By Richard Parry at Portman Road
“We had a number of chances," claimed Arsene Wenger after Arsenal’s 1-0 defeat to Ipswich Town, a side ranked 36 places below them in the Football League. The harsh truth is they did not, but many of their starting line-up have – and it’s time the Gunners’ chief admits defeat and shifts the deadwood from the Emirates.
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And they started the match brightly; dispensing the ball freely around the Portman Road turf with typical guile and acute delivery, but as early as the third minute, their shortcomings and weak links began to surface.
Having been humiliated 7-0 by misfiring Chelsea at the weekend, Ipswich, a side who to their credit look to get the ball down and play it, should have been easy pickings for Arsenal – their game plan plays into the Gunners’ hands.
Je ne comprends pas | Wenger perplexed by lacklustre performance
Gunner have to go
What Arsenal didn’t need was to offer a sniff of hope; but as Carlos Edwards’ fizzed cross zipped towards an unthreatened penalty area, Laurent Koscielny’s hopeless attempt at controlling the ball conjured a chorus of ironic cheers. A moment more in-keeping with the dying seconds of an upset, than the opening moments of an inevitability.
Top of the Flops
Koscielny | Player Rating: 4.5
Lapses of concentration went unpunished, as he struggled to deal with Edwards' driven deliveries. Made the ultimate sin by allowing the ball to bounce, but once again Djourou came to the rescue.
Denilson | Player Rating: 5.5
The Brazilian's talents remain dormant. Could have dominated the midfield alongside his captain, but didn't seem to fancy this trip to East Anglia.
Arshavin | Player Rating: 5
Still yet to recapture his best form, the Russian showed glimpses of magic, but not enough to stir what was a largely lacklustre performance. Spurned a decent chance after the interval, in what was a game of few opportunities. Replaced by Vela on 80 minutes.
Bendtner | Player Rating: 5
Quiet first half, largely down to poor support from Walcott and Arshavin. Failed to make any impact in the game. Wenger had seen enough by 68 minutes, and pulled him off for Chamakh.
But the Frenchman was not the only disappointment on Wednesday evening. The rot spread through the spine of the team, as both Denilson and Nicklas Bendtner failed to impress once again. Albeit components of Arsenal’s second-string, neither the Brazilian or the Dane are good enough to play for the Gunners.
Another a player at risk of plummeting down the pecking order is Andrey Arshavin. The Russian offered little for his side, and not only is he a shadow of his former self, his performances are nowhere near the levels of Samir Nasri.
But for Wenger, the biggest concern will have been the degree which Cesc Fabregas was stifled of support in the middle of the park; and while Jack Wilshere offered the Spaniard an outlet, the Arsenal skipper clearly missed the hustle and bustle of Alex Song.
The Cameroonian was introduced in the second half at Wilshere’s expense – the one mistake Wenger made on the night; Denilson should have been hooked. But Song is not a game changer; he is a foundation, needing to be submerged in a match to allow his dominance to help set the tone.
Without a dominating spearhead to their attack, and a flowing midfield to probe Ipswich’s fragile defence, Arsenal were set for a torrid evening.
Mark Kennedy, the former winger of Liverpool, Cardiff, Wolves and Wimbledon, operated in the heart of Ipswich’s side, and while the Irishman lacks the passing finesse of the Arsenal captain, he could certainly feed off a willing frontline.
In Connor Wickham, still a novice despite bubbling hysteria over his talents, and Tamas Priskin – one-time forgotten man – Ipswich had effort in abundance. And the pair wreaked havoc on the Arsenal defence from the offset.
Koscielny was their target, and the Frenchman simply couldn’t rival their dogged determination. And without Johan Djourou, a player repaying his manager’s trust, Arsenal would have been behind sooner than Priskin’s 78th minute matchwinner.
If Bendtner was given over an hour to prove his worth before being replaced by Marouane Chamakh, he most certainly failed. But as Arsenal looked set to leave East Anglia with a draw – a decent result on reflection of the proceedings – they were almost saved, again, by their captain.
Nonetheless, Fabregas fluffed his lines, snuffing a volley over the crossbar from close range. But even Hollywood stars have outtake reels, but unlike the Arsenal skipper, they aren’t punished for them, and neither should he have been.
A game of two halves
Of course, unlike the prior rounds, Arsenal have a second bite at the cherry – the return leg at the Emirates on January 25 – but what happens if they nip their tongues instead? Ipswich weren’t breathtaking, they were just better, and above all, wanted it more.
The Tractor Boys were scraping the morale barrel before kick-off, but after a potentially season-changing result like that, Ipswich offer a sterner test than Wenger first envisaged come kick-off at the Emirates.