By Richard Clarke
Arsenal will have to overturn a 1-0 deficit against Ipswich at Emirates Stadium on January 25 in order to reach the Carling Cup Final.
The Championship side pulled off a surprise victory in the Semi-Final first leg on Wednesday thanks to a breakaway goal from Tamas Priskin. The Hungarian striker collected Colin Healy’s pass and slotted home 12 minutes from time to send Portman Road into delirium.
In the dying minutes, the home side might have doubled their advantage when Wojciech Szczesny saved from Carlos Edwards.
While far from their best, Arsenal did have chances. Cesc Fabregas sliced over from close-range just before the goal and ‘keeper Martin Fulop made two fine saves from Theo Walcott.
The visitors started and ended the game well but, in between, Ipswich posed the greater danger.
Arsenal’s second-leg task is hardly insurmountable but if the Suffolk side can muster the same effort and endeavour at Emirates Stadium, then Arsene Wenger’s men will have a task on their hands.
It is all set up for a cracker.
As expected, Wenger put out a strong team. In fact, with the exception of Bacary Sagna (suspended), Sebastien Squillaci (hamstring), Robin van Persie, Gael Clichy, Tomas Rosicky, Samir Nasri and Lukasz Fabianski (all rested), it was first-choice squad.
OK, that is half-a-side of omissions but the Carling Cup has been the preserve of squad members and youngsters at Arsenal for the best part of a decade. This season it has been different.
Szczesny kept his place in goal and Nicklas Bendtner was the lone frontman supported by Andrey Arshavin and Walcott. Denilson and Jack Wilshere were the defensive midfielders with Fabregas pushing further forward.
Paul Jewell took the applause of the crowd before kick-off.
On Monday, the ex-Wigan manager had been officially appointed as the successor to Roy Keane. He was not actually taking the team tonight but the sense of change could only help the 'Tractor Boys'.
Not that it appeared to be the case in the opening stages. Ipswich had been beaten 7-0 at Chelsea on Sunday and Arsenal tried to heap on further misery in the early minutes.
The visitors poured forward, particularly via Walcott on the right. However, despite their superiority, they did not create anything of substance. In fact, their the best effort came in the 10th minute when Fabregas set up Denilson to let fly from just outside the area. His drive was blocked.
Jaime Peters responded with a similarly stymied shot and then Priskin fooled Johan Djourou on the left before curling a wicked shot towards the far corner. The effort drifted just wide.
As the half wore on, Arsenal ran out of impetus. As their territorial dominance subsided, Ipswich started to create chances.
On the half-hour, Darren O’Dea returned an Edwards cross into the area for Gareth McAuley to nod over with Szczesny stranded.
In the 39th minute, Connor Wickham showed a flash of his quality by whipping in a delicious cross. Unfortunately for Ipswich, it was just too high for David Norris.
Just before the break, the home side had the ball in the net but Priskin was clearly offside before he crashed a wonderful overhead kick past Szczesny.
In the opening moments of the second half, Fabregas clipped another pass over the Ipswich defence for Arshavin. The ball would not come down for the Russian, who hacked his effort horribly wide.
But Ipswich came roaring back. Wickham outpaced Emmanuel Eboue on the left and Arsenal had to work hard to eventually clear his cross. Then Fabregas gave the ball to Mark Kennedy in the centre circle but Szczesny was alive to his long-range chip.
Fabregas and Bendtner played a one-two on the edge of the area but the Spaniard tried to find Wilshere rather than shoot.
On the hour, Priskin worried Eboue, the final covering defender, into a mistake and went clear for a moment. But the Ivorian recovered to smother his shot sufficient for Szczesny to clear up the danger.
The Hungarian striker had been a thorn in Arsenal’s side all night and, in the 63rd minute, he had his clearest chance to score a legitimate goal. Peters’ long clearance flew over Laurent Koscielny and Priskin went clear. The ball would not settle for the former Watford player and Djourou rushed in to bundle the ball over the bar. However it was a heart-in-mouth moment for Arsenal.
By this time, the game was stretched. It was hardly end-to-end, neither attack was sharp enough for that this evening, however neither midfield had much of a stranglehold either.
Just after Kieran Gibbs cut in and fired wide, Wenger made changes. Marouane Chamakh for Bendtner, Alex Song for Wilshere.
Almost immediately, Arsenal looked brighter. Fabregas stabbed Walcott through on the right of the area and the England winger lifted a goalbound shot over Fulop only for the keeper to thrust out a crucial hand to push the ball behind.
Fifteen minutes from time, Song put Gibbs into space on the left and his cross flew over Chamakh to a surprised Fabregas six yards out. The ball hit the Spaniard’s knee and flew agonisingly over the bar.
It was Arsenal’s best sight of goal all night and so it was kind of ironic that Ipswich scored immediately afterwards.
Healy angled a ball through for Priskin to collect. He managed to hold off Djourou and slid his shot into the far corner.
Portman Road was bouncing. Arsenal were stung.
In the minutes that followed Fulop made stoic saves from a Fabregas drive and Walcott’s dink.
But Ipswich may have stolen a second two minutes from the whistle when an unmarked Edwards raced clear on the right and Szczesny stood up well to repel his shot at the near post.
Arsenal tried to salvage the situation as the seconds ticked away. Now they will have to retrieve this tie at Emirates Stadium.
Referee: Martin Atkinson
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