Wed, Dec 01, 2004 - Page 19 News List

Arsenal, Man U ready for quarterfinal battle

DO OR DIE The heat is on in the League Cup, as arch-rivals Manchester United and Arsenal face off in what could be a repeat of the `Battle of the Buffet' at Old Trafford

AFP , LONDON

Arsenal's Patrick Viera, center, celebrates with Sol Campbell, left, and Fredrik Ljungberg after scoring against Liverpool on Sunday.

PHOTO: AFP

Arsenal return to Old Trafford for the first time since last month's infamous "Battle of the Buffet" when they face arch-rivals Manchester United in the quarterfinals of the League Cup today.

But this latest encounter is set to feature a host of reserve players with both clubs resting their stars for more important tournaments.

Last month United's 2-0 win ended champions Arsenal's English top-flight record of 49 unbeaten league matches.

But the game itself was soon overshadowed by a series of disciplinary incidents, including allegations that soup and pizza thrown from the Arsenal dressing room had hit United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

Meanwhile United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy was banned for three games following a dangerous challenge on England full-back Ashley Cole.

So incensed was Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, he labelled the Dutch forward a "cheat," a comment for which he will have to answer before an FA disciplinary panel later this month.

Since the United defeat, Arsenal have lost twice in their last six games and are now five points adrift of leaders Chelsea.

Ferguson tried to add to the pressure on Wenger's shoulders by suggesting at the weekend that the Gunners were "scared" of United.

But the fact remains Arsenal have been playing a reserve team throughout this season's League Cup and are set to do so again today.

It was a measure of the north Londoners' strength in depth that their second-string side beat a near full-strength Everton 3-1 early last month in the previous round of the League Cup.

Ferguson too is likely to give some of his fledgling team a go although his side is set to feature several experienced players -- the likes of Phil Neville, Eric Djemba-Djemba, Kleberson and Louis Saha all featured in their previous League Cup game against Crystal Palace.

However Saha is out of today's game which could mean a full debut for 17-year-old American-Italian striker Guiseppe Rossi.

"I have one decision to make. I don't know whether I bring in someone from Saturday's squad or play Rossi, because we have Saha out," Ferguson said on Sunday.

"I have a good group of players and I think the best way is to play them in competitions like the League Cup, where it doesn't matter who you play. It is a still a step up," he said.

Not that Arsenal are likely to be overawed, whoever they are up against. Jermaine Pennant, Ar-senal's 21-year-old captain against Everton, insisted the junior Gunners were ready for anything.

"We feel we can challenge any team," he said. "That is how high the confidence is.

"If you are at Arsenal you must be a good player and no matter who we play, we go out and perform to the best of our abilities," he said.

Wenger will be even more keen than usual for victory after last weekend's 2-1 defeat by Liverpool left them trailing Chelsea by five points.

"It's hard to explain why results have not been going our way recently and it is difficult to identify one part of our game that particularly needs to improve," Wenger said.

Meanwhile United chief executive David Gill was confident today's game would pass off without incident and rejected FA calls for a "peace summit" between the two clubs.

"Both ourselves and Arsenal understand their responsibilities and I think it will be fine on Wednesday night [tonight]," Gill told the Manchester Evening News.

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