Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Brighton & HA 2 Arsenal 3 (4th Round of FA Cup)

Arsenal are through to the 5th round of the FA Cup after beating a Championship side, Brighton & Hove Albion 3-2. After a series of shock results on the previous day, nothing is taken for granted. The defeats of Chelsea and Man City by lower-division clubs on Saturday coupled with Man U and Liverpool's struggle against a League 2 and a Championship sides, respectively, served as a stern warning to any complacency. With Tottenham and Southampton also eliminated from the competition by the hands of relegation-battling Premier League teams, Arsenal are the highest-ranked club guaranteed for their place in the 5th round of the FA Cup. We are now one of the strong favourites to win the Cup.

Arsene Wenger rang 7 changes to the side that started in their impressive 2-0 win over the reining Premier League champions a week earlier. Calum Chambers and Kieran Gibbs came in for Hector Bellerin and Per Mertesacker, which meant Nacho Moreal was paired with Laurant Koscielny in the heart of defence with Chambers and Gibbs in the full-back positions. Wojciech Szczesny replaced David Ospina in goal, starting for the first time since the defeat at Southampton on the New Year's Day. In midfield, Mathieu Flamini and Tomas Rosicky replaced the two stand-out players in the previous week's victory, Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla. Theo Walcott and Mesut Özil, who had both just come back from long-term injuries, gained valuable playing time. Cazorla, Alexis, Mertesacker, and Coquelin were on the bench, just in case that the game did not go along the boss' gameplan, while Chuba Akpom occupied one of the the remaining places ahead of Joel Campbell, who were reportedly set to go on loan to Villarreal in a swap deal for in-bound Gabriel Paulista. Prior to the game, Hector Bellerin (ankle) and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (inflamed groin) were major doubts. The former only made the bench, while the latter did not even travel.

We all knew that the defensive game against Man City was a tactical change to Arsene Wenger's football philosophy and his side proved it right. Arsenal came out of the blocks quickly and they took advantage of Brighton's poor defence, taking the lead just in 89 seconds through Walcott's composed finish. Their attack was breath-taking at times, taking the game under control throughout the first half. Özil's first goal since September was the icing on the cake. We were heading for a comfortable late afternoon.

However, in the second half, a series of individual errors led to Brighton's 50th-minute goal. Rosicky's sliced clearance put us under pressure. Chambers did not even try to win the ball, expecting a free-kick to be given for a foul on him. Flamini was not close enough to put off O'Grady. However, Arsenal restored the 2-goal lead 9 minutes later through Rosicky's sublime volley from the edge of the box.

We question the timing of substitutions. OK, Walcott wouldn't have lasted a full 90 minutes. The England forward was physically struggling by his own admission after a 12-month layoff. Arsenal looked to be in control before the double substitutions in Alexis and Akpon, but the changes seemed to have upset the team's focus and it took time for the team to adapt themselves to the changes in personnel. Again, Arsenal's slack defending gave Brighton's chance to get back into the game. Baldock chipped the ball past onrushing Szczesny after slipping through Arsenal's sleeping backline. Brighton rallied, but Wenger brought on Coquelin in place of Özil and the team started to regain stability. Despite the precarious scoreline, we were the side that was more likely to add to the goal tally. Alexis was unlucky not to score from free-kicks, twice denied. Chuba Akpom and Alexis created two good chances on the break. Rosicky's superb lofted pass found Ramsey perfectly in the box, but the Welshman lacked composure and shot it high and wide.

Tomas Rosicky was the star of the show this day. All of our members named him the Man of the Match, except one who picked Nacho Monreal. What's pleasing is that Wenger rested last weekend's man of the match, Santi Cazorla on the bench, but we still produced a very strong attacking performance. Without Santi and Alexis, the starting XI still looked impressive with quality players such as Theo and Özil. With Welbeck still to recover from a thigh problem and the Ox left at home, we have plethora of attacking options. Jose Mourinho rued Chelsea's lack of depth in the squad after his much-changed side had succumbed to an "embarrassing" 4-2 loss to a League 1 outfit Bradford at the Stamford Bridge.

The only weak department in our set up is defence, but this should be rectified soon with the imminent signing of Gabriel Paulista from Villarreal. A section of fans are disappointed with the new addition as the Brazilian centre-back is not a big-name as they hoped. However, it is unlikely that world-class players become available in the January transfer window and what we need is a back-up centre-back in case Per or Kos get injured (which is highly likely in light of Kos' chronic Achilles tendon problem). Capable of playing across the back four, including the left-back despite being right-footed, Paulista's versatility is a strong attraction, considering our injury record.

Chris Hughton complained about their penalty claim turned down, but the prevailing view is that the referee, Michael Oliver made a right decision when he waved off the handball claim. Replays showed that the ball hit Chamber's left arm in the box, but it was a close-range shot and the England defender could not do anything about his arms which were held down. We had a stronger case earlier when Walcott's shot was blocked by a Brighton defender's arm. In any case, it is a trend these days in which fewer handball claims end in penalties. We would also like to point out that the referee turned a blind eye to a string of fouls on Alexis and one of them might have resulted in a sending-off.

Following the impeccable defensive display against Man City, it was disappointing to see the all familiar defensive frailty come back in this game, allowing two goals from only two shots on target Brighton managed. But in a cup competition, all that matters is the result. We are glad to see Arsenal go through after those shock results a day earlier. Now the 5th round tie against Middlesbrough awaits in three weeks' time. Man City have proved us that the Championship title contenders are anything but a pushover. Arsene Wenger will no doubt have examined closely the DVD of their triumph over the the Premier League title holders before the clash. A home tie is an advantage for us, as well, as we have an excellent home record in the recent seasons.

With the victory over Brighton, the Gunners are on a run of 4 consecutive wins in all competitions. It has proved to be a difficult season for us to get some momentum, but now we have hit some form. Hopefully, we can extend our winning streak next weekend by beating Aston Villa at the Emirates.

Players ratings

Szczeny: 6
With Brighton registering only 2 shots on target, he did little to do. Some say that he was not at fault for either of the goals, but surely his rushing out for Brighton's second goal should be questioned. He doesn't possess Ospina's calmness.

Chambers: 6

Set up a goal for Walcott with a perfect cross after a strong run on the right flank, but he was a guilty party in the build-up of Brighton's first goal (perhaps it's part of the learning curve). In the absence of Debuchy, it is likely that he and Bellerin will share the responsibility at the right-back, but Bellerin is a step ahead because of his recovery pace when he has made a mistake.

Koscielny: 7
3 tackles, 7 interceptions and 6 clearances, but looked uncomfortable at times. Perhaps, he misses Mertesacker or the left-sided centre-back position.

Monreal: 7
Another solid performance as a centre-back, growing into the position. 

Gibbs: 7

Made 3 tackles, 3 interceptions, 2 clearances, and 1 key pass.

Flamini: 6

Guilty of Brighton's first goal. Made 2 tackles, 4 interceptions, and 1 clearance. Conquelin seems to have better positional sense and steel.

Ramsey: 7

He made his trade-mark bursting runs and got in great positions, but lacked composure and accuracy in his finishing. That said, he was unlucky not to score when his goal-bound shot was diverted by a Brighton defender. 

Rosicky: 9
Scored a sublime goal and set up another for Özil. His skill set was highly praised across the footballing world. According to Walcott, Rosicky does those "no-look" passes all the time on the training ground. 

Özil