Wednesday 20 February 2019

Gunners put rookie 'keeper Mannone in firing line for Liege clash

Vito Mannone of Arsenal. Photo: Martin Rose, Getty Images
Vito Mannone of Arsenal. Photo: Martin Rose, Getty Images

Glenn Moore

Vito Mannone will be Arsenal's last line of defence as they embark on their latest quest to lift the Champions League in Liege tonight.

The rookie 'keeper (21), with only three senior appearances behind him, will be pitched into the cauldron of the Stade Maurice Dufrasne as Manual Almunia has a chest infection and regular back-up Lukasz Fabianski is still recovering from a knee operation.

Arsenal will also be without Robin van Persie (knee) and Denilson (back) while Theo Walcott, Samir Nasri and Andrey Arshavin remain absent but Eduardo, fresh from his reprieve on appeal by UEFA, will play.

Arsenal paid Atalanta £350,000 compensation for Mannone, then 17, four years ago. His experience is limited to a pair of unhappy loan appearances at Barnsley in 2006, and the final match of last season, a dead match against Stoke which Arsenal won 4-1.

"It is a big challenge for a young boy to come in to a Champions League game with such pressure," said Arsene Wenger, "especially away from home and at a ground with a heated atmosphere such as this one."


Wenger revealed Arsenal used a "forensic expert who proved (Eduardo) had been touched on his ankle" to ensure the Croatian striker would be available tonight.

"I'm very happy to have Eduardo back as we have plenty of offensive players out, to be without him as well would be one too many," he said.

Standard are back-to-back Belgian champions, unbeaten at home in 2009, worried Liverpool in last year's Champions League qualifying, then knocked Everton out of the UEFA Cup. Milan Jovanovic, the centre-forward, is a handful as is his partner Dieudonne Mbokani. But American defender Oguchi Onyewu has left for Milan and captain Steven Defour is out with a broken foot.

Like Arsenal, they have a player controversially eligible. Axel Witsel has been banned for eight matches from domestic competition following a crude tackle against rivals Anderlecht, but Uefa refused a request by the Belgian FA to extend the suspension to the Champions League.

Laszlo Boloni, Standard's Romanian coach, knows what it is like to win the European Cup having been in the Steaua Bucharest team that beat Barcelona in 1986. He said: "Even when we are at 100pc we are still a little bit short to beat such a great team, but this team has an ability to surprise big teams."

Standard Liege v Arsenal,

Live, Sky Sports 2, 7.30

Standard Liege (probable) -- Bolat; Cammozzato, Mangala, Sarr, Rocha; Dalmat, Witsel, Carcela; De Camargo; Mbokani, Jovanovic.

Arsenal (probable) -- Mannone; Sagne, Vermaelen, Gallas, Clichy; Fabregas, Song, Diaby; Eboue; Bendtner, Eduardo.

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