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Arsenal v Ipswich: The Tactical Preview

Will Cesc Fabregas be able to break down Ipswich Town?
Will Cesc Fabregas be able to break down Ipswich Town?

Arsenal face Ipswich on Tuesday needing to overcome a one goal deficit, and, to win in normal time, win by two goals. In the first leg, Ipswich defended extremely well, and Arsenal will have to overcome a resistant side looking to make it to Wembley for the first time in 30 years. 

What was remarkable about Ipswich from the first leg was their resilient defending. They played a 4-5-1, with striker Connor Wickham, an Arsenal target, on the left, but dropped deep, playing banks of 4 and 5 and Tamas Priskin up front to hit long balls to counter Arsenal. They let Arsenal keep possession, with the Gunners having 80% of the ball.

This is reminiscent of Inter Milan's performance against Barcelona in the second leg of last year's Champions League semi-final, where Barcelona had 86% of possession and were facing 10 men. Ipswich are not as good a defensive unit as Inter Milan, but with similar concepts, they were able to close space for Arsenal to attack once they reached the 18 yard line. For all of Arsenal's possession, they only forced the goalkeeper to make 2 saves. 

They will likely play the same system on Tuesday, with manager Paul Jewell saying as much:

"But if we repeat our first leg performance we can get a result."

"We know we're up against it but we don't have to win it," said Jewell.

That will mean 4 deep defenders and 5 deep midfielders, with Wickham on the left tracking back and using his physicality to put off whoever Arsenal have on the right; either Theo Walcott and Emmanuel Eboue, or Theo Walcott and Bacary Sagna.They will defend deep and narrow, protecting the 18 yard box, and forcing Arsenal to go wide, something that doesn't suit the way they play. With the midfield and attack accounted for by Ipswich, the full backs ability to get forward and provide width and crosses will be important, but only if they can get back as well. Ipswich are quite happy to hit it long and put Laurent Koscielny and Johan Djourou under pressure, and in the past, Arsenal have shown themselves to be weak on the long ball. 

Arsenal's main problem two weeks ago was a lack of fluidity; Fabregas had an extremely poor game because he had no one to play one-twos with and make darting runs into the box, and because the pitch at Portman Road wasn't the most conducive to passing. At home at the Emirates, though and with likely a stronger team tomorrow, with perhaps Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie and Marouane Chamakh up front will provide more of a threat, and give Arsenal a better chance to break Ipswich down. The biggest threat Arsenal can have are players making runs past their markers and in different zones, creating confusion, and running between the lines. It's how Barcelona eventually broke down Inter Milan, and it's how most defensively oriented teams finally break down. Another important aspect for Arsenal's attack will be the ability of Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri (providing they play) to dribble past opposing defenders and either shoot or find an unmarked teammate. 

An Arsenal may not change anything for Ipswich tactically; they'll still look to frustrate Arsenal, and either score on a long ball counter attack or hold out for penalites. The second Arsenal goal, if scored, is the key goal; it'll force Ipswich to come out and attack, and let Arsenal pick them off on the counter attack, something which they're extremely adept at doing. However it turns out, it'll be an interesting tactical battle, and, for Arsenal to go through to Wembley, they'll have to break down an Ipswich side who are looking at their last chance of silverware. With Arsenal's superior talent, you'd expect them to win, but Ipswich will not lie down, and Arsenal will have to work hard to pick their way through the likely 4-5 bus that Ipswich will park.