By Richard Clarke
Arsène Wenger rates Burnley so highly that he allowed one of his talented young Gunners to go out on loan there last season.
Arsenal’s youth system has developed a massive reputation in recent years, mainly through their Carling Cup exploits.
As a result there is always a huge clamour to take one of Wenger’s fledglings on loan once they have been eliminated from the competition.
Last term, Arsenal bowed out of the Carling Cup in the Semi-Finals at Tottenham in January. Later that month, Wenger allowed Mark Randall to join Burnley for the second half of the campaign.
The 18-year-old midfielder played 10 games under Owen Coyle and returns to Turf Moor tonight as Arsenal attempt to at least match last season’s achievements in this competition.
Wenger argues Randall has improved massively since (and because of) his period in Lancashire. He may not have the profile of players like 16-year-old prodigy Jack Wilshere, but, according to Wenger, he has comparable talent.
“Yes he has,” said the manager. “He has as much as Jack Wilshere. I think he is a little bit more of a late developer but he is exceptional.
“One thing I have learned in my career is that those who keep going, no matter what is said of them, will make a career. You may see in the newspapers that a guy is not in the first XI of the season but, if until October that guy still works hard every day, in November he is in the first XI.
“Mental strength and daily motivation is more important than what people say about you.
“I am impressed with the progress Mark Randall has made. He has made a fantastic step forward recently and I am sure we will see that again in this game.”
Wenger has kept to his usual Carling Cup policies for a tricky looking tie this evening. His 18-man squad includes the entire bench from the previous Premier League tie plus a smattering of the most talented youngsters. Mikael Silvestre will be the only really experienced head on show however, in fairness, Nicklas Bendtner, Carlos Vela and Lukasz Fabianski are all full internationals on the fringe of the first-team. Wenger has vowed to stick with the same midfield – which means another start for Randall – while Paul Rodgers and Gavin Hoyte are expected to fill the vacant roles at right back and centre back. Both players are versatile and therefore could take either position.
Arsenal have recent history at Burnley having won 2-0 at Turf Moor in the FA Cup Third Round at the start of the year. Eduardo scored early and Bendtner late as Arsène Wenger’s side secured passage to the next round – but it was never that comfortable. Coyle’s side have kicked on this season and come into this encounter in a handy fourth place.
“Yes, we came out of the match happy that we had scored first because they gave us a real game,” said the Frenchman. “You could see that there was quality in the team. They are in a good position in the Championship and they have had some big scalps in the Carling Cup. They have kicked out Fulham and Chelsea so this is a big test.
“We know we can beat anybody at the Emirates Stadium,” concluded Wenger. “I believe we can do it away as well. That is what we want to show in this game.”
Having excelled at their homework, Wenger's students have a tough task in their first educational excursion in the Carling Cup.
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