Arsenal's policy of fielding youthful line-ups in the League Cup has proved very successful over the last couple of seasons.
In the past two years Everton, Manchester City, Wolves and West Bromwich Albion have all been knocked out by youthful Gunners teams, and last month a 16-man squad, including 12 players aged 22 or under, recorded a superb 3-0 win at the Stadium of Light to knock-out Sunderland.
But tonight's match could prove to be their toughest test. Although not yet a top flight side, Reading are perhaps the form team in the country - their 3-0 win at Ipswich last Tuesday was their 22nd consecutive match without defeat - and took them top of the Championship.
With a number of Arsenal old boys in the Royals' ranks desperate to impress on their return to north London, it should make for a fascinating encounter. The matchday programme caught up with Liam Brady, the head of Arsenal's Academy which provides so many of the first-team's players for this competition, to ask him his thoughts on the Club's Carling Cup campaign.
Considering how many youngsters were in the line-up, you must have been thrilled with the 3-0 Third Round win over Sunderland, Liam?
Yes, it was great. There was a good mixture of experience and youth, but the boys responded well. It was a big step for Fabrice Muamba in particular, because Arturo Lupoli, Sebastian Larsson and Quincy had a taste of it last year, but for Fabrice and Alex Song it was their first experience. We were all delighted with how they came through. Having the more experienced players around them definitely helped. I remember last season at home to Everton when Edu played, he was magnificent that day, and the youngsters can learn from that. It gives them a taste of it and they should be really hungry to play in more matches. It's exactly what they need to spur them on to become top players.
Their reward was a tie at Highbury, this will be the last group of youngsters who get a chance to play at the old stadium.
I don't look at it like that. I just think that the future of the Club will hopefully be supported to a large extent by home-grown Academy players. I suppose it will be a chance for them to tell everybody that they played at Highbury but I think they should be more interested in making sure they are around when we move to Emirates Stadium.
As with the game at the Stadium of Light, tonight's match is a sell-out. Why do you think the League Cup is enjoying a resurgence?
We had a situation before where people were giving the League Cup stick because teams weren't fielding their best players. But I think it's now seen as an opportunity for the bigger clubs to give exposure to their young talents who they think are going to have a future. That, and the fact that the prices are reduced, means it's a great opportunity to see some top class football with a decent atmosphere. I've spoken to many season ticket holders who say they love the games, and it also helps to attract many new fans to the team, so it's all beneficial to the Club.
Two products of the Arsenal Academy, Steve Sidwell and James Harper, have been instrumental in helping Reading to the top of the Championship. What were they like to work with?
They were two smashing kids to work with, both very determined and it's great to see them doing so well and on the verge of becoming Premiership players. They undoubtedly have the ability to do that and I'm ever so pleased for the both of them because they are both hard-working, dedicated young men.
We received transfer fees for both James and Steve, which offsets the cost of the Academy, and it's nice to be able to demonstrate that we can produce players here that are in demand elsewhere. My target is to get English players breaking through the Academy and into the first team, as well as the likes of Fabregas, Song, van Persie and Clichy and so on, and we're working hard at that. It's also very pleasing to see them making it elsewhere though.
There are products of the Arsenal Academy scattered throughout the leagues aren't there?
Yes, if you pick up the paper on a Sunday you see lots of our former youngsters playing in the Premiership and plenty in the Championship. It's great to see. We've got Jerome Thomas, Jay Bothroyd, Julian Gray, Neil Kilkenny, Jermaine Pennant, Justin Hoyte, David Bentley, Moritz Volz, Stuart Taylor - they are all operating in the Premiership.
How are the youth teams performing so far this season?
Well our reserves side is basically our youth team, and they are doing really, really well this year. We are top of the league, playing some great football, and scoring a lot of goals. Lupoli and Nicklas Bendtner are top scorers across the country. It's really pleasing. Our Under-18 team is made up of lads who are not full-time, just schoolboys, so we know we are going to get mixed results, but they are doing well too. We've played a couple of 14 year-olds this season, and plenty of 15 year-olds, but players who we think are up to it physically.
Finally Liam, our FA Youth Cup campaign starts soon with a home match against Brentford in the Third Round.
Yes, and we want to do better in this competition than we have in recent seasons. Southampton have proved our bogey team in the last couple of years. They knocked us out last year, went on to the final and possibly should have won it. This year we want to give it a crack again but from what I've seen so far Southampton will certainly be one of the candidates again.
I think if we can manage to put our best team out for the games, and we have got a smaller pool of players to choose from this season, then we have a chance. Some of those who are eligible for the competition include Bendtner, Anthony Stokes, Muamba, Song, Matthew Connolly, Vito Mannone and Lee Butcher, so we could have a run at it this year.29 Nov 2005