Ipswich Town 1 Arsenal 0
League Cup semi finals have been a pleasingly regular occurrence over the last five years, but the anticipation was somewhat increased for this one with Arsenal red hot favourites to win the competition. However, our day was jinxed from the start. The coach behind us had a problem with its stair lift, so our driver heroically went to assist. His altruism delayed our departure by half an hour, leaving us to negotiate the East End of London and then the A12 at the height of rush hour. The upshot was, our coach did not park until 7.35pm, leaving us with a frantic scurry for the away turnstiles in the Cobbold Stand Upper Tier, edging our way through the cramped stairways just as the teams kicked off. This was my first visit to Portman Road (the last time we played there in December 2001, I was 17 and my cheque bounced, meaning the club wouldn`t send me my tickets!)
As I suspected, Arsene fielded a strong side, I think with the intention of trying to go as far as possible towards finishing the tie in one fell swoop. Certainly, the expectation around me was that we only had to turn up and Ipswich would roll over and have their bellies tickled. Once the realisation that Ipswich, shock! Horror! Had no intention of doing so, the atmosphere amongst the away support became nastier and more poisonous than I have ever seen it. (I saw two scuffles break out amongst our own fans, objects thrown at Ipswich stewards, I had to halt my half time urination to break up a punch up in the toilets and I ended up telling the guy in front of me to try and vary his vocabulary. Honestly, there is only so many times you can listen to the words f****g s**t without it irritating and exciting your nerves. I honestly do not exaggerate when I say those two words poured from his mouth around 2-300 times. His response to my suggestion that he at least try some other expletives was to say, "I`ll say whatever the **** I want!" This was a man in his forties, not an irate, hormonal teenage girl I am talking about). Seriously, what a bunch of spoiled children we have become as a fan base.
Anyhow, Arsenal were quick out of the traps, little did we know however, that the first five minutes were about as good as it got. Wilshere nicked the ball away from Healy in midfield, leaving Arsenal with a three on three situation. Bendtner bore down towards the edge of the area, but chose the wrong option and shifted the ball to his right, where Walcott was more closely marked than Fabregas to his left and the chance petered out. A great deal of ire was directed towards Bendtner last night, of the eleven on display, he was the last person with the exception of Szczesny I would have put blame on. I mean, how many times did we actually get the ball into the Ipswich area? Have you ever tried to go fishing without any bait? The perfect antidote to what I am talking about is that, whilst Bendtner got a barracking every time he came into vision, there was a point in the first half when Kieran Gibbs miscontrolled a simple pass and allowed it to drift out of play. The response? Stony silence. What was that old Dobie Gray song? I`m in with the in crowd.
Ipswich were showing an almighty effort and Arsenal were a long way from their stride. Fabregas teed up a shot for Denilson on the edge of the area which was blocked, and that was about as dangerous as Arsenal looked for the remainder of the half. With the objective of not conceding early achieved, the home side grew in confidence. Connor Wickham, playing in an unfamiliar left sided role, turned the ball wide to Tamas Priskin on the left flank, who darted inside Djourou and sent an arrowing shot just wide of Szczesny`s far post. Town threatened again when Carlos Edwards sent a deep cross to the back post, which O`Dea headed back to Gareth McAuley, but the Ipswich centre half could only head over. It hadn`t been the most inspiring of halves, but I remained confident that Ipswich`s physical level would drop if we kept passing the ball and an opening would present itself. As it turned out, it was Arsenal`s level that dropped in the second half whilst Ipswich did not give us an inch until the very last second. The away side briefly looked like breaking through early in the second half. Fabregas lofted a ball over the top of Jaime Peters to the onrushing Arshavin, but the ball just wouldn`t drop invitingly and he lashed his volley over. Arshavin is a player that looks very low on confidence right now; he needs a goal badly. There again, the booing when he was substituted won`t have helped his cause much.
