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

The kids are alright for the Gunners, writes Joe Brewin, Layth Yousif and Pete Sharland... 

The League Cup has long been Arsene Wenger's fine-tuning laboratory creating Arsenal's stars of tomorrow. There's been mixed success, 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 4-1 Birmingham: 14 Oct, 1997

A Luis Boa Morte double, David Platt's pen and Alberto Mendez's fourth gives the Gunners an easy win after extra time. 

Paolo Vernazza: His performances for Arsenal's youngsters saw him claim a place in England's Youth World Championship squad, and play twice for the England U21s. Unfortunately for the Islington-born youngster they were to prove fleeting highlights. After 11 games for the Gunners' first team and one league goal (vs Coventry City in September 2000) he joined Watford permanently, via loan spells at Ipswich and Portsmouth. After three-and-a-half years at Vicarage Road he joined Rotherham on a free. Vernazza played for a further seven clubs and retired in 2010. He is now working as a football agent.
 

Jason Crowe: Debuts don't get much crapper than Crowe's. Having been handed his first professional contract at Highbury in the summer, these were exciting times for the young defender. Too exciting, perhaps. Just 33 seconds into his big debut he lunged at Martin O'Connor and was sent off by referee Uriah Rennie. The right-back would be given another two appearances by Wenger but, with Lee Dixon miles ahead in the pecking order, he joined Portsmouth in 1999. Went on to play for the likes of Grimsby, Northampton and Leeds in the Football League. 

Arsenal 1-2 Ipswich: 1 Nov, 2000

Wenger's upstarts cancel out Jamie Clapham's second-minute opener through Igor Stepanovs, but James Scowcroft scores late to win it for the visitors. 

Stuart Taylor: Earned a 2002 Premier League winner's medal with 10 appearances in the Gunners' double winning side, but in eight years at Arsenal he was second or third-choice keeper. After spending time on loan at Bristol Rovers, Crystal Palace, Peterborough and Leicester he eventually moved to Aston Villa on a four-year deal in 2005. Despite saving a Wayne Rooney penalty in 2007 he made only 12 appearances in four years. Spent three years as back-up keeper at Manchester City but failed to play for the first team. Joined Reading, where he played against the Gunners in a 4-1 defeat for the in March 2013, but successfully dodged playing time on loan at Yeovil (where he spent two whole days). After a brief stint at Leeds last year, he's not a free agent.  

Moritz Volz: Snapped up from Schalke in 1999, Volz played twice for Arsenal after making his debut in this match. He'd play against Sunderland in the same competition two years later, before joining Wimbledon on loan. Fulham took him permanently in 2004, where he achieved cult status and scored the top flight's 15,000th goal against Chelsea. Later played for Ipswich (loan), St. Pauli and TSV 1860 Munich, where he currently resides. 

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. Now at rivals Chelsea following a mixed homecoming at Barcelona.

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, and he's been at Barnet since 2012. 

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. Now a free agent after his release from Crystal Palace. 

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, Panathinaikos and, finally, Boavista. Been without a club since February 2015. 

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, then headed to Greece with Xanthi. Hasn't played since 2013, though. 

NEXT: Van Persie, Muamba and Lupoli

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