Gray: Milner Will Be Back

Last updated : 02 January 2004 By Kevin Markey

David Batty's absence through suspension for the trip to the Black Country saw Gray deploy a 4-4-2 with Alan Smith, who has been used in a five-man midfield, joining Mark Viduka up front.

James Milner, who will be celebrating his 18th birthday on Sunday, could come back on the right side of midfield due to the absence of Jermaine Pennant, who has not been granted permission to play by Arsene Wenger.

"I am really looking forward to the match. It is a big FA Cup tie and a great opportunity for the lads to get that Wolves defeat out of their heads," said Gray in the Yorkshire Post.

"Everybody was disappointed with that result and the lads were particularly downbeat. It has been my job, however, to lift them for the weekend and I feel we have done that.

"Arsenal represent one of the biggest possible challenges in the FA Cup, they have played in the last three finals and they are the present holders of the trophy. Arsene Wenger takes it very seriously indeed and I do not expect him to rest any of his key players. The same can be said for us. I will be picking my strongest side with the aim of progressing in this competition."

On bringing back Milner, Gray added: "I just felt James needed a rest after the draw with Aston Villa and so pulled him out of the game at Wolves.

"He has performed very well for us since he broke back into the side but I do not want to play him into the ground. He will be back on Sunday, however, and he will be playing."

Meanwhile, Gray believes that Sunday's FA Cup third round clash will act as light relief for his under-pressure players.

"It will give the boys a breather. They've been at the bottom all season and it's not been easy for them.

"To a certain extent it will be a bit of light relief playing against the Arsenal on Sunday. Of course it is another big game, but at the moment they're all like that."