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3. PREVIEW: Arsenal's kids take on ailing Chelsea in League Cup final
February 22nd, 2007 9:39PM
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Using the same philosophy that allowed Americans Frankie Simek and Danny Karbassiyoon to get first-team appearances with the Gunners two years ago, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger plans on sticking with youngsters against Chelsea in the first all-London League Cup final on Sunday at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium (TV: Setanta Sports USA, live, 9 am ET).

Wenger has used the League Cup, the least prestigious of the four competitions in which Arsenal is engaged, as a testing ground for his youngsters, and the Frenchman sees no point in changing after the young Gunners knocked off Liverpool and Tottenham en route to the final.

"I believe the boys have the right mental strengths to finish the job," he said. "They have already shown that."

Wenger could start as many as four teenagers: Francesc Fabregas, Theo Walcott, Denilson and Armand Traore. Arsenal's youth policy is in sharp contrast to Chelsea, which has spent hundreds of millions of pounds on buying up talent from other clubs.

Like Arsenal, Chelsea is engaged in three cup competitions, in addition to the EPL, but they have taken their toll. Four days after losing Khalid Boulahrouz with a dislocated shoulder in FA Cup action, captain John Terry went down with an ankle injury against Porto in Wednesday's Champions League game and his replacement, winger Arjen Robben, was later injured.

"Every day I lose a player," Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho lamented. "We have just one central defender again. We have to play Arsenal with [Michael] Essien and [Ricardo] Carvalho at the back because we have no choice."

GERMANY. Stuttgart looks to continue its strong second-half run when it hosts Hertha Berlin on Friday (TV: GolTV, live, 2:25 pm ET). Stuttgart, which also faces Hertha next Wednesday in the quarterfinals of the German Cup, has won four straight games to climb into second place, five points behind Schalke 04 but ahead of Bayern Munich and Werder Bremen. Stuttgart is led by 21-year-old Mario Gomez, the Bundesliga's leading scorer with 13 goals. Gomez, who was born in Germany to a Spanish father and German mother, has attracted the interest of foreign clubs with his sensational play, but he insists he'll stay at Stuttgart until the end of his contract in 2011.

ITALY. Ronaldo will be out to show that last Saturday's display at Siena was no fluke when AC Milan hosts Sampdoria on Sunday (TV: GolTV, delay, 5 pm ET). Il Fenomeno scored two goals and set up a third in Milan's 4-3 win at Siena, erasing doubts that he could still play at the top level. Unwanted at Real Madrid, Ronaldo was sold to Milan for $9.8 million during the January transfer window. "We all knew he was a great player," said Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti. "What came as such a big surprise to us was how quickly he has managed to slip back into the Italian championship." The Brazilian's return to form comes as Milan continues its push to climb into Serie A's top four, which would earn it a berth in next season's Champions League. Milan has won six of its last seven league matches to climb to sixth place. It would be in fourth but for its eight-point penalty for its role in Italian soccer's match-fixing scandal.

SPAIN. Now needing a "miracle," as one sports daily put it, to keep its Champions League hopes alive after a 2-1 loss to Liverpool at home on Wednesday, Barcelona turns its attention to salvaging its sputtering La Liga campaign. Barca goes into its game against on Athletic Bilbao on Sunday (TV: GolTV, live, 3 pm) tied with Sevilla for the league league but with a game in hand on Sevilla, Valencia and Real Madrid, which are four points behind. By contrast, Sevilla, Valencia and Real Madrid all earned big results in Europe this week. Real Madrid won't have David Beckham, who had a huge game in its 3-2 win over Bayern, against Atletico Madrid on Saturday (TV: World Sport HD, live, 4 pm). Beckham is suspended after picking up a red card against Real Betis last Saturday.


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