Arsenal 3 Ipswich Town 0 (3-1 agg)
The fifth time Arsenal have played a League Cup semi final in seven years and I don`t recall as much apprehension for any of them as I did for this one. Whether it`s our desperation for some silverware (if only to stop people reciting that damned sentence, you know the one I mean) or the evident "winnability" of the competition from the off I`m not sure. I suspect a bit of both. Chelsea, Liverpool, Spurs and Manchester City all went at the first hurdle; Manchester United followed for us in the Quarter Final. The Carling Cup has rather been winking at suggestively on the horizon since September. When we drew Ipswich for the semi final, with the second leg at home to boot, you felt that, to quote FDR, the only thing we had to fear was fear itself. I thought Ipswich were clearly going to put the majority of their eggs into the home basket and reasonably expected to take the tie to the Grove level or a goal to the good. But a rather horrible performance saw the tie delicately poised, with a one goal deficit to make up on home soil.
Prospective ticket details for the Final were printed in the match programme and we all had to fight the temptation to discuss how many of us will sit together and the sort of price ranges we are looking at. Happily, these discussions can now continue apace this morning. (Incidentally, I have seen some hand wringing elsewhere this morning about cup final ticket allocations. Astonishing really, leaving aside the fact that the club printed the Cup Final ticket policy in September 2006, it`s quite simple really. The more games you go to, the more chance you have of getting a ticket. Honestly, somebody please explain to me how it could be fairer than that?) As the teams flashed up on our screens in the Tavern, there seemed to be enthusiasm for the strong line up selected, but I confess to wondering aloud whether the manager had rotated the wrong part of the team. Nasri, Walcott and van Persie were the front three that presided over games against Chelsea, Birmingham, West Ham and Wigan- all of which saw us score three. On a night when you definitely need two goals, I thought it was a risk to select a front three so foreign. Ipswich promised to park the tractor and that`s exactly what they did. Arsenal for their part, found it hard to pierce the rigid back line and a lack of chemistry upfront, allied to Ipswich`s valiant defending appeared to be the twin causes.
The atmosphere in the ground had an air of zeal to it. As the players ran to the centre circle, Fabregas instantly motioned for the crowd to, as 80s dance combo M.A.R.S put it, "Pump Up the Volume." Though that volume was almost immediately muted to a terminal lull from kick off as Grant Leadbitter saw Szczesny off his line and attempted an audacious fifty yard lob with the first kick of the game which floated onto the roof of the net. Arsenal for their part could not summon the early goal we all craved; a game of patience would be required against Ipswich. We gave them something to hold onto in that first leg and they wouldn`t be giving it up without a fight. The Gunners nearly did break through after twenty minutes. Nicklas Bendtner stood up a right wing cross to the back post and Robin van Persie craned his neck to meet with a firm header that rebounded off the cross bar. I have lost count of the amount of times van Persie has hit the woodwork in the last three years, but I know prior to this game, opta report that he has hit the frame of the goal once for every 452 minutes played, far more than any other player since August 2007. If even half of those efforts had gone in, we`d be talking about an unimaginably bigger goal tally than he has already attained.
Arsenal patiently toiled but to little avail in the first half, even if the game was the one way traffic we had all expected. A Fabregas tumble in the penalty area under minimal contact was the only incident to get hearts racing. Ipswich rarely threatened, save for a Leadbitter free kick, which saw Szczesny caught in no man`s land, but Norris headed over. Szczesny collided with Sagna, causing the in form right back to leave the field with concussion. Eboue took his place and basically spent the game needlessly trying to beat Ipswich players in his own third of the pitch. Often without success. Fulop did fumble a Fabregas free kick, causing a minor ruction in the area, but Bendtner found his shot blocked by a throng of Ipswich bodies. The home side did eke out a clear cut opportunity on 33 minutes; the imperious Wilshere clipped a gorgeous pass into the path of Fabregas, who had run beyond Ipswich`s defence. The Spaniard chest trapped the ball but then conspired to fire the ball well wide of the post with his left foot. I must confess I began to get very edgy come half time; I felt Arsenal had rather rotated the team and approached the game in an arse about face fashion, gambling on the last 20 minutes as opposed to the first 20. Fortunately, the team did not manifest any of my apprehension and stayed patient. On 62 minutes, Bendtner had crept into a chasm of space on the left and Wilshere found him with a glorious clipped pass. Bendtner chested the ball down on the corner of the area, flicked the ball past Carlos Edwards before curling an accomplished finish into the bottom corner. Bendtner was probably the best player in our front three last night and it`s a shame that every piece of deft control he performed was met with stony silence from the crowd, where others draw applause. It`s an incredible situation we find now where our own fans so shamelessly will their own players to fail. Eboue is still feted as an ironic cult hero despite putting in performances far, far worse than anything he was ever roundly booed for. But an evening, indeed a season, of trying to beat players in his own penalty area and looking like an arse is all o.k. because he throws his shirt into the crowd at the final whistle. Honestly, Arsenal fans, you are a really f****g strange lot. I just don`t get you sometimes.
From there, the crowd relaxed too and it wasn`t long before Arsenal took the lead in the tie for the first time. Arshavin closed down McAuley next to the corner flag and earned a corner. The law of averages dictated that, after a flurry of awful, awful corners, we would have to get one right. And so we did when Arshavin swung his corner into the area and Laurent Koscielny beat Fulop to the ball to emphatically head home his first Arsenal goal. Djourou`s defensive performances have correctly drawn many plaudits of late, but I think Koscielny has been just as impressive in the last two months to very little acclaim. You just get the impression some players must have the wrong look or something, because they never seem to make their way into supporters hearts. From there, you figured Ipswich really didn`t have the gumption to amount an assault on our goal. Eboue did try to give them a helping hand, again ignoring a simple pass out of defence in an attempt to beat Connor Wickham. He was dispossessed, which allowed Jason Scotland to bear down on goal, but the angle was against him and Szczesny was equal to the low shot.
There was still some tension knowing a set piece could easily see Ipswich back into the driving seat, so the relief was palpable when Denilson broke up an Ipswich attack, allowing Fabregas to gallop free on the counter attack. He played the ball into Arshavin, who patiently drew his defender, before slotting a pass into the path of Fabregas, who had marauded beyond Norris, to take a touch before slotting the ball between Fulop`s legs. The game petered out in a satisfying conclusion (save for an idiotic pitch invader who, hopefully, got a good kicking from the stewards once he was dragged off and arrested); with Fabregas leading his troops on a mini lap of honour at the final whistle. Ipswich gave us a really difficult tie over both legs and deserve credit for that. Even after the second leg, I did not expect to still be pensive 150 minutes into the tie. But the team got their reward for their patience and now we have a very real chance of winning this tournament. Similar patience and nerves of steel will be required at Wembley. I don`t often link into other Arsenal blogger`s posts and perhaps I should more often, but I think I will leave the summary to GilbertoSilver at Gunnerblog, whose post puts it very nicely indeed.LD.
53.SZCZESNY, 3.SAGNA (27.Eboue `18), 20.DJOUROU, 6.KOSCIELNY, 22.CLICHY, 15.DENILSON, 19.WILSHERE, 4.FABREGAS©, 52.BENDTNER, 23.ARSHAVIN (14.Walcott `84), 10.v.PERSIE (8.Nasri `84). Unused: 17.Song, 28.Gibbs, 29.Chamakh, 55.Shea.
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