Wenger tells youngsters to seize cup opportunity
Arsene Wenger has challenged his latest generation of young Gunners to follow in the footsteps of Cesc Fabregas by using the Carling Cup as a springboard towards the Arsenal first-team.
Despite the disappointment of Sunday's 3-0 home defeat by Premier League leaders Chelsea, which left Arsenal some 11 points off the pace, Wenger will stick to his policy of giving youth a chance against Manchester City on Wednesday, conceding the Carling Cup is "not one of our priorities".
Nevertheless, the Gunners boss will - like in the last round against Liverpool - select a squad capable of producing a positive result at Eastlands, where they were beaten 4-2 in September and former Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor grabbed the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
The Carling Cup has long been a breeding ground for future Arsenal stars, and Wenger sees no reason the current crop of youthful talent, which includes Kyle Bartley, Sanchez Watt, Craig Eastmond and Fran Merida, should not go on to become first-team regulars.
"The number of players who have come here and progressed to become top-class Premier League players is considerable - and one of the reasons is we have played them in the Carling Cup," Wenger said.
"This policy has been extremely successful - not necessarily in terms of winning the tournament, although we have been in the latter stages, but just because it is good preparation for the players to play in the Premier League.
"Denilson and Alex Song are two very relevant examples now. They both played in midfield during our 6-3 win at Anfield three seasons ago, and are classic cases of how much this competition prepares players for the top-flight.
"Alex, at the time, was not really a favourite player in some eyes - and what has happened since gives you belief they can do it."
Wenger is likely to include some experience in the squad, with Philippe Senderos and Mikael Silvestre probable starters at the centre of defence, while fit again Lukasz Fabianski should return in goal.
Carlos Vela, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere have all featured for the regular first-team, so will again be looking to use Wednesday night to give the manager a reminder of their ability. It is, though, the efforts of the less well-known youngsters that Wenger will be keeping a keen eye on.
"Against Liverpool, I discovered some more players who were capable of performing in a team who play at the very top level," he said. "It was a high-quality game, the pace was very high and the decision-making had to be very quick.
"I was very pleased that someone like Craig Eastmond could cope with that. You never know when you see a boy in the reserves. When you go to a higher level, it is a difficult game and I was pleased to see young players make that step.
"People expected Francis Coquelin or Emmanuel Frimpong to be ahead of Eastmond and I can understand because those two boys deserve a chance too, but Eastmond looked to be very intelligent in his positioning and passing.
"When he plays right-back, his intelligence strikes you, how well he reads the game, so when we decided to move him into midfield those qualities came out."
Wenger believes having such talent in the youth ranks can help his first-team regulars focus.
"A player who has now left the club once said to me, 'It is very different at Arsenal because there is always a young player on your back, ready to take your place and that creates great pressure'. I told him you use that pressure to make yourself a better player," he said.
"When you have only experienced players, there is a little bit of hierarchy installed and expected, but with young players they keep you under pressure - they want to eat you, want to get in front of you.
"I believe this has to be good for the players in the team and the club as a whole."