Caulker relishing Arsenal reunion
Steven Caulker is licking his lips at the prospect of beating Arsenal in a Tottenham shirt for the first time on Saturday.
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26. Steven Caulker
Caulker was expected to play only a bit-part role for Tottenham this season but an injury to Younes Kaboul, and the 20-year-old's excellent form during the Olympics, means he is now one of the first players on Andre Villas-Boas' team sheet and has earned an England debut.
Despite his young age, Villas-Boas has placed his faith in Caulker for the games against Manchester City, Chelsea, Lazio and Manchester United - and he is almost certain to start Saturday's huge north London derby at the Emirates Stadium.
Caulker made his debut against the Gunners in a League Cup clash two years ago. The experience proved to be an unhappy one as Arsenal ran out 4-1 winners over an experimental Tottenham side.
Caulker did gain a small slice of revenge when he triumphed over Arsenal while on loan at Swansea last season, and he admits lining up against Arsene Wenger's side for Tottenham will be a huge honour.
"It will be very surreal knowing that in the space of two years I will be playing them again in a Tottenham shirt in a league game," Caulker told Spurs TV Online.
"That's what I have always wanted to do. Last year I beat Arsenal 3-2 when I was at Swansea. That was obviously a great moment and I hope we can do the same at the weekend."
That game against the Gunners just over two years ago proved to be a vital step in Caulker's career.
The then 18-year-old was soon snapped up on a season-long loan by Bristol City and he spent the following campaign at Swansea, where he tasted Premier League football for the first time.
Former manager Harry Redknapp was often criticised for an apparent reluctance to blood youngsters in the first team but Caulker, who also spent a season at Yeovil, thinks being sent out on loan helped his development immensely.
"I think (going on loan) has been crucial for me, especially the season at Swansea," Caulker added.
"We played in such a way that it improved my composure on the ball and it helped me learn how to play it out from the back."
Caulker's admirers extend across the country.
After serving him so well at Under-21 level, Stuart Pearce called the centre-back in to his Great Britain squad for the Olympics - an experience the player clearly loved.
"The buzz was unbelievable. It's something I'll never forget," he said.
A vacancy has opened at centre-back with the international retirement of John Terry and Caulker could be the man to fill it.
"It was an amazing experience," he said.
"I was ecstatic when I got the call, I was over moon.
"To go there and play with some of the players I have admired when I was growing up is something special. Now I want to work hard to maintain a place in that squad."
Villas-Boas thinks the youngster's first England cap will be the first of many.
"It's a big achievement for Steven," Villas-Boas said.
"He's taking everything on board, he's very calm and it was great to see him out there.
"He's made a great breakthrough in coming into the side after his loan at Swansea and now playing for England, at such a young age, is massive for him.
"I think the country sees him as having the potential to be one of the best and hopefully that doesn't put too much pressure on him as he continues to develop his game."
Villas-Boas will decide on Friday whether to stick with Emmanuel Adebayor or recall Jermain Defoe for Saturday's crunch game.
The Portuguese is confident that Defoe, Aaron Lennon and Kyle Walker - who all missed England's game in Sweden with hamstring injuries - will be fit.
Mousa Dembele will not be available as he is still struggling with a hip injury.