the team and I would say it's my best moment in football," he reflected.

"But now we have Arsenal and we are looking forward to it. All I can do is keep working hard and show what I can do when I get the opportunity. I just want to do my best for the team."