Languishing in the League and crushed in the FA Cup, Ipswich Town face Arsenal in a Carling Cup Semi-Final showdown, and a win over the Gunners may give the Blues one last shot at glory.
With Roy Keane fired from the hot-seat last week, Paul Jewell was the man wanted by Marcus Evans and Simon Clegg to take over the reins at Ipswich. The new sheriff takes a back seat for this encounter however as deputy Ian ‘Charlie’ McParland tries to get Town firing again on the football field. Sunday’s 7-0 battering by Chelsea has left the Blues severely wounded, but with the Carling Cup still offering them something to fight for, tonight’s showdown in front of the TV cameras and the first sell-out crowd at Portman Road since 2003 could offer Town the perfect stage for a classic cupset.
Rolling into Town however come Arsenal, and the Gunners will be keen to shoot Ipswich down quickly. A ‘Tin Cup’ this might seem for big guns like them, but beggars can’t be choosers, and having failed to take any silverware since 2005, boss Arsene Wenger cannot afford to let this bounty slip through his fingers when his posse are such overwhelming favourites. The kids have got them this far, but it may be the more streetwise bandits that are charged with bringing home the loot this time.
A trip to the big city awaits whatever the outcome tonight, but Charlie’s boys will most likely need a lead under their belts before they ride off to the Emirates in two weeks’ time. Home advantage could well be key in this duel, so if the Blues can come out all guns blazing, there may well be a big reward to come.
Ipswich v Arsenal is live on Sky Sports 1 & HD1 from 19:30. Live commentary is also available on BBC Radio Five Live from 19:45.
After a whirlwind week at Portman Road, Ipswich Town left-back Mark Kennedy has called for his team-mates to make the most of their chance at cup glory. Even though the Gunners are firm favourites, the former Cardiff defender says that the Blues have come a long way in this competition and should not simply treat their big match tonight as a ‘fun day out’.
Kennedy told the local press: ‘This is a massive game, the semi-final of a cup, and it’s a chance to play in a cup final, which some players never have.
‘The lads are there by merit, they are not there by luck. We haven’t had the greatest season in the world, but in the cup we have earned the right to play against Arsenal, and on TV.
‘I have to say again, this is not a fun day out. Arsenal are coming to Town, it’s the semi-final of a cup, so it’s an incredibly serious game of football.’
Ipswich are taking it seriously, but so is Arsene Wenger. The Arsenal boss hopes that Saturday’s draw in the FA Cup against Championship side Leeds United will have warned his players of the dangers of losing focus against Town.
‘We will certainly be on our toes going to Ipswich,’ Wenger told the Arsenal Official Website. ‘That game [against Leeds] has shown that against a Championship team we must be completely up for it and focused from the first minute if we don’t want to be surprised. We have been warned.’
Hopefully Ipswich will also have learned from their FA Cup experience, even if it hurts to think about it!
Ipswich Town Team News:
Things don’t get any easier for Ian McParland’s Ipswich with more injury concerns ahead of the semi-final against Arsenal. Striker Jason Scotland is the latest to emerge as a doubt for the tie with a calf injury, meaning that the Blues could be forced to play Connor Wickham and Tamas Priskin up front with Rory Fallon cup-tied. McParland has revealed that defender Troy Brown is also a major doubt having picked up a tight hamstring, perhaps bringing Damien Delaney or Tommy Smith back into the starting lineup. If the pair are not fit, they will join a growing list of absentees, with Grant Leadbitter serving the second game of his suspension, Jake Livermore cup-tied and Shane O’Connor, Luke Hyam, Brian Murphy and Alan Quinn all sidelined with injuries.
Player to watch: Tamas Priskin
Most eyes – including those of Arsenal – will probably be on Connor Wickham with the ongoing transfer storyline surrounding him, but with some underwhelming performances from the youngster lately, perhaps the focus should be on another striker. The injury to Jason Scotland could well be the catalyst for Tamas Priskin to make his return to the Ipswich starting lineup after being somewhat frozen out by Roy Keane. Priskin came off the bench to a surprisingly cheerful reception at Stamford Bridge, and the Hungarian striker will be hoping to be involved from the very beginning against the Gunners in the Carling Cup. There is good reason too – the former Watford frontman netted in both the 3rd and 4th Rounds of this competition, and having not scored since early November, maybe this will be his chance to shine again.
Arsenal Team News:
Whether Arsenal will look to play a full-strength squad for the match at Ipswich is doubftful, but they could be forced to play a makeshift defence with several notable absentees from the back line. Thomas Vermaelen is a long-term absentee while Sebastien Squillaci is the latest casualty having suffered a hamstring injury on Saturday. Bacary Sagna is also out following his sending off against Manchester City last week. Goalkeeper Manuel Almunia remains out with an ankle problem while Abou Diaby is also sidelined through injury.
Player to watch: Nicklas Bendtner
If Arsenal go for their usual ‘Carling Cup team’ at Portman Road, it may not be the likes of Cesc Fabregas or Samir Nasri that Town will need to be worried about. Instead, the goal threat for Arsenal may come from Nicklas Bendtner. The 22-year-old is not exactly a fans’ favourite at the Emirates, but he has proven to be the kind of young player that Arsene Wenger has relied upon in this competition. Striker Bendtner has played his part again in the Gunners’ run to the semi-finals, scoring in the last two rounds against Newcastle United and Wigan. The Denmark international last netted against the Latics a fortnight ago, and will likely be keen on increasing his tally at Portman Road. He ain’t the best, but he might well be good enough to beat us…
PREM – (1st) Arsenal 2-0 Ipswich (18th)
21 April 2002
Arsenal: Ljungberg 68, 78
Arsenal: Seaman, Lauren, Keown, Adams, Cole, Ljungberg, Parlour, Vieira, Edu (Kanu 56), Henry, Bergkamp (Grimandi 76).
Ipswich: Marshall, Bramble, McGreal, Hreidarsson, Clapham, George (Peralta 50), Holland, T Miller, Reuser (Ambrose 85), Stewart, M Bent (Armstrong 85).
Who’d have thought we’d get this far? Town’s magical ride to the Carling Cup semi-finals has been a joy to watch and a welcome distraction from another dreary league campaign, albeit one that perhaps we can no longer afford to pursue. Having never reached a League Cup final however, this two-legged tie becomes so significant for Town that the FA Cup tie at Chelsea was just a warmup by comparison. Sunday’s debacle will be difficult to shake off though, if not for the players then at least for the fans!
I would have been more confident had Paul Jewell taken over in time to make his mark on this game, but instead, it’s poor Charlie who finds himself lumped with the responsibility once again. How much difference that might make is hard to say, but one can’t help but wonder whether Evans and Clegg should’ve given Keano this one last hurrah having got the boys this far. But then again, perhaps our Carling Cup dreams have to be the sacrifice if we are to come back from the brink in the league.
Play as submissively as we did against Chelsea and this two-legged tie will all be over before it’s even a quarter of the way through. I’d like to think however that the start of a new era under Jewell might inspire the boys to give this one a real go; not only for a potential shot at Wembley, but also for their futures as Ipswich Town players. Arsenal really do need this trophy though to satisfy their silverware-starved supporters, and if they were too good for Chelsea a couple of weeks ago, it doesn’t bode well for us…
Prediction: It wouldn’t be Ipswich if they didn’t get our hopes up first. Ipswich 1-1 Arsenal.