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Byline: jOHN CROSS

ARSENE WENGER claimed last season the Carling Cup did not merit an opentop bus parade. Someone forgot to tell that to the Arsenal fans at the final whistle last night as Arsenal stayed on course for their first piece of silverware since 2005.

They celebrated wildly as if they had won a Premier League and Champions League double, never mind the Carling Cup.

After last season's exit at Manchester City, Wenger dismissed it as a trophy not worth parading and a competition for his younger players.

Reaching the Champions League year after year is one thing, but there is still nothing like holding aloft some silverware.

It is 13 long years since Arsenal have been to Wembley for a cup final. Next month's showpiece cannot come a moment too soon. Typically, Arsenal did not do it the easy way as Championship strugglers Ipswich pushed them all the way.

Yet once Nicklas Bendtner made the breakthrough on the hour, there was no way back. Laurent Koscielny grabbed a second three minutes later and, fittingly, Cesc Fabregas clinched their place in the final in the 77th minute.

Fabregas ran to the crowd, joy etched across his face. It showed how much the Carling Cup means to the players, fans and maybe now even the manager.

Arsenal fans used to only get excited by Premier League titles, going unbeaten for the whole season or Doubles.

Beggars can't be choosers but, more than that, the Carling Cup may just be the springboard for a new sustained spell of success.

It may just give Arsenal the winning mentality they have been lacking over the past six years. Maybe it was that tension that caused Arsenal some semifinal hiccups - but that does not do justice to Ipswich's sterling efforts.

Spurred on by Fabregas's bitter long-ball 'rugby' jibes after the first leg, Ipswich put up one hell of a fight last night.

If they play like this for the rest of the season, Paul Jewell will quickly lead his team away from danger.

Arsenal, fielding a near full-strength team, were put out of their stride when Bacary Sagna went off with concussion and Ipswich grew in confidence despite being under constant pressure.

Bendtner's cross set up Robin van Persie at the far post only for the Dutch forward to head against the bar in the 23rd minute.

Jack Wilshere pulled the strings in the 34th minute as his brilliant vision released Fabregas only for the Arsenal captain to drag his shot wide.

Wilshere finally unlocked the Ipswich defence on the hour mark when his pass sent Bendtner away on the left. The giant Dane cut inside full-back Carlos Edwards and curled a low shot into the far corner.

That opened the floodgates. Andrey Arshavin, who once again frustrated as he went AWOL for long periods, sent over a corner and Koscielny powered home a header at the near post.

Arshavin's through-ball then released Fabregas who went racing clear to fire past Fulop before joining the Arsenal fans in celebration.

After one of the best and loudest nights at the Emirates so far, no-one should also underestimate what winning a trophy - even the Carling Cup - means to Arsenal fans.

ARSENAL: Szczesny 6, Sagna 6 (Eboue 18, 6), Koscielny 7, Djourou 6, Clichy 7, Denilson 5, Wilshere 8, Fabregas 7, Bendtner 7, Arshavin 5, van Persie 6.

IPSWICH: Fulop 6, Edwards 6, Delaney 7, McAuley 7, O'Dea 7, Leadbitter 7, Norris 6, Healy 6 (O'Connor 74), Kennedy 7, Wickham 6, Priskin 7 (Scotland, 57, 6).

Ref: Mark Halsey ATT: 59,387


GUNNER GET GOING Bendtner celebrates his Arsenal opener IN CONTROL Koscielny after the second goal
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 26, 2011
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