Arsenal face Manchester City at home tonight in the quarter finals of the Carling Cup. It's a competition which Arsenal came very close to winning last season until disaster struck in the last minute of the final. Arsenal played a mixture of first team and reserve players in the competition last season, but this time around they haven't treated it quite so seriously.
Their victories over Shrewsbury Town and Bolton Wanderers were won with teams that were completely different to ones that had played in the Premier League on the weekends before those games. Those victories may not have been overly impressive, but they came at a time when the club were suffering.
Tonight's visitors will probably play a similarly weakened team to Arsenal, but the vast amounts of money they have spent means their squad is very strong. They can field an entirely different starting 11 from the one that drew with Liverpool on Sunday, and still have a team full of internationals.
Arsenal's current defensive injuries mean that they only have one fit full back at the club, and it won't be easy to find two players to play in those positions tonight. The rest of the team should be relatively strong with plenty of promise and experience available to Arsene Wenger. Players like Yossi Benayoun, Marouane Chamakh, Park Ju-Young and Sebastien Squillaci all have loads of experience, and should feature tonight.
Besides them there are the promising talents of Emmanuel Frimpong, Francis Coquelin and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who should all play along with Lukasz Fabianski. Andrey Arshavin started against Fulham on Sunday, but I have a feeling he will start against City too. It might be a team which is thrown together, but as long as they play as a team they will have a chance of getting a result.
The game could see the return of a couple of ex-Arsenal players, and if Kolo Toure and Samir Nasri play I imagine they will receive very different receptions from the Arsenal fans. Toure was a member of the invincible team of a few years ago, and he won a few trophies at Arsenal. He always gave everything he had when he played for the club, and I was genuinely sad to see him go.
On the other hand Nasri had a good start to last season, but he didn't exactly prove himself at the club. Despite agreeing to sign a new deal at the club he decided he would prefer to join a City team that would pay him a lot more than any other Premier League team can afford. He could have been the player to take Cesc Fabregas' role at Arsenal this season, but instead he left for what he considers to be greener pastures.
His place in the City team is by no means certain, and he is only another player at that club. He could have been so much more at Arsenal, but he chose to move and if it doesn't work out he will have to live with the consequences. I suppose Nasri will be happy to pick up his enormous wages every week, and progression in their career is hardly the most important thing to some players.
Many others have decided to leave Arsenal in the past when the club didn't want to sell them, and quite often they have regretted that decision. I can't tell for sure how things will work out for Nasri, but I do know the Arsenal fans will give him a rough time tonight. He deserves no more than that, and I'll be happy to hear him roundly booed every time he is on the ball.
It's not so easy to predict how the game will go because it's a game between fringe players at both clubs. I'll be happy to get another chance to see Chamberlain show what he can do, as he did against Shrewsbury and Olympiacos. I will also be happy to see Benayoun play, as I feel he's a player who could have a lot to offer the team at times this season.
Mario Balotelli probably would have played for City, but his red card against Liverpool on Sunday has ruled him out. They will still have Eden Dzeko available, and he has been in fine goalscoring form this season.
I think Wenger will decide which team he wants to pick away to Wigan Athletic in the Premier League next Saturday, and then he will pick the team to face City from those who aren't in that 11. It's infinitely more important for Arsenal to beat Wigan than it is for them to beat City, but a win over City would be a great morale booster for the players. I think Arsenal have a chance of winning, but they will probably have to ride their luck just a little on a few occasions.
It would be great if the team could win through to a semi-final, and possibly even the final too. A win in the Carling Cup would help to heal the painful memories of last season's defeat to Birmingham in the final, but progress would also add to an already busy schedule. I won't be overly concerned if Arsenal do go out, but of course I want them to win every single game they play.
I'm predicting a 3-2 win for Arsenal, and I'm hoping for Chamberlain to get a chance to run at the City defence. If he can play like he has done for the England under 21s this season he could cause them some real problems. It would be great to see Chamakh put in a good performance, and score a goal too.
That's it for today.
Here's a look at Chamakh at his best last season.
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