For Tottenham the Carling Cup semi-final, the first leg of which is at White Hart Lane tonight, carries both the promise of glory and the threat of humiliation. To lose so abjectly to their opponents and neighbours Arsenal as happened last month is bad enough; to lose a semi-final to what will effectively be an Arsenal reserve team would be gruesome indeed.
That is the worrying prospect for Spurs fans, given the way in which Arsène Wenger's mix of youngsters and fringe players thrashed Liverpool at Anfield in the quarter-final. Offering hope, however, is that unlike Rafael Benitez, Liverpool's manager, Tottenham's Martin Jol intends to select his strongest team.
"How many teams," said Jol, "are there like Arsenal who can take a gamble and say, 'OK, we won't play our best team and still have a great chance?' We are not in a position to leave players out and still do well. I can only do it up front, maybe, or at left-back."
He added: "Arsenal's second team, reserves or kids - call it what you like - is probably as strong any Premiership side outside the top few. Sometimes players need time, Julio Baptista needed probably six months, but I can't remember anyone from the away team scoring three or four goals at Anfield [as Baptista did]. He's probably capable of being in any other first team. Then there is Theo Walcott, Jérémie Aliadière, Johan Djourou. The only thing is, they don't play regularly for the first team." Wenger is even prepared to use the match to bring back a player who has not played since last season, the midfielder Abou Diaby who broke a leg last May.
"He will certainly play, said Wenger. "I'll stick with the same type of side as at Anfield. They deserve it. It is very difficult to say, 'Listen, you are good enough to play at Liverpool but you are not good enough to play at Tottenham'. They have earned the right."
For Walcott, Baptista and Aliadière there is the added incentive of stepping closer to a regular place with the first team. In football one man's injury is always another's opportunity and the metatarsal break sustained by Robin van Persie against Manchester United on Sunday has left an opening.
"It will be six weeks at least, if not more," Wenger said yesterday. "It is a big blow because Robin has been on fire. He has had a great season until now. What is really terrible for me is that I did not want to use him at all. But we were 1-0 behind and I decided to put him on. However, he got injured and you can never predict that."
Spurs, like Arsenal, are engaged on four fronts but there is little doubt winning the Carling Cup is more important for a club whose last success came in the same competition in 1999. "Our dream is to win something," said Jol. "It's our greatest ambition. Would we have done well if we get to the quarter-finals of all the cups? Maybe some people would say yes, but I don't think so. If you're not in the first six [in the League], you don't have the guarantee of European football, unless you win something."Reuse content