Neil Mellor won two Carling Cup semi-finals with Liverpool, but the closest he has come to an appearance at the Millennium Stadium was as an unused 17th man in their victory over Manchester United in 2003. Tonight he goes for a third, and Cardiff could become a reality for the injury-plagued striker if Wigan beat Arsenal and secure a place in a major cup final for the first time.
Manager Paul Jewell's decision to sign a striker who had not played competitive football for 12 months as a consequence of tendonitis in both knees was swiftly vindicated when the 23-year-old marked his Wigan debut with a stoppage-time winner at Middlesbrough on Saturday. Though "very tired and stiff", Mellor, who is on loan from Liverpool until the end of the season, is eligible for the semi-final second leg at Highbury and desperate to erase the frustration of the past year.
"It would mean an awful lot to me to get there," Mellor said. "I wasn't called upon for United and last season I supported Liverpool from the stands against Chelsea even though the young lads had played in most of the earlier rounds. But it was a chance for Rafael Benitez to get his first piece of silverware so we understood
"I have a winners' medal from the 2003 final which Gérard Houllier gave to me because I scored in the semi-final against Sheffield United and last season in Istanbul we were told that there were 25 Champions' League medals available, but I missed out."
Mellor, David Thompson and Paul Scharner, who scored the only goal of the first leg at the JJB Stadium, were joined yesterday by the Swiss international Reto Ziegler. The 20-year-old has been signed on loan until the end of the season from Tottenham and provides cover for Lee McCulloch who has a double hernia operation today.
Thierry Henry, Sol Campbell and Robin Van Persie have all been drafted into Arsène Wenger's squad. "In this competition, I have always put out a side to win the game," Wenger said. "This time the adjustment needs to be strong. We lost the first game 1-0 and we want to go through to the final. Therefore you will see a few experienced players."
Wigan (probable): Pollitt; Chimbonda, Scharner, Henchoz, Baines; Teale, Kavanagh, Francis, Bullard; Roberts, Mellor.
Arsenal (probable): Almunia; Gilbert, Senderos, Campbell, Lauren; Ljungberg, Silva, Flamini, Pires; Reyes, Henry.Reuse content