Sun, Jan 03, 2010 - Page 18 News List

THE FA CUP: Soccer superkids put friendship aside

SHOWDOWN Jack Collison and Aaron Ramsey, who met playing for Wales under-21s, go head-to-head today for the West Ham and Arsenal FA Cup face-off

AFP , LONDON

Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey celebrates scoring during the English Premier League match ­between Portsmouth and Arsenal at Fratton Park in Portsmouth, England, on Wednesday.

PHOTO: EPA

Jack Collison faces fellow Wales midfielder Aaron Ramsey today in an intriguing subplot to West Ham’s FA Cup showdown against Arsenal.

Both youngsters boast huge potential, but their club paths have headed in dramatically different directions this season with West Ham battling relegation while Arsenal are pushing for the Premier League title.

And Collison admits he is one of Ramsey’s biggest fans.

“Aaron is a real class act. I got a chance to play with him for the Wales Under-21s when we had a real good run in the European Championship qualifiers, so I am not surprised at all how well he has done. He is so good on the ball and works so hard,” Collison said.

“I am sure that, at a club like Arsenal and under a manager like Arsene Wenger, he is going to really keep improving and over the next few years you will see great things from him. It is hard to get your opportunity, but you have to keep working hard and take the chance when it comes,” he said. “I have done my best to do that and am enjoying my football, just trying to improve for West Ham as best as I can.”

FA CUP SACRIFICE

Meanwhile, Wenger admitted he is ready to sacrifice Arsenal’s FA Cup hopes to keep their Premier League title challenge on track.

Wenger has won the Cup four times during his 13 years in north London and the club’s last major silverware came in the competition back in 2005.

Yet the French coach has no intention of letting fond memories of the tournament distract him from keeping his players fresh for Wednesday’s crucial home league game against Bolton.

Arsenal are firmly back in the title race after their 4-1 win at Portsmouth in midweek and a victory over the managerless Trotters would close the gap on leaders Chelsea to just one point.

With that in mind, Wenger is prioritizing the league and plans to send out an under-strength side at Upton Park — even if this means his team being eliminated at the first hurdle.

Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott and ­Denilson are all sidelined through injury, but Wenger will also rest several other players as the likes of Mikael Silvestre and Lukasz Fabianski get rare outings.

RARE OUTINGS

“I will have to rest some players, that is for sure,” Wenger said. “We want to win, but we want to protect our home games against Bolton and Everton as well, to keep the momentum going.”

“The Premier League is always more important than the FA Cup. The Premier League is so hard that you want to take care of your position,” he said. “At the moment we have to keep our spirit and our attitude, then we have a chance. A season is judged on the overall achievement and people look to who has won the trophies but I also look at how we have done and how consistently we have played.”

Although Wenger will shuffle his starting line-up, he insists he has enough respect for the Cup not to send out the kind of youthful team that he regularly employs in the League Cup.

“For us, the League Cup is exclusively for young players and the FA Cup is one to win,” he said. “But we have worked for that policy and it is not a coincidence. There is four or five years of hard work and patience behind that. We have so many players that we have a hard time finding them a chance to play.”

West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola is more concerned by his side’s league position than aiming for success in the Cup and, with a long battle against relegation looming, the Italian could also rest key players.

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