If Paul Jewell could have one wish four days into his reign as Ipswich Town manager it would surely be that he could reverse his decision last night to sit in the stands, thus missing out on taking the credit for his new club's remarkable win over Arsène Wenger's side in this Carling Cup semi-final first leg.
It was a victory that was richly deserved and means that caretaker manager Ian McParland, who now hands over to Jewell for Saturday's visit to Millwall, leaves with one of the club's best results in recent years. After Sunday's thrashing at the hands of Chelsea in the FA Cup, Jewell must have been fearful of starting off with another crushing defeat: instead his players delivered Ipswich's result of the season.
As for Arsenal it was the second bad result against Championship opposition in the space of five days after Wenger's players only just snatched a draw at home to Leeds United in the FA Cup third round on Saturday. The Arsenal manager described his team as having a "night off" and he was not exaggerating – they deserved to lose by more than the one goal scored by Tamas Priskin.
Wenger's team were poor and nowhere more than in the centre of defence where the calamitous Laurent Koscielny and his defensive partner Johan Djourou served only to emphasise just how desperately Wenger needs a new centre-half in this transfer window. Afterwards the Arsenal manager refused to discuss a potential move for West Ham captain Matthew Upson.
Nevertheless, it would be a brave punt to back Jewell to reprise his Carling Cup semi-final triumph with Wigan Athletic over Arsenal in 2006 and finish the job at the Emirates on 25 January. "I believe we will turn it around," Wenger said, "but we got a good warning." It was not just a warning for this competition but one that stands for the rest of Arsenal's season.
As a club that must beat Barcelona if they are to progress in the Champions League this was not the most encouraging performance for Wenger, who fielded a strong side given the circumstances. From the very start it was obvious that this was to be one of these nights when Arsenal were miles off their game – passes went astray and some performances were simply unacceptable.
The likes of Koscielny, Djourou and Emmanuel Eboué might have bordered on the inept but Andrei Arshavin and Nicklas Bendtner proved why Wenger has placed so little trust in them of late. Neither came close to influencing the game and the only surprise when they were substituted on 68 minutes was that it had not come sooner.
For a manager who chooses to blame just about anyone but his own players, Wenger's criticism of his team was telling. He stopped short of saying that Ipswich deserved to win the match but admitted that "in every department we were below our usual level."
"We had a lot of the ball but didn't make a lot of it," Wenger said. "Ipswich defended with heart and commitment, and we made a defensive mistake. They showed you can have 70 per cent of the ball and lose games. They defended well. We were not sharp, not creative. We had an off night. Every single pass was a problem from the start.
"We rely a lot on our sharp and crisp passing, but that was always a problem. Ipswich won. You have to congratulate them. They did fight for their win."
This was an Arsenal team that included Cesc Fabregas, Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere and for whom Marouane Chamakh and Alex Song were summoned from the bench in the second half. Yet in the first half they struggled to string together a sequence of passes.
But yesterday was Ipswich's night after a poor season that has seen them drop to 19th in the Championship as patience finally ran out with Roy Keane. Under the Irishman, Priskin had been sent on loan, and more recently ignored altogether, but in his first start since 4 December the Hungarian seized his chance.
If anything Priskin should have scored more than the goal that came in the 78th minute. He was not the only player in a blue shirt who caught the eye. The defender Gareth McAuley was excellent and Ipswich's 17-year-old Connor Wickham demonstrated in the first half especially why he is so highly-rated by the some of the biggest clubs in the country.
At his best, Wickham plays like a teenage Wayne Rooney with that same useful ability to shrug off defenders. He too fell out of favour with Keane and has not scored for Ipswich in any competition this season but he went close with a shot before half-time. In a five-man midfield he switched between the left and right wings and looked the part.
If there was a criticism of Ipswich in the first half then it was that they failed to score with Arsenal under the cosh. The Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny came and missed a cross on 31 minutes that put his defence under pressure. Later Priskin beat the Polish goalkeeper with an overhead kick he teed up himself. But he was well offside.
The warning signs were there on 62 minutes when Koscielny tried and failed miserably to control a long ball struck from Jaime Peters in the right-back position that had the Arsenal defence turning. It gave Priskin a run at goal but the Ipswich striker allowed the ball to bounce twice before shaping to hit it, giving time for Djourou to come across and challenge.
In defence Arsenal looked wobbly everywhere apart from Kieran Gibbs at left-back. Szczesny handled the ball outside his area which inexplicably was not penalised by referee Martin Atkinson. The one chance that they did create, when Gibbs landed a cross right into Fabregas' path, the Arsenal captain struck it over with his thigh.
Given that Priskin had proved nervous in front of goal, there was no certainty that he would score when Colin Healy's ball put him through. With Eboué badly out of position and showing little effort to catch Priskin, the striker ran into the left channel and beat Szczesny at his far post.
The Ipswich goalkeeper Marton Fulop made two excellent save from Walcott in the closing stages. Those chances came amid a spell of pressure towards the end but Ipswich held strong and for the 29,146 crowd – even those in the away end – it was not a night that will be forgotten soon.
Ipswich Town (4-5-1): Fulop; Peters, McAulet, Delaney, O'Dea; Edwards, Norris, Kennedy, Healy, Wickham; Priskin (Murray, 90). Substitutes not used Lee-Barrett, Smith, Eastman, Civelli, Thompson-Lambe, Hourihane.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Eboue, Djourou, Koscielny, Gibbs; Denilson, Wilshere (Song, 68); Walcott, Fabregas, Arshavin (Vela, 80); Bendtner (Chamakh, 68). Substitutes not used Ramsey, Eastmond, Miquel, Shea (gk).
Man of the match Wickham.
Match rating 7/10.
Referee M Atkinson (Leeds).
Attendance 29,146.Reuse content