A win over visitors from a lower division ought to have met with no more than a nod of recognition for a simple task undertaken competently. The mood at the Emirates was nothing at all like that. It is far too late, with six years gone by since the last trophy, for Arsenal to do anything than revel in a result that sends them to Wembley for a Carling Cup final with Birmingham City or West Ham United.
Ipswich Town, 1-0 winners of the first leg, did much to contribute to the feeling of achievement in the ranks of Arsène Wenger’s side. There are exceptions in players such as Gaël Clichy, Cesc Fábregas and Robin van Persie but this is largely a squad still wondering what success with Arsenal would feel like. That is an asset if it means that they meet Carling Cup games with more than a yawn.
The one gesture towards nonchalance by Wenger was eye-catching. Samir Nasri, the outstanding performer in both Arsenal’s ranks and perhaps those of the entire Premier League, was not involved in this tie until the 85th minute last night but there had been a tell-tale adjustment. While he was on the bench this time, there had been no place for him at all in the earlier game.
The emergency that would have warranted his early introduction at the Emirates never occurred. There is no blame in that regard for Ipswich. They resisted with both steel and calm. Their new manager, Paul Jewell, could have asked for little more from his team. This side had survived 151 minutes of the tie before they were breached at last. Robin van Persie, with half-a-dozen goals in his past three appearances, was stifled in this return leg.
Ipswich were broken entirely at the Emirates only when Andrey Arshavin put Cesc Fábregas through for the third goal in the 77th minute but the team seldom lost the accuracy or, tellingly, the tempo of its passing. The influence of Jack Wilshere’s distribution was also notable and few 19-year-olds can have participated to such an extent over the course of a campaign without looking depleted. He was at work here because his presence matters, particularly when Wenger deemed that it was Nasri who had to be protected.
Any degree of difficulty was increased by early vexation for Arsenal. Gareth McAuley, the visitors’ centre-half, went unpunished by the referee, Mark Halsey, in the 10th minute when the official declined to give a penalty for a shove on Fábregas.
There was a different type of blow to Arsenal when the goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny collided with Bacary Sagna while defending a free-kick. The right-back soon had to be replaced by Emmanuel Eboué. That sort of distraction could not stop Arsenal from mounting attacks but they did not always have the effortless poise of the usual showings at the Emirates.
Ipswich somehow did better for a long time here than most of the Premier League visitors. That, of course, did not mean they were at ease. Since the defeat of Arsenal in the first leg Jewell has enjoyed two wins in the Championship. His side is not remotely comparable to Wenger’s in talent but they had a morale in the tie that would be a match for anyone.
Glaring opportunities were not as common for Arsenal as anticipated. The most tempting before half-time came in the 35th minute as Wilshere found Fábregas but the midfielder’s finish went wide. A mood of contentment remained in the crowd, although the jollity that lay in the news that Manchester United were behind to Blackpool in the Premier League was not to last as Sir Alex Ferguson’s team resolved the problems at Bloomfield Road.
Arsenal fans will still realise that Wenger, in contrast to all other managers in England, retains an interest in four tournaments, from the Carling Cup to the Champions League. That is no accident and he has a splendid collection of footballers, yet there is also a gnawing question about their ruthlessness. It was as pertinent as ever while Ipswich maintained their morale.
Arsenal were still losing a tie that was three-quarters of the way to its conclusion but they did bring it under control in the end. Sheer talent made the difference after 61 minutes. Wilshere’s excellent pass found Nicklas Bendtner on the left and he cut inside Carlos Edwards before placing a right-footed shot into the far corner of the net.
The tempo as much as the talent was taking its toll of Ipswich. Three minutes later the goalkeeper Marton Fulop could not cope with an Arshavin corner and the centre-half Laurent Koscielny headed home. If that sort of method is not usually associated with Arsenal, it will please Wenger to know that his men had come up with a way of polishing off a dauntless Ipswich.
“For us it is the perfect night,” said Wenger. “Our season depends on our performances, our results and our consistency. We do not have to focus on Manchester United or anybody else. We are a team that have taken off a while ago and are consistent now.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010