Arsenal must draw on reserves to face Spurs
Arsène Wenger will give the likes of Andrei Arshavin, Marouane Chamakh and Park Ju-young the chance to stake a claim for a place against Tottenham at the Emirates on Sunday when Arsenal's reserves travel to Norwich City tonight.
Chamakh has recently returned from the African Cup of Nations but, unlike the Ivory Coast forward Gervinho, the Moroccan has not featured for the first team since that tournament was completed. With Arshavin, he was left on the bench for the FA Cup defeat at Sunderland last Saturday.
Park has made only five appearances for Arsenal – and only one, as a substitute, in the Premier League – since his summer arrival from Monaco. He was this week replaced as South Korea's captain by the defender Kwak Tae-hwi.
The defender Carl Jenkinson could be set for a first appearance since suffering a back injury in November, while the on-loan Chelsea midfielder Yossi Benayoun is also in a strong squad for the game at Carrow Road.
Wenger knows that his underperforming players will need to improve on Sunday, as they look to stay in the top four. Last week's 4-0 humiliation at Milan has left Arsenal all but out of the Champions League and their exit from the FA Cup at Sunderland was also extremely disappointing.
Laurent Koscielny hobbled off at the San Siro, but the French centre-half could recover from a knee problem to face Spurs. It would be a welcome boost for Wenger, who has once again seen his defence stretched by injury. The German international Per Mertesacker is out for the rest of the season after damaging ankle ligaments in a Premier League win at Sunderland a fortnight ago. However, the 6ft 3in centre-back is determined to play at this summer's European Championship in Poland and Ukraine.
Writing on Facebook, Mertesacker said: "My participation in Euro 2012 is not in danger. Dr Stockle in Tubingen did the operation on Tuesday evening, attached a piece of bone back to the ankle and patched up the deltoid ligament on the inside of the ankle. All went well and I am in Donaustauf, Bavaria, for the physical rehabilitation."
Arsenal's failure to challenge for silverware this season has again prompted suggestions that their captain, Robin van Persie, will follow Cesc Fabregas out of the club in the summer. The Netherlands forward, who will turn 29 in August, has been in superb form, scoring 28 goals this season. The Arsenal hierarchy are determined to tie him to a long-term deal, although talks have not yet started. Van Persie's current contract runs until 2013.
Arsenal's majority shareholder, Stan Kroenke, is said to be flying to London to attend tomorrow's board meeting.
The Tottenham Hotspur forward Rafael van der Vaart is confident that he is winning his race to be fit for the north London derby. He has missed Spurs' last three games, after suffering a calf injury in a 3-1 win over Wigan Athletic last month.
The Dutchman, who has scored nine goals this season, will return to full training today.
"I'm recovering well from my injury," Van der Vaart said. "I expect to be joining the team training, after which I will start to focus on the match against Arsenal. I'll be happy to play Arsenal. I can't wait."
Spurs have a number of injury worries. Emmanuel Adebayor twisted a knee in training, while Benoît Assou-Ekotto had a groin operation last week and is a major doubt for the Arsenal match. Luka Modric missed last weekend's 0-0 FA Cup draw at Stevenage through illness, but he is expected to recover in time for the trip across north London.
Tottenham missed their injured stars as they laboured to a draw in their FA Cup fifth-round tie at the Lamex Stadium on Sunday, but Van der Vaart said that he expected to beat the League One side in the replay.
"Of course, it's a pity we didn't win, he said. "I'm convinced we will be able to defeat Stevenage in our home game and will reach the next round of the FA Cup."
Adebayor, who spent three and a half years at Arsenal, is also confident that he will be fit to play against the Gunners this weekend. The forward, who is on loan from Manchester City, used Twitter to say: "Just finished training, really happy with the progress, knee is looking much better. Working on my fitness for Sunday."
The Togolese striker has had a poor relationship with Arsenal since he left in 2009, to join City. In his first game against the Gunners Adebayor ran the full length of the pitch to celebrate in front of the travelling fans at Eastlands, having been verbally abused throughout the match. He caused even more fury when he raked his studs over the face of Van Persie.
Arsenal's fans have never forgiven Adebayor for his conduct during that game in Manchester and they launched a volley of abuse during the first north London derby of the season, in October, which Spurs won 2-1.
During the match at White Hart Lane, some Arsenal fans chanted, "It should have been you, it should have been you... shot in Angola. It should have been you," referring to a gun attack on the Togo team bus in 2010 which Adebayor survived.
After the game, Arsenal and Spurs issued a joint statement strongly condemning the abusive chanting.