Laudrup puts pressure on Gunners

March 14, 2013

Motherwell pair Shaun Hutchinson and Chris Humphrey are available for the Scottish Premier League clash with Hibernian on Friday night.

Defender Hutchinson was suspended for the goalless draw with Aberdeen last weekend, while midfielder Humphrey missed the Pittodrie clash out with a knock.

Manager Stuart McCall will again be without defender Fraser Kerr as his team look to consolidate second place in the table with a win.

Hibernian team news to follow ...

The Baggies goalkeeper recently made himself available for selection for the Three Lions having withdrawn from contention two years ago.

Foster had found himself restricted to the fringes of the squad before citing injury complications and family reasons for his decision to drop out after the 29-year-old had earned five caps.

However, with his fitness and form stronger than ever, Foster is back in the picture and was today recalled by Roy Hodgson for England's forthcoming World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and Montenegro.

"We're all delighted for Ben," said Clarke. "He obviously made himself available for selection and he explained his reasons for pulling out initially.

"It's good. I like my players to be involved for their countries because I think it's a great honour. It was a disappointment for me that I only got to represent Scotland six times at senior level. So for the players who do get selected to play for their country, it's great.

"I'm sure he'll do well."

Foster missed several games earlier this season with a niggling groin injury but is currently in fine form having taken his time to recover.

"We think, touch wood, that Ben is in a good place physically now," said Clarke, who succeeded England coach Hodgson at The Hawthorns last summer.

"He's done a lot of work with the fitness and conditioning staff. He obviously feels in a really good place fitness-wise and I think that's important.

"I think if he'd felt there were any fitness issues, he wouldn't have come back. So the fact he's come back tells you he's in a good place physically.

"I think the fact he had two procedures earlier in the season - which went on a little bit longer than they should have done and it too him a bit longer to recover - it actually seems to have freed him up a little bit and made him more comfortable in himself. That's important, and I think you can see that in his recent performances."

Albion's superb form in the first half of this season saw them become realistic contenders for European qualification via the Premier League heading into Christmas.

However, a dreadful run of results in January saw their hopes fade and though their form has picked up recently to sit them in eighth place with 43 points, the Europa League is now a distant possibility.

The FA Cup draw last weekend means they must finish fifth to qualify, needing to overhaul the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Everton.

"I did say there was no point us talking about European football because the Europa League places would only come down to fifth in the league and that's what has unfolded," Clarke said.

"There are too many ifs and buts. For us it's just a matter of building on the points total we've got and we've set the players a little target of getting to 50. Hopefully we can reach that quickly and still give ourselves a few games to get beyond that.

"I would love to be involved in European competition. I think you have to be as ambitious as you can be.

"You want to be successful in every competition you enter. But it's also the case that if we can break 50 points that would also be successful."

The 31-year-old striker penned a deal until the end of the season earlier this month after scoring four goals in as many games for the Railwaymen's second string.

Ellington was an unused substitute during last weekend's 2-1 win over Colchester and will hope for a debut when Shrewsbury visit Gresty Road on Saturday.

"We are just taking each stage as it comes at the moment," he told the club's official website. "I have signed until the end of the season and we'll see how it goes.

"I know the club likes to bring through the young players but if I can fit into that and help the squad in any way then staying longer could happen.

"It is going to be very exciting. We have a lot of teams fighting for promotion and others down at the bottom so it will be tough. And we have the Johnstone's Paint Trophy Final to look forward to.

"If we can get into the play-offs, we can go up again, so we have to work for every point.

"I am at a good level now and my sharpness is improving with each game and training session. I can feel myself creating chances for myself and others and I know there is more to come."

The midfielder, who will captain England in World Cup qualifying matches against San Marino and Montenegro later this month, has played every minute of every Premier League match for his club this season.

Gerrard, who turns 33 in May, is the only Premier League outfield player to do so and is currently enjoying his best form for some time having seen last season disrupted by an ankle problem.

Only 40 players have achieved the feat in the league's 21-year history.

Rodgers believes the inspirational Reds captain is benefiting from the work put in by a backroom staff and medical department which was overhauled when he arrived in the summer.

"Players like Steven Gerrard have played the most amount of games they ever have consecutively," he said.

"His performance level, alongside a lot of the others, has been outstanding this year and that gives me great hope.

"We looked at every player. First and foremost it was about getting the commitment, it wasn't about motivation from the players.

"What we promised them was, once they were committed to what we were trying to do, there would be a plan put in place for the individual in order for him to play at their maximum.

"Steven has benefited from that. We revamped our medical and sports science team here and a lot of the work goes on behind the scenes.

"Our head of performance Glen Driscoll is in tune with how I work on the field, which allows him to develop the plan along with our sports science and medical team off the field.

"It is just a case of not throwing the blanket around every single one and seeing them as the same.

"They are very much a team but you have to look at the individual.

"For Steven it is about the right moments of recovery and rest, monitoring the intensity of his training and when he needs an extra recovery day.

"But the biggest thing is him. He wants to do it, he wants to learn, improve and be better and he has the trust in how we work and that is critical."

While Gerrard may be in the rudest of health there remain concerns over goalkeeper Jose Reina, who missed Sunday's win over Tottenham with a calf problem.

"He hasn't trained so much this week, but he's coming along better and had a real good response today to some of the work," Rodgers added.

"We'll find out by tomorrow for definite if he's going to be fit (to face Southampton on Saturday)."

Midfielder Joe Allen requires an operation to cure a long-term shoulder injury but the Liverpool manager said the club would not stop the player joining Wales for their internationals this month.

"It is something he has been playing through," said the Reds boss. "He has an operation he will probably need but he has been fine with it for a few years.

"Since October he has really felt it and it is something that, at the right time in the next couple of months, we'll look to get organised.

"But at this moment he is involved with the group and will be involved with the Wales squad and we'll look at it after that."

Rodgers also dismissed suggestions some of the younger players who supplemented his squad earlier in the season would be allowed to go out on loan.

Raheem Sterling, Suso, Jonjo Shelvey and Andre Wisdom all played for the under-21s this week having seen their playing time with the senior side reduced in recent weeks and there was speculation the former two may get a chance to play elsewhere to get their pitch-time up.

"None of them are available for loan. That is something which won't happen," said Rodgers.

"They (Sterling and Suso) are both young players who have played a lot this year and they have been very much part of our group.

"Raheem has been outstanding this year but he is only young so we need to nurture and protect him.

"On top of that, we have a very small squad and those two boys are real integral parts of the group at this moment in time."

The Gunners exited this season's competition on Wednesday night, going out on away goals despite a 2-0 win over Bayern Munich in the second leg of their last-16 tie at the Allianz Arena.

That leaves Arsene Wenger's men needing to finish in the top four if they are to feature in the continent's premier club competition next term.

The north London club currently sit fifth in the table, five points adrift of fourth-placed Chelsea and seven off Tottenham in third, although they have a game in hand on Andre Villas-Boas' men.

But Laudrup believes they cannot afford give up any more ground when they take on his Swansea side this weekend.

He said: "They are disappointed because they are out of Europe, but I think maybe they had accepted that after the first game against Bayern at the Emirates.

"But they come out of this game better than they went in because they have won away against a very good side who are one of the favourites for the Champions League.

"They are still five points behind fourth place in the Premier League and I think they will now be going for that, and they have to believe until the very end.

"They will try to keep this confidence, Arsene Wenger knows after Saturday's game there is an international break, so it is very important for them.

"Chelsea are at home this weekend, so if they win and Arsenal don't win here, they would be eight points behind and with only nine games to go that may be too big a gap.

"So it is a very important game for them to keep alive the possibility of going into the Champions League next season."

Laudrup will again be without defender Chico Flores and midfielder Kemy Agustien against the Gunners as they recover from their respective ankle and thigh injuries.

But Leon Britton should be available to play some part after returning to training following the hip injury he suffered at West Brom.

There was also good news on left-back Neil Taylor, who will make his return from the broken and dislocated ankle which has sidelined him since September.

The Wales international was due to play 45 minutes for the Swansea Under-21 side in their game at QPR on Thursday.

Laudrup said: "He is playing 45 minutes today so it is a great day for him.

"H has been looking well in training, he has a way to go to get his match fitness back but that will come with games.

"It's good for him and it is nice to have him back.

"There is a psychological barrier after being out for so long but he is doing well."

Swansea have also confirmed midfielder Mark Gower has joined Charlton on loan until the end of the npower Championship season.

Gower has found opportunities limited this season, making just three first-team appearances.