Arsenal wary of Paul Jewell’s Ipswich and memories of 2006
Arsenal v Ipswich Town, Carling Cup semi-final second leg, Emirates Stadium, Tonight, 7.45pm (Live on BBC2)
ONE would hope that any complacency Arsenal felt about their Carling Cup semi-final with Ipswich was blown away by the first-leg defeat at Portman Road.
However, for those players and supporters who still feel that all the Gunners have to do is turn up at the Emirates tonight to book their place at Wembley, the sight of Paul Jewell in the opposition dugout should serve as a warning.
It is almost five years to the day since Jewell brought his Wigan side to Highbury in the semi-finals of the same competition, and also holding a 1-0 lead from the first leg.
As was his custom back then, Arsene Wenger had rested most of his first team for that first-leg defeat, but he brought back the big guns for the return to hopefully ensure a passage to the final in Cardiff.
Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry made rare Carling Cup starts, as did Sol Campbell, Lauren, Alexander Hleb, Gilberto Silva and Jose Antonio Reyes.
All looked well when Henry wiped out the first-leg deficit midway through the second half, but Arsenal could not find a winner in normal time, despite the introduction of Robert Pires and Robin van Persie from the bench.
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When Van Persie slammed in an extra-time free-kick it seemed that Arsenal had finally done enough to secure a 2-1 aggregate win. But, in the very last minute of extra-time, Jason Roberts chased down a long goal-kick that bounced beyond Sol Campbell and fired low past a despairing Manuel Almunia. Wigan were through to the final on away goals.
Arsenal were stunned, and for Wigan and Jewell it was a first ever appearance in a major cup final, even if their fairytale did end emphatically with a 4-0 defeat to a Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired Manchester United at the Millennium Stadium a month later.
By then Arsenal had got the defeat out of their system – a 1-0 win over Real Madrid in the Bernabeu seemed a little more important than the Carling Cup, and three months later Arsenal were heading to Paris to meet Barcelona in the Champions League final. The defeat to Wigan was forgotten, even when Arsenal returned from the Stade de France with only runners-up medals.
Still, it mattered not to Arsenal fans. The FA Cup had been won in 2005, the Premier League title in 2004, and the next trophy was surely only just around the corner…
Now, five years on from that exit to Wigan, a place in the Carling Cup final and the chance of a trophy has become rather important for Arsenal and, even more surprisingly to Wenger himself.
For Jewell, newly-installed as the Tractor Boys boss the day after last week’s first-leg win, Championship survival is the priority.
His new side recorded a much needed league victory on Saturday, beating Doncaster Rovers 3-2 with a late wonder goal from Carlos Edwards toease them away from the drop zone.
But guiding Town to a first Wembley appearance since Bobby Robson’s side famously defeated Arsenal 1-0 in the 1978 FA Cup final cannot be viewed as an inconvenience.
Ipswich defender Damien Delaney has admitted his side will ‘park the bus’ and try to frustrate the Gunners tonight, which is just what Jewell’s Wigan side did in 2006.
And in Priskin and the explosive 17-year-old Connor Wickham, the Tractor Boys will pose enough of a threat on the break to an Arsenal side for whom a clean sheet will be a necessity.
The away goals rule only comes into effect after extra-time tonight, but Ipswich will know that if they can nick a goal, Arsenal will need to score three to go through.
That, and the presence of Jewell, should be more than enough to dissipate the air of complacency around this tie.
Back in 2006 not reaching the final was viewed as a minor inconvenience. Five years on it will be a major embarrassment, and could prolong that wait for silverware for yet another season.