Arsenal 3 – 0 Ipswich Town
Arsenal will meet Birmingham City or West Ham in the final of the Carling Cup, but that matters less than the sense at the club that Arsène Wenger’s side is now better-equipped to contend for every honour. Proud Ipswich Town were only broken entirely when Andrey Arshavin put Cesc Fábregas through for the third goal in the 77th minute, but the team seldom lost the accuracy or, tellingly, the tempo of its passing.
This tie must have had Wenger in two minds. His priorities lie in the Premier League and Champions League, but he can scarcely afford to be supercilious about any tournament as he tries to track down Arsenal’s’s first trophy since 2005. The balancing act was evident om the team sheet. Samir Nasri, the club’s best performer so far this season, was nowhere to be seen in the 1-0 defeat at Portman Road, but at least had a place on the bench.
The issue of seating had a wider relevance, too. It took a late surge, but the stadium had reached its usual attendance by kick-off. Welcome as it would have been to the club, it also demonstrated that nothing was to be taken for granted. Any degree of difficulty was increased by early vexation for Arsenal. Garth McAuley, the visitors’ centre-half, went unpunished by the referee Mark Halsey in the 10th minute when he declined to give a penalty for Gareth McAuley’s shove on Fábregas in the 10th minute.
There was a different type of blow to Arsenal when the goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny collided Bacary Sagna while defending a free-kick. The right-back soon had to be replaced by Emmanuel Eboué. That sort of distraction could not stop Wenger’s side from mounting attacks, but they did not always have the effortless poise of Arsenal’s usual showings at the Emirates.
Ipswich, somehow, were doing better here than most of the Premier League visitors. That, of course, did not mean they were at ease. Since the defeat of Arsenal in the first leg, the new manager Paul Jewell has enjoyed two wins in the Championship. His side are not remotely comparable to Arsenal, but that realisation did not reduce their commitment in the slightest.
Their darting opponents kept probing the penalty area, but glaring opportunities were not as common then as would have been anticipated. The clearest of them came in the 35th minute came as Jack Wilshere found Fábregas, but the midfielder’s finish went wide. A mood of contentment remained in the crowd, although that owed something to the news that Manchester United were then 2-0 down at Blackpool in the Premier League.
Wenger, in contrast to all other managers in the Premier League, began the evening retaining an interest in four tournaments, from the Carling Cup to the Champions League. That is no accident and he has a fine collection of footballers, yet there is also a gnawing question about their ruthlessnness. It was as pertinent as ever while Ipswich’s morale stayed intact.
These days, all the same, Wenger is a man of means. There was not just Nasri to be deployed if need be, but also the summer signing Marouane Chamakh and, in Theo Walcott, a player who may be closer to realising the potential that once made him a precocious menace to defences. Such consideration were, of course, an irrelevance to Ipswich.
They might not have been in the lead, but the parallels to the first leg continued to be in view. Then, too, Ipswich had been pinned down without falling into fear and dejection. This, it had to recalled, was their great occasion of recent times. Arsenal would have realised that the spirit of Ipswich was a real difficulty that was yet to be surmounted.
Recognition of that became more widespread when Ipswich re-emerged after the interval and slipped straight back into their obdurate attitude. In most respects, Arsenal were doing exactly what any manager would ask of them. The tempo was still high and Ipswich were denied a moment to draw breath.
All the same, the score was unmoved. They were still losing a tie that was three-quarters of the way to its conclusion. If they still cared about events elsewhere it would have been irksome to learn that Manchester United had pulled level at Blackpool on their way to taking the lead, but that matter was soon an irrelevance as Arsenal brought the tie under control.
Jack Wilshere’s excellent pass found Nicklas Bendtner on the left and he cut inside Carlos Edwards after 61 minutes before placing a right-footed shot into the far corner of the net. The tempo as much as the talent was taking its toll of Ipswich. Three minutes later, the goalkeeper could not deal with an Arshavin corner and the centre-half Laurent Koscielny headed home
If that sort of method is not usually associated with Arsenal, it will please Wenger to know that his men had come up with a way of getting ahead of an intrepid Ipswich.