Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Hull City 0 Arsenal 3

Prior to the match, this game was referred to as the dress rehearsal of the FA Cup final. However, the two sides had their different targets, going into this league game. The hosts were not entirely safe from relegation, hoping another win would take them to the safety, while the visitors were looking to extend their lead to four points over their closest top-four finish rivals before Everton's game against Manchester United kicked off. They say that Cup finals were totally different from league encounters, but Arsenal's convincing win must have given them a psychological edge for the May date with the Tigers.

Arsene Wenger made 3 changes from the side that started in a 3-1 victory over West Ham on Tuesday night. Fit-again Nacho Monreal replaced a makeshift left-back Thamas Vermaelen, who picked up a late "minor" (we will see how this "minor" turns out) hamstring problem. We acknowledge that Monreal is a specialist left-back, but in the hindsight, as Hull used so many crosses and also due to the physical nature of the first half an hour of the game, Vermaelen might have been a better choice, should he have been available (a thought for the FA Cup final team selection). Aaron Ramsey made his first league start in nearly 4 months in place of Kim Källström. Mesut Özil's return was the major talking point prior to the game. He was widely expected to start from the bench, but Wenger opted to start the German playmaker. As a result, Tomas Rosicky dropped to bench. In central midfield, we expected Mathieu Flamini to start alongside Ramsey as the French midfielder would be fresh after missing out on 2 games through suspension. However, Mikel Arteta kept his place despite the fact that the 31-year-old have played 210 minutes of football in the last 8 days. The Ox was again left on the bench.

Hull started brightly, putting the visitors on the back foot for some while, but Arsenal started to find their passing game as they gained more ball possession. Overall, Arsenal were more clinical in the final third and that decided the result. The stats speak volumes for that, with Hull registering 13 shots in total against our 12, 4 shots on target in comparison with Arsenal's 6. Both sides hit the woodwork once. Steve Bruce regretted the referee's decision to not award them a free-kick when Arteta seemingly tripped Jelavic, but replays indicated there was little or no contact between the two players as Arteta strove to stop himself running into the back of Jelavic. The fact which received less attention was that Arsenal had two legitimate penalty claims. Özil's foot was swept away by Elmohamady in the early stages of the first half, while the Ox was clipped in the box.

The game saw three great team goals and a clean sheet with crucial three points away from home. It couldn't have been better in terms of the result. As Wenger pointed out in his post-match conference, the return of Ozil and Ramsey gave us a cutting edge in the final third and made a difference to our recent performances away from home which have often been described as toothless. Arsenal's away stats have been dismal since the Liverpool game in February with 16 goals conceded and a mere 3 goals scored in all competition. It is encouraging that the team started scoring goals away from home, while they kept a clean sheet for the first time since a 1-0 win at White Hart Lane.

Following the match, so many people asked the same question: what if Aaron Ramsey had stayed fit all season? We have to be positive. With 3 league games and a Cup final left, the Welshman may still have the say in this season's Young Player of the Year award and more importantly, will play a crucial role in the Gunners' top-four finish aspirations and their quest for silverware.

Since a penalty win over Wigan in the FA Cup semi-final, Arsenal have been building up their confidence gradually. The return of Özil to fitness and Ramsey to his best, combined with Poldi's newly found form, have lifted the whole team and instilled much-needed self-belief. We are convinced that Arsenal has turned the corner and will push on for a top-four finish to the end of the season. Unfortunately, the lead over Everton was closed again within 2 hours as the Merseyside club beat a lacklustre Manchester United 2-0, but our fate is still in our own hands. If we can reproduce this day's performance for 3 more times this season, we should be able to claim another season of Champions League football.

Players ratings

Szczesny: 7
Solid, especially when Arsenal were under pressure early in the game. Made some good saves and handled crosses very well.

Sagna: 7
Strong in defence and helped attack.

Mertesacker: 7
Solid defensive display. Unlucky not to score from Santi's free-kick with a header which flew just over the bar. After receiving an early yellow card, he disciplined himself well.

Koscielny: 7
Made 5 interceptions and 14 clearances.

Monreal: 7
Looked a bit insecure in the early stages of the game when Arsenal were on the back foot, but settled into the game. Joined in the attack more often in the second half and got involved in the build-up leading to Arsenal's third goal.

Areta: 7
Coped with physical battles well despite losing a front teeth.

Ramsey: 9
He was at the heart of everything good Arsenal did. Had 104 touches, 4 shots in total, 3 of which were on target, made 77 passes with a 87% success rate and 2 key passes. He also covered more distance (a whopping 12.76 km) than anybody else on the pitch. Scored an opener after a great run through midfield into the box and with a composed finish. Had a hand in both Poldi's goals. He provided an assist for Poldi's first after chesting Giroud's cross into the path of Poldi and fired a first-time shot which Harper saved well but could only present Poldi with a simple finish, leading to Poldi's second. We didn't expect him to rediscover his early-season form on his just second start. Deserved Barclays' Man of the Match. Great to have him back.

Cazorla: 8
Provided an assist for Ramsey's opener with an inch-perfect pass into Ramsey's path. Created 4 chances. His passing was as incisive as ever, but his defensive contribution has been attracting attention these days. Made 3 tackles, but often he gave away the ball after he had made such an effort to win the ball back. Apparently, he was an Arsenal player who benefited most from the return of Ramsey as the duo found each other 35 times in this game, the highest number of passes between two players on the pitch.

Özil: 7
His stats didn't look great, but his influence was obvious in this game. Arsenal's midfield have been criticised for the lack of mobility, but his incisive movements and passing created spaces for himself and his team-mates to exploit.

Podolski: 8
Scored two good goals that highlighted his ability as a deadly finisher. Had 3 shots, all of which were on target. He may have started the game as a left winger, but he ended the game as a centre forward before he was replaced by Sanogo in the 84th minute. It doesn't matter where he plays as long as he gets into great positions to shoot. Also, he won as many (3) aerial duels as Giroud did. 4 goals from the last 2 games. Great to see him hit such a great form.

Giroud: 7
Held up the ball well, while his link-up play with the midfield was also good. Unlucky not to score when he took the advantage of Harper's mistake. Did well to take a shot from an acute angle, which unfortunately hit the underside of the crossbar.


Flamni: 7
Replaced Özil in the 61st minute to see out a comfortable 3-0 victory.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7
Came on for Giroud in the 73rd minute. Lively and caused the Hull defence all sorts of problems. Should have had a penalty.

Sanogo: 6
Replaced Poldi in the 84th minute. Little impact.

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