Fabregas switched a carbon copy ball over the top of Peters once more for Arshavin moments later, with the ball running lower and slower. But the linesman put up a very incorrect offside flag. (I was absolutely perpendicular to Arshavin as he started his run in perfect eye line with the official). But once again, Arsenal`s level dropped, which in turn gave Ipswich the confidence to increase their already commendable effort. Arsenal never really looked like carving their well organised opponents open. Fabregas and Bendtner played a neat one two on the edge of the area, which created space for Fabregas to test Fulop, but he over elaborated and tried to play Wilshere in when the pass was never on and Ipswich cleared the danger. As the Gunners pushed on, Ipswich started to threaten with the long ball. A punt from Peters was horribly miscontrolled by Eboue- who rather kept up with his desperately poor season- Priskin seized on the loose ball and made a beeline for goal, but Djourou was across to spare Eboue`s blushes. Ipswich hit upon an unsurprising tactic that often works against our defence which has a proclivity towards playing a very high line and tried it again with some success a few minutes later when Peters` hooked clearance sailed over Koscielny`s head with Priskin bearing down on goal. But the ball just would not drop for him and Djourou was across to smuggle the ball over his own bar.
The Gunners were really struggling to impress themselves on the game, such was the poor quality of their passing, allied with Ipswich`s ravenous pressing, Kieran Gibbs did manage to cut in from the left and deliver a right foot shot just wide of Fulop`s post. Arsene sent on Chamakh ("I think he`s a youngster coming up through the ranks isn`t he?" said the man behind me, entirely seriously) and Song (or "who`s number 17? Eastmond isn`t it?" said the same gentleman. Again, seriously). Bendtner was jeered off, which is rather unfortunate, he was no worse than the golden children such as Wilshere, Walcott and Gibbs. People`s problem with Bendtner stems from their very British distaste for anyone with self confidence. We rather like to see anyone who dares have the aspiration to elevate themselves above the humdrum of our existences fail spectacularly and publicly. Very sad psychological flaw in the British psyche that prevents many from achieving their own potential. Rather ironically, Arsenal produced and spurned their best chance in possibly their most fallow period of the game. Alex Song (or "that African blond haired ****" according to the gentleman in front of me, presumably taking up my invitation to extend his vocabulary) turned the ball wide to Gibbs and his cross just evaded Chamakh and fell unsuspectingly to Cesc, who was caught unawares and allowed the ball to bounce off his thigh and over the bar from close range.
The cost of the miss became apparent within seconds. This time it was Colin Healy that punted a long ball forward, Koscielny and Djourou were caught underneath it and yet again, Eboue and Gibbs provided no cover. This allowed Priskin to steal in ahead of the hesitant centre halves and prod the ball past Szczesny. The manager used the telling phrase afterwards, "If you`re not going to win the game, make sure you don`t lose it." This was very much a repeat of the Braga defeat where better communication on the pitch would have seen somebody take hold of the team and tell them they need to keep it tight. It wasn`t our night and was never going to be, so keep the full backs disciplined and let`s take the draw. Instead, we were guilty of over committing again and allowing another simple long ball to undo us. Arsenal showed some urgency for an equaliser and Fabregas brought a good save out of Fulop, before then splitting the defence with a slide rule pass which saw Walcott race in behind Peters, but Fulop was out smartly to block. Ipswich might have extended their lead in farcical circumstances when a simple kick out of the hands from Fulop saw Gibbs stay stationary inside Ipswich half and he looked on with disinterest as Carlos Edwards was left a clear run on goal, his effort blocked by Szczesny. In the end it wasn`t the result or the performance we wanted, but we have every chance of turning it round. Ipswich did not give us an inch for the whole 90 minutes and we didn`t have the guile to find ourselves an inch. The second leg is now effectively a one off tie that we have to win.LD.
53.SZCZESNY, 27.EBOUE, 20.DJOUROU, 6.KOSCIELNY, 28.GIBBS, 15.DENILSON, 19.WILSHERE (17.Song `67), 4.FABREGAS©, 14.WALCOTT, 23.ARSHAVIN (11.Vela `79), 52.BENDTNER (29.Chamakh `67). Unused: 16.Ramsey, 40.Eastmond, 48.Miquel, 49.Shea.
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