Much like the game against Leeds, I’m in the dark about the football prowess of Arsenal’s opponents in the Carling Cup semi-finals. Add the fact that I haven’t had much time in the last couple of days to even search for highlights involving their games and you get an apologetically ignorant blogger attempting a match preview based on some general observations.
We do have some facts to consider. Ipswich Town are 19th in the Championship table three points above the relegation zone having won 8 and lost 12 of their games in the division. They’ve recently sacked manager Roy Keane, a commendable action in itself, and will face Arsenal in the first leg before new manager Paul Jewell can take charge. They’re also going into this game on the back of a 7-0 drubbing by Chelsea in the FA Cup.
Undoubtedly, Gooners have valid reasons to be confident and demanding.
That said, we must also acknowledge that performances in Cup ties do not always reflect the League form. The two legs of the semi-final will probably be the biggest games of the season for Ipswich (unless they make it to the Final!) and their best shot at glory. I’ll be very surprised if Arsenal don’t come up against a determined and tenacious home side.
Arsene made an interesting point in his pre-match interview – when facing Championship teams, the threat doesn’t come from one or two star players but from the collective.
Normally, we’d expect the technical difference between the Gunners and players from the championship sides to be significant but in such games the smaller teams can make up for that with extra effort and motivation, something they cannot produce week in, week out. In other words, if the Ipswich players play out of their skins and avoid individual mistakes they can put up a genuine challenge.
Nonetheless, Arsenal are favourites and the onus is on the Gunners to back that billing with their performance. The hosts have nothing to lose.
Once again picking the team will be a very difficult job for Le Boss. After this game Arsenal have three games in a week all of which will need a strong team. Moreover, Arsene hasn’t played a full strength side in the Carling Cup for a long, long time and I don’t expect him to change that policy. The key will be to find the right balance between first choice and second string players. One could also say that he has to send out a mix of the in-form players with those who need games to get back to their best.
Arsenal do have a small cushion of having the second leg at home but that should not mean that this game is taken lightly. A poor result here could force Wenger to play a stronger side in that game meaning little chance of rest for the key players.
Szczesny should start in goal but in defence the choices are limited. Due to the injury to Squillaci, either Koscielny or Miquel will have to come in to partner Djourou. The Spaniard might feel entitled to his chance given the club’s League Cup policy, but I’d prefer a strong centre back pairing.
But with Arsene we never know. Since there are three crucial games coming up after this one he might even rest Djourou and partner Koscielny with Miquel. With due respect to both defenders, such a pairing could be suicidal.
In the midfield, I expect to see Rosicky and Denilson retain their places. Wilshere could come in to give Song a breather. Wenger might even start Eastmond but I feel that will affect the defensive balance of the team and the ability to bring the ball out from defence.
Up front there are plenty of options. I’m not sure about the situation with Vela’s loan but this seems like a good game for the Mexican to have a run out. If Vela is on his way, Arshavin should get another game to get his confidence back.
I’d also play Walcott on the right and have Bendtner or Chamakh down the middle. It would be a new combination but with pace on both wings and given the fact that Ipswich will want to make the home leg count, I think this attack should have enough fire-power to give Arsenal the win.
On the bench Arsene could have the likes of Song, Cesc, RvP, and Nasri; all of whom will have a heavy work load from the weekend onwards.
Preferred starting line-up,
Szczesny – Eboue, Djourou, Koscielny, Gibbs – Denilson, Rosicky, Wilshere – Walcott, Bendnter, Vela.
Tactically, I don’t expect this game to be much different from the one against Leeds. Ipswich might use the long ball more often and will probably offer a sterner physical test, but barring another daft mistake at the back I don’t see them scoring.
A clean sheet with a goal or two should be more than enough to make the return leg comfortable. Statutory Warning: The incurable DesiGunner Jinx is known to have an adverse affect on all positive predictions on this blog.
PS: I also wanted to share this wonderful article on Arsespeak with tactical analysis of one of Wenger’s big games at Monaco. They’re running a series of such pieces and I’d recommend it to fans of Le Boss and to those with an interest in the way managers and their thinking evolves.