No debut for Barkley as Gunners seek League Cup tonic

From left: Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny, Jack Wilshere and Alex Iwobi in training. Wilshere along with Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez are all out of contract in the summer, with the club no closer to extending their deals.
From left: Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny, Jack Wilshere and Alex Iwobi in training. Wilshere along with Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez are all out of contract in the summer, with the club no closer to extending their deals.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • All eyes at Stamford Bridge have been on Chelsea's new £15 million (S$27.1 million) signing Ross Barkley, but Conte has ruled the midfielder out of the League Cup semi-final first-leg clash with Arsenal today.

"Tomorrow night is very soon for him. But we must be pleased because his physical condition is good and (he) is starting to have the training session with us and understand our idea of football," the 48-year-old said yesterday of Barkley, who has not played a single minute for his former club Everton this season due to a serious hamstring injury.

"He needs a bit of time. His condition is good, very good. I don't know (when he might play). But I am very positive, he is showing a great will to work."

Chelsea and Arsenal have already clashed twice this season in the Premier League - both matches ended in a draw - and Conte added that he intends to play his strongest line-up today to finally get the better of his counterpart Arsene Wenger.

"I think in every game, we have to try to make a strong team and when you play every three days, it is important to make the rotation and at the same time, your team must be very strong," the Italian said.

"Otherwise, you risk to drop this trophy. It is a very important game, this trophy, we deserve to be here."

Conte has also been involved in a week-long war of words with Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, with the Chelsea boss branding his rival as a "little man".

When asked if he regretted his words, he said: "I don't think so. We have both said things and we will see what happens in the future."

Chelsea have not won the League Cup since 2015, while Arsenal's last triumph came in 1993.

Wenger knows Arsenal need a positive result at Stamford Bridge ahead of the second leg at the Emirates Stadium on Jan 24.

He has, meanwhile, insisted that Arsenal have not received an official approach for star forward Alexis Sanchez this month.

British reports on Monday claimed that Manchester City will launch a fresh £30 million bid to sign the Chilean in the current window, with his contract set to expire at the end of the season.

However, Wenger denied the rumours while adding that there was also no update on the futures of Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere.

Both are also within six months of the end of their contracts.

"I expect nothing. It's not a big concern. I believe that most of the players today want to play in the Premier League," the Frenchman said at his pre-match conference.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 10, 2018, with the headline 'No debut for Barkley as Gunners seek League Cup tonic'. Print Edition | Subscribe