Wenger: Time to come of age
Manager Arsene Wenger has called for his young Gunners to mark their development by securing a place in the Carling Cup final tonight.
The Arsenal boss will again use a delicate blend of youth and experience for the return encounter with north-London rivals Tottenham.
A draw at White Hart Lane last week - when they had trailed 2-0 inside 21 minutes - puts Wenger's men in the driving seat to secure a date against Chelsea at the Millennium Stadium on February 25.
Having been knocked out by Wigan on away goals at the same stage of the competition last season, the Arsenal manager is determined to get the right result this time around against their arch-rivals - who were beaten 3-0 at the Emirates Stadium in early December.
Wenger said: 'It is a good challenge for us. The way we came back at Tottenham puts us on top, but of course they are a good side. 'It will be an exciting game.'
Wenger told Arsenal TV Online: 'We feel we have moved on this year and we want to show that at the Emirates.
'We want just to repeat that [victory earlier this season] . It is a good inspiration for us going into the game.'
Arsenal will be without forward Julio Baptista because of a groin problem, but fellow Brazilian Gilberto is available again following a three-match suspension.
Wenger admitted the loss of Baptista - who scored six goals in his last two Carling Cup games - is a blow.
'It is a big regret for me, because he has led the team recently with a huge spirit,' said the Arsenal manager.
'His mental strength was obvious in the game at Tottenham because he scored an own goal then he put two in the net at the other end. That is always the best answer you can give.
'I think he will also miss Middlesbrough game - but I hope he will be back after that.'
Wenger is likely to again keep faith with Theo Walcott tonight.
Although having now chalked up more than 20 appearances in all competitions - including eight starts - the exciting teenager has not scored.
Walcott has looked out of sorts in recent weeks, and missed another great chance to open his account when firing wide from close range in the FA Cup tie against Bolton on Sunday.
Wenger understands the weight of expectation Walcott has to deal with.
'In the past he has scored goals for fun. At the moment he has not scored, so it must play a part on his mind,'' he said. ``What convinces me is he is such a good finisher in training and the way he took his last two chances was a bit hesitant.
'That means it is playing certainly a big part on his mind.'' Wenger added: 'He is on the verge of getting over it [the dip in form].
'Theo has made the biggest step now. It is part of growing - being hit by the expectation level.
'When you start, no one expects anything from you. Once you are established as a name, people expect something special from you every time you touch the ball.
'It is part of the maturing process, to get over that and learn to deal with and stick to what made your game strong.'