Captain Fabregas leads from the front as Arsenal secure final berth
(Arsenal win 3-1 on aggregate)
Published 26/01/2011 | 05:00
The game ended to the sound of Arsenal fans chanting "ole" and a Spanish matador, Cesc Fabregas, was at the heart of all things good but the hosts had to endure a tense hour first.
Ipswich Town, lent magnificent support by their 9,000 fans, made Arsenal sweat long and hard before booking their place in the final at Wembley on February 27.
For an hour, Ipswich had defended valiantly, the likes of Gareth McAuley and Damien Delaney standing tall and defiant in front of Marton Fulop, the visitors' keeper who made some important saves. But class will out.
Goals from Nicklas Bendtner, Laurent Koscielny and then a fine, deserved finish from the excellent Fabregas set up a final against either Birmingham City or West Ham.
The north London derby will have to be rearranged as a result of Arsenal's progress. For all Arsenal's understandable joy, last night's events at Bloomfield Road will have tempered Arsene Wenger's side's Premier League ambitions.
For Ipswich, vanquished so close to Wembley, there will always be the memory of how they worried Arsenal for so long.
It was mainly one-way traffic in the first half. As the game unfolded, Bendtner set up Fabregas, whose effort was saved by the busy Fulop.
There was no let-up. Bendtner was frequently involved, lifting over a cross that cleared Fulop and was met by Robin Van Persie. He rose determinedly, connecting powerfully with the ball but his header thudded against the bar.
Arsenal lost Bacary Sagna, who collided painfully with Wojciech Szczesny. He was replaced by Emmanuel Eboue.
Fabregas was soon sent through by Wilshere, a magnificent pass down the inside-left channel. Fabregas' first touch teed the ball up but his second sent it wide.
Wilshere and Fabregas combined again, setting up Bendtner, whose shot was saved by Fulop. The half finished with Van Persie racing through the middle stopped only by a magnificent challenge from Darren O'Dea.
Frustration began to seep through red veins. Andrey Arshavin was disappointing and the game appeared to be crying out for Theo Walcott's pace or Samir Nasri's ability to unlock even the most obdurate of defences.
Still Arsenal pressed. Fabregas and Arshavin linked up on the left but O'Dea was equal to the challenge. When Van Persie curled over another corner just before the hour mark, Fulop came commandingly off his line, claiming the ball.
Ipswich stood firm. Until Bendtner came calling, this was a rearguard display of which Terry Butcher would have been proud.
But the pressure had to tell. Just had to. There is so much class in this Arsenal side and Ipswich could not hold out forever.
One slip in concentration would let the Premier League side through.
Just after the hour mark, Arsenal made the tie level on aggregate and it came when Carlos Edwards dozed for a split-second. Bendtner had just collected the ball from Wilshere fractionally outside Ipswich's box.
Cutting inside Edwards, who was caught out far too easily, Bendtner bent the ball around McAuley and Fulop and in. Occasionally criticised for failing to live up to his self-proclaimed billing as one of the world's best strikers, Bendtner was lauded by the home fans as he slid across the pristine turf in celebration.
Arsenal sensed that Ipswich were tiring and went for the jugular. When Arshavin drilled in a corner, many within the Emirates expected Fulop to emerge from his lair and intercept the ball. The 'keeper hesitated and Koscielny pounced, powering a header into the empty net.
Arsenal saved their best until last. Denilson, patrolling central midfield, swept the ball forward to Fabregas, who exchanged passes with Arshavin and darted into Fulop's box. His finish was both emphatic and elegant, placed expertly past Fulop.
Ipswich vainfully searched for a way back but the sight of Walcott and Nasri rising from the bench must have sent their spirits sinking further. (© Daily Telegraph, London)