Bendtner settles Arsenal nerves to bring elusive trophy one step closer
Arsenal 3 Ipswich Town 0 (Arsenal win 3-1 on aggregate)
Wednesday 26 January 2011
It may only be the Carling Cup final but for Arsène Wenger's young Arsenal team a first final at the new Wembley Stadium was greeted last night with the kind of anticipation that you might expect of a club whose recent history has been conspicuously lacking in trophies.
Having finally seen off the courageous resistance of Ipswich, Wenger's team even seemed to be thinking about a lap of honour as they lingered on the pitch to take the applause of their fans. The last time the Arsenal bus drove into Wembley for a final, the stadium still had two towers.
The 2005 FA Cup was Arsenal's last trophy and only two of the current squad were involved then. The wait for the next one has been long and painful. The recent successes of Chelsea and Manchester United in the Premier League have come on the back of breakthrough victories in the Carling Cup, in 2005 and 2006 respectively and many Arsenal fans hope that a win on 27 February would have a similar effect on their team.
As for Wenger, winning the Carling Cup has not always been a priority. His side lost in the final in 2007 and in December 2009 he said that he did not "consider that if you win the Carling Cup we parade around and say we have won the trophy". Wenger said then that he saw the old competition as a chance to develop his young players. Last night he seemed to have changed his tune.
"I believe it is more difficult to get in the top four [of the Premier League] but I get so many questions in every press conference that I have to say 'OK we try to win every game we can'. On the other hand I believe it could take more pressure off the team to deliver. It is not the only target, we have even bigger targets, but it can help us to achieve the other targets."
Birmingham City and West Ham play tonight for the place in the final against Arsenal, although it is hard to see past Wenger's side for this trophy. To lose it now, having invested so much in this run to the final, would simply be careless when the trophy is there for the taking.
It took Arsenal an hour to break down the resistance of Paul Jewell's team but when they finally did so it was with a breathtaking goal. Nicklas Bendtner did little else in the game but for the few seconds that he took Jack Wilshere's ball into his stride, stepped inside the midfielder Carlos Edwards and picked his spot in the far corner, he looked like the player he has always claimed to be.
Jewell said that his side were not "disgraced". "We have given a brilliant team a run for their money," he said. "We knew we were up against it. Usually I hate it when you lose and people pat you on the head and say 'Well done' but the players were great. We just lacked that belief. But I have to give the players credit."
It was supposed to be a stroll for Arsenal with a little bit of spice in the tie thanks to Cesc Fabregas' outspoken criticism of Ipswich's tactics in the first leg although it did not start that way. "1-0 to the rugby team" was the chant that came from the away fans and they had more reason to jeer the Arsenal captain early in the first half.
Fabregas' dive in the Ipswich area on 11 minutes under the challenge of Darren O'Dea was half-hearted at best and he knew it. So much so that he did not really bother to appeal for a penalty. That rather set the tone for Arsenal's forlorn attempts to claw back the one-goal deficit in the first half which were notably underwhelming.
The best effort of the first half was Robin van Persie's header from Bendtner's cross that struck the bar. Otherwise Ipswich's 4-1-4-1 system – with Mark Kennedy effective in front of the back four and the centre-halves excellent – worked very well. On 34 minutes, Wilshere picked out his captain with a nice chip that Fabregas drew into his stride and struck wide. The tension mounted.
There was misfortune in the clash between Wojciech Szczesny and Bacary Sagna which resulted in the right-back having to be replaced by Emmanuel Eboué within the first 20 minutes. Moments like those suggested that it could be one of those blighted nights for Arsenal when nothing goes right.
By the time his team finally cracked open their humble opposition, Wenger had begun to get twitchy. Samir Nasri and Theo Walcott had spent half-time warming up and it was surely only a matter of minutes before they were unleashed when, at last, the breakthrough arrived.
It was Bendtner who led the way with a superb finish that calmed the nerves of Arsenal immediately. Within three minutes they had scored again. This time it was Ipswich who were at fault. From Andrei Arshavin's corner from the left Laurent Koscielny, completely unmarked, beat goalkeeper Marton Fulop to the ball and headed in unchallenged.
Stretched and tired they conceded a third with 13 minutes left. Kennedy gave the ball away deep in Arsenal's half and within seconds Fabregas was bearing down on Fulop's goal. He and Arshavin had cut Ipswich apart and when the captain found himself yards from goal with the ball at his feet there was no danger of him letting Ipswich off the hook.
Fabregas played in a World Cup final just six months ago but come the end of next month he has the chance to hoist his first trophy as Arsenal captain. Just the Carling Cup? It will not feel that way when the Arsenal support reaches new Wembley. And if things go to plan it will not be the last time they visit that stadium this season.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Sagna (Eboué, 18), Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy; Wilshere, Denilson; Bendtner, Fabregas, Arshavin (Walcott, 83); Van Persie (Nasri, 83). Substitutes not used Song, Gibbs, Chamakh, Shea (gk).
Ipswich (4-1-4-1): Fulop; Edwards, McAuley, Delaney, O'Dea; Kennedy; Norris, Leadbitter, Healy (O'Connor, 74), Wickham; Priskin (Scotland, 63). Substitutes not used Peters, Lee-Barrett (gk), Hyam, Smith, Civelli.
Referee M Halsey (Lancashire)
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