Slumping Manchester City & Arsenal face-off in the Carling Cup

Manchester City v Arsenal, Carling Cup quarter-final, December 2, 2009

Manchester City 10/11; Draw 13/5; Arsenal 11/4

Much of the pre-match commentary has centred on Mark Hughes’ decision to field Emmanuel Adebayor (15/2 to score first & City win) for Manchester City’s Carling Cup quarter-final tie against Arsenal on Wednesday, despite the furore caused by the striker’s last appearance against his former club.

Back in September the Togo striker got his first taste of life against his previous employers and, despite City winning 4-2, his reputation could scarcely have taken a bigger nose-dive. First there was Adebayor’s hugely provocative goal celebration where the striker ran the full length of the pitch in order to celebrate in front of the Arsenal fans. And then there was ugly stamping incident on the face of Robin Van Persie, which all resulted in the former Gooner receiving a three match ban and a £25,000 fine.

Van Persie’s ankle injury, which is likely to keep the Dutch international sidelined for up to five months, ensures at least that he and Adebayor will not clash on the pitch this week. However expect to see the tackles ploughed into the Togolese forward as the North Londoners look to exert some retribution.

Elsewhere, Mark Hughes has fielded full-strength teams in the previous two round, and, with the Citizens stagnating after seven straight draws in the Premier League, there is every reason to believe that Sparky will continue that trend as City have the chance to reach the semi-final of a major competition for the first time since 1981.

While Hughes has the options of Craig Bellamy (6/4 to score), Roque Santa Cruz (7/4 to score) to play as a second striker with Adebayor, offensive options are also aplenty from midfield as Robinho (3/1 to score & City win) continues his return to match fitness after a period on the sidelines, while the likes of Shaun Wright-Phillips (25/1 to score a brace) and Stephen Ireland (10/1 to score first) are always willing runners from deeper in midfield.

Hughes may also opt to hand some playing time to a couple of City’s fringe players. In particular, young Slovakian winger Vladimir Weiss (11/2 to score) is one of the stars of the future at Eastlands with a combination of pace, trickery and the ability to deliver from wide areas.

Changes could also been seen in City’s backline, where Kolo Toure will also face his former employers. Micah Richards will be especially hoping for the opportunity to impress, with the backpages full of rumours that the England international could be surplus to requirements after seeing his form dip.
In contrast to City, Arsene Wenger is set to again test the depth of his Arsenal squad by calling on his babes for the match in Manchester.

Youngsters Carlos Vela (15/8 to score), Aaron Ramsey (12/1 to score & Arsenal win), Jack Wilshere (20/1 to score first & Arsenal win), Sanchez Watt, Fran Merida, Craig Eastmond and Kyle Bartley are all in contention for the Gunners. Balancing out the youth with experience, Philippe Senderos (12/1 to score) and veteran Mikael Silvestre are likely to start in defence, while fit-again Lukasz Fabianski should return in goal.

With both teams having hit a funk in recent weeks, the Carling Cup – the bastard child of English domestic competitions – is no longer a competition which can be ignored willy-nilly. Rather, this competition arguably represents the best chance of silverware either of these clubs can expect to win this season, and with that in mind this match could have all the hallmarks of an end-to-end thriller.

101predicts: Manchester City 3 – Arsenal 2 (20/1)

Manchester City 10/11; Draw 13/5; Arsenal 11/4

Full match odds here.