From Vela to Van Persie, Sunu to Cesc: Arsene Wenger's League Cup debutants

From Van Persie to Vela; Spicer to Sunu ("who?!" you cry), the League Cup has long been Arsene Wenger's fine-tuning laboratory for blooding Arsenal's prodigous stars of tomorrow. 

There's been mixed success, of course, but who can doubt the usefulness of English football's third-favourite competition to the Gunners' fastidious Frenchman? 

So here's a glance at some of the fresh-faced youngsters to have made their names in the red and white on frosty Tuesday nights...

Arsenal 1-1 Rotherham: 23 Oct, 2003

A 9-8 win on penalties for the Gunners' youngsters against Division One Rotherham United at Highbury - and seven debutants for Wenger's side. 

Francesc Fabregas: At a sickening 16 years and 177 days, the Spaniard became Arsenal's youngest-ever player (a record that stands) when he started against the Millers. He'd later become the Gunners' youngest goalscorer in a 5-1 League Cup win over Wolves in the same season, though he didn't muster a league appearance in Arsenal's incredible unbeaten campaign. 

Graham Stack: Stack's shoot-out save proved decisive in this one, but although the young goalkeeper played in each of Arsenal's games as they reached the semi-finals, he never made a league appearance for the Gunners. Loan spells with Beveren, Millwall and Reading followed before he joined the latter permanently in December 2005. Didn't properly settle at a club until joining Hibs in 2009. 

Gael Clichy: Went on to make 264 appearances for the club, and would have enjoyed more had Ashley Cole not stood in the way for the majority of his Arsenal career. Played enough times to earn a league winners' medal as Arsenal went unbeaten, staying for another seven seasons before Manchester City paid around £7 million for his services in summer 2011. 

John Spicer: A one-appearance wonder, Spicer and his curtains graced Highbury as a substitute in this game. Though the Romford-born midfielder never made the grade under Wenger, he later forged a solid career in the Football League with the likes of Bournemouth, Burnley and Doncaster. 

Jerome Thomas: A two-time winner of the FA Youth Cup with the Gunners in 2000 and 2001, Thomas' big break finally came here. But although he'd make another two appearances in the competition against West Brom and Middlesbrough, the Premier League regular-to-be was sent on loan to QPR before joining Charlton permanently in 2004. 

Quincy Owusu-Abeyie: Released by Ajax at 16 as a bad egg, future Ghana international (but Dutch U21 hopeful) Owusu-Abeyie was handed a fresh start by the Gunners. Playing three times in this season's competition before sticking around for another two campaigns (playing five times in the Premier League), a lack of opportunities signalled a permanent move to Spartak Moscow in 2006. He hasn't really settled since, taking in spells with Celta Vigo, Birmingham, Cardiff, Portsmouth, Al-Sadd, Malaga and, finally, Panathinaikos. 

Ryan Smith: In another life things could have gone much better for Smith. The exciting winger was only 16 when he made his debut as a substitute in this game, before starting against Wolves and Middlesbrough too. There'd be another three appearances in the competition the following campaign, while a season-long loan move to Leicester in 2005/06 should have been the springboard for further success. He started well in the East Midlands, but by March the Foxes had sent him back. And so the downward spiral began. Smith joined Derby permanently that summer, but rarely impressed before similarly poor spells with Millwall, Southampton and Crystal Palace. In 2010 he took himself to the MLS with Sporting Kansas City and Chivas, and now plies his trade in Greece with Xanthi. 


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