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Bendtner breaks Ipswich’s resistance as Arsenal reach Carling Cup final

Arsenal 3 Ipswich 0 (3-1 on aggregate)

Bendtner 61, Koscielny 64, Fàbregas 77

It took an hour for Arsenal to finally prise apart Ipswich‘s well-organised defence, but once Nicklas Bendtner had scored a fine individual goal to open the scoring on the night, two further goals which guaranteed the Premier League side’s progress to a seventh Carling Cup final soon followed. Arsenal will now play the winner of the other semi-final between Birmingham and West Ham on Ferbuary 27th.

Arsène Wenger made three changes from the side which hammered Wigan 3-0 on Saturday, with Samir Nasri, Theo Walcott and Alex Song dropping to the bench. Nonetheless, this was a notably stronger XI than the one which had played so meekly in losing 1-0 at Portman Road a fortnight ago. Arsenal lined up as follows:

Szczęsny

Sagna – Djourou – Koscielny – Clichy

Denilson – Wilshere

Fàbregas

Bendtner – van Persie – Arshavin

Arsenal had lost four of their five previous Carling Cup semi-finals during Wenger’s reign, including one to Wigan Athletic in 2006 when they were managed by new Ipswich manager Paul Jewell.

First half stalemate

The first half unfolded much as expected. Ipswich were content to maintain a solid defensive shape and look to pick up something from set-pieces, although Grant Leadbitter did attempt an audacious lob straight from the opening kickoff. Arsenal, patient in the knowledge that the first goal was likely to lead to others, prodded and probed and tapped lightly on the door rather than hammering it down.

Sagna lasted just 12 minutes before a clash of heads ended his evening (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

That’s not to say the home side didn’t create chances. In the first 25 minutes alone, Robin van Persie hacked an early right-footed volley high and wide, Cesc Fàbregas had a shot saved by Márton Fülöp, and van Persie headed a Bendtner cross against the bar.

With Ipswich dropping deeper and deeper as the half progressed, Arsenal’s defence was rarely troubled. Indeed, their biggest problem was entirely of their own making. Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny came out to punch a free kick, missed, and clashed heads with Bacary Sagna. Both players crumpled to the ground, and although Szczęsny was fine, the right back was forced to leave the game.

At the other end of the pitch, Arsenal continued to create chances. Twice in the space of five minutes their midfield produced delightful sand wedge-style through balls. First Fàbregas played in van Persie, but his touch was partially blocked by Fülöp and scrambled away. Then Jack Wilshere played in the Spaniard, but he dragged his shot past the far post.

Ipswich, though, were far from overrun, and Jewell would have been delighted with his team’s efforts in reaching half-time still scoreless.

Bendtner breaks the deadlock

Bendtner set Arsenal on their way with a delightful goal (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

For the first quarter of an hour of the second half, Ipswich continued to defend redoubtably while seeds of doubt started to creep into Arsenal’s play. They had barely troubled the visitors’ back line when, suddenly, lightning struck twice in the space of three minutes.

First the always progressive Wilshere played the ball of the night, a delightful inside-out ball finding Bendtner on the left touchline. The Dane cut inside Carlos Edwards and curled a shot from the edge of the box beyond Fülöp to level the tie on aggregate.

Ipswich had barely had time to absorb the blow when Fülöp charged off his line to meet an Andrey Arshavin corner, only to be beaten to the ball by Laurent Koscielny, who rose unchallenged to place the ball into the unguarded net.

Needing a goal to force extra time, Ipswich were forced to commit men forward. Substitute Jason Scotland saw a shot comfortably saved by Szczęsny, but Arsenal were now firmly in control. And as the visitors pressed forward, they were always going to be vulnerable to a goal on the counter. This time Arsahvin received the ball from Fàbregas and rolled a delicate reverse pass for his his captain to take into the box and calmly despatch the ball under the advancing Fülöp. On a night on which hardly anything had come off for the Russian, it was nonetheless his second assist.

And that was that. The game disintegrated into a scrappy affair for the final quarter of an hour, but the job had already been done. Arsenal were on their way to a first Wembley final since 2005, and both teams knew it.

Hats off to Ipswich, though. They held Arsenal at bay for 2½ hours, and were fully entitled to park the bus having earned a positive result in the home leg. 19th in the Championship, and now eliminated from both cups, they should take encouragement from these two games into the rest of their season.

Post-game reaction

After the game, Fàbregas told the BBC:

The goal was to get to the final but it was difficult. We have got to congratulate Ipswich for what they’ve done. We wanted to score an early goal but the key was patience and we did it really well.

And Bendtner added:

Ipswich deserve all the credit. They played really well and made it very difficult for us but we always knew we’d have the chances and it was just a case of finishing them off. Now we’re in one final and we’ll do everything we can to try and win it.

Wenger stated in his post-game conference exactly how important the win was to his players:

Of course, the players were really up for it and focused. We needed tonight to be mature, calm, patient and of course not concede a goal. The fact we have stabilised our defensive record helped us to qualify.

It meant a lot for the squad, for the team, and I must say they deserved to be rewarded because they have an outstanding attitude and spirit. This team is hungry for success, I said that many times. You could see that. We kept going, we refused to show any weakness and overall I think an average team against Ipswich being 1-0 down would not have qualified.

And he highlighted Bendtner’s increasing sharpness through his run of recent games:

I rotate from game to game because we play nine games in January and we played eight or nine in December as well. Of course sometimes when a player has not played for a few weeks, when he comes in he is not 100%, but after a few games Bendtner is getting sharper and sharper.

Analysis

Overall, this was a good, patient performance by Arsenal against a stubborn Ipswich side who were always going to make life difficult. Without the settling effect of an early goal which would have brought the visitors out of their shell, Arsenal needed to remain patient and not allow the fans’ simmering frustration to get to them, and they managed this well.

For me, Wilshere was the man of the match. He worked as diligently as we have come to expect of him in his defensive duties, while regularly springing forward to supplement the attack. What continues to impress me about him is his willingness to play a forward ball whenever possible, while also selecting the right pass to play more often than not. In that respect, he is the obvious long-term heir to Fàbregas, and his pass for Bendtner’s opening goal was just the most eye-catching of his many contributions.

Denilson, his partner in the centre of the field, had one of those games where he did little wrong, but also offered little in a positive sense. He adequately occupied – rather than filled – the anchor role, but without the kind of panache which Alex Song has brought to the position this season. Arshavin, despite the fact the official stats will show he contributed two assists, was poor, and the combination of his lack of confidence and Bendtner’s natural striker’s tendency to drift inside robbed Arsenal of width too often. Consequently, with space compressed, Fàbregas did not have one of his better games passing the ball. although the skipper was bright and energetic throughout. As for the Dane, he had a busier and more productive night than the subdued van Persie – whose movement nonetheless drew defensive attention away from his teammates – getting into dangerous crossing positions a number of times and taking the all-important opening goal quite superbly.

Defensively, the back four looked solid against a relatively undemanding Ipswich attack, despite the early loss of Sagna. Szczęsny blotted his copybook with the ill-advised charge off his line which resulted in Sagna’s injury, but otherwise was assured and had little meaningful to do.

Next up for Arsenal is a home tie against Huddersfield Town in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Sunday lunchtime, followed by the visit of Everton on Tuesday night. For now, they remain the only team in England still competing on four fronts. Not so shabby, really.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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