Reyes eager to dictate Arsenal's final push

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The Independent Football

It is customary when a foreign player comes to England for him to be quoted describing how, all his life, he has dreamed of playing in the FA Cup final, ever since watching "as a small boy in Manaus/Manila/Manitoba" on television. The Carling Cup has no such allure but Jose Antonio Reyes, Arsenal's £17m signing from Sevilla, will still be delighted if he can help Arsenal reach the final.

The 20-year-old is expected to make his full debut at the Riverside tonight as Arsenal seek to overturn a 1-0 semi-final, first-leg deficit. The Spanish striker has been cleared to play despite not having been signed when the re-arranged tie was originally scheduled.

While opponents Middlesbrough will field their strongest team Reyes will be one of the few stellar names in the Arsenal line-up. Patrick Vieira, who was suspended from Sunday's 2-1 win over Manchester City, should also play but Arsenal will otherwise field a young reserve XI leavened with the experience of Edu, Martin Keown and Pascal Cygan.

Reyes played the last 20 minutes on Sunday and he said yesterday: "I was very satisfied. It was difficult conditions for me with the cold and the rain. It was hard not to be cold before coming on but it was OK when I got warmed up. I hope that's the beginning of big success for me and the club. Steve McManaman gave me support before the game when we were warming up. I know him from the Spanish game and it was a nice thing to do."

Ashley Cole, the Arsenal left-back, said: "He did well, looked sharp and made a difference when he came on. He's got confidence on the pitch and is not afraid to play a long ball, dribble or use a trick."

Arsenal must now wait to hear whether the Football Association will investigate their players' involvement in the mêlée late in the match against City. The incident, which came three months after Arsenal were fined £175,000 for failing to control their players against Manchester United, resulted in the dismissal of City's Nicolas Anelka. However, both Cole and Edu might have been dismissed.

The FA will await Alan Wiley's full report before taking a decision but has revealed that Edu was booked by the referee. The Brazilian is thus unlikely to receive further punishment.

Anelka will be banned for three matches but he did receive sympathy from Cole yesterday, and an olive branch from across the Channel. Of the dismissal Cole said: "I feel sorry for him as I did the same. He shouldn't have done what he did but I don't think he should have been sent off. It should have either been a yellow or red card for both of us."

Meanwhile, Claude Simonet, president of the French Football Federation, said Anelka could still have a future with the national team. Anelka has been out of favour with the national coach, Jacques Santini, since rejecting the chance to be called up as a squad replacement in November 2002.

However, Djibril Cissé has since been effectively ruled out of this summer's Euro 2004 finals after receiving a five-match ban for kicking an opponent during an Under-21 game. Santini thus needs cover in attack and Simonet said: "A return to the French team [for Anelka] could come. Nicolas' youth maybe led him to say certain things which we should be capable of putting behind us."

Santini's other options include the Manchester United striker, Louis Saha. France face Belgium in a friendly on 18 February.

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