This year’s Carling Cup third round threw up a more than its fair share of surprises. Liverpool lost to League Two Northampton Town on penalties in front of the Kop, neighbours Everton suffered a slightly-less humiliating exit away to Brentford and Chelsea’s mix of second and third-string lost at home to Newcastle’s reserves. Another mild shock occurred at White Hart Lane, when Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger picked a relatively experienced side. 11 of the 14 players involved for the Gunners are full internationals. Quite the contrast from previous Wenger League Cup sides. Has his youth policy previously enforced in the competition paid dividends over the years? Football Digest looks at a few hits and misses over the years.
Having been plucked from the Barcelona academy at La Masia in the summer of 2003, the then 16 year-old Catalan made his Arsenal bow the following October. The Gunners prevailed in a 9-8 penalty shoot-out victory over Rotherham, leading to a tie against Premier League Wolves. Lining up in midfield alongside Patrick Vieira, Fabergas played with a maturity beyond his tender years in a 5-1 thrashing of a full-strength Wolves side. Since then, he has taken Vieira’s number four shirt, his captain’s armband and won a World Cup. The heartbeat and brain of today’s Arsenal side, they know another trophy less season will lead to Fabergas returning home to Barcelona.
Possibly the most disliked man in Britain, as his ex-wife Cheryl continues to melt the nation’s hearts very Saturday evening. He is certainly greeted with venom whenever he visits the Emirates, but that is more to do with his achromous departure from North London in 2006 (caused in part by his ill-advised autobiography). It all started so simply for Cole, a late substitute for Ray Parlour during a League Cup 4th round tie at the Riverside against Middlesbrough in 1999. Deployed in a more advanced role on the left of midfield, Cole’s debut ended in defeat. After an impressive loan spell at Crystal Palace, he began the 2000/01 campaign jousting with Sylvinho for the coveted left-back spot, eventually making the position his own. A sense of adventure, combined with his willingness to make lung-bursting runs from deep have made him to be considered by many the finest exponent of full-back play in the world today. Currently in the blue of Chelsea, he recently became England’s most capped full-back in history, overtaking another former Arsenal man, Kenny Sansom.
A name that still sends shivers down the spine of the Arsenal faithful. His £1million signing from Skonto Riga created few headlines and the Latvian international got his first taste of English football in a 2-1 reserve at home to Ipswich in November 2000 in the League Cup 4th round. He marked his debut with a goal, but showed sign he would need time to adapt to his new surroundings. However, Wenger decided to give the 24 year-old his chance in the Premier League following a 4-0 pre-Christmas pummelling at Anfield against Leicester City on St. Stephen’s Day, which coincided with a 6-1 Arsenal victory. The central defender remained a regular until February, when he lined up in a defensive pairing with Frenchman Giles Grimandi to face Manchester United at Old Trafford. Both were left chasing shadows, as a Dwight Yorke hat-trick put United 5-1 up within 40 minutes, ending the Gunners title hopes in the most humiliating fashion. During the subsequent three years of his time at Highbury, he made just six more league appearances, before joining Grasshoppers of Switzerland on a free transfer in the summer of 2004.
David who I hear you ask? Signed as an 18-year in the summer of 1998 for the princely sum of £500,000, there were big things expected of the French youth international. Equally adept to play as a left-back or in the centre of the defence, many observers expected Grondin and a young Matthew Upson to form a partnership that would take Arsenal into the next millennium. His debut came in a 2-1 victory against Derby in the League Cup Third Round in October ’98. Next up was a home tie against holders Chelsea. The Pensioners had never previously beaten Arsenal in a cup game, but buried that record in style hammering a Gunners outfit containing the considerable talents of Bergkamp and Ljungberg 5-0. It remains Arsenal’s second heaviest home defeat of all-time and proved to be Grondin’s penultimate game at Highbury. The teenager never really recovered from the set-back. An unflustered display in his sole Premier League appearance against Liverpool in 0-0 draw was his to be his Arsenal farewell, before eventually moving to Dunfermline in early 2003.
Possibly the least recognisable of the Arsenal line-up in their victory over Tottenham in the last round, but that’s not to say the 20 year-old did not make his mark. After bundling in the opener in after the quarter hour, the diminutive midfielder pushed his weight around, picking up an 81st minute booking for his troubles. The England U-21 international did not look out of his depth amongst his more esteemed team-mates in what was his first senior start for the Gunners . He will hope to start tomorrow evening’s trip to Newcastle to keep himself in Wenger’s plans for the season ahead. After spending the past season and a half out on loan, Lansbury will be hungry for game-time to justify the complementary comparisons to one Ray Parlour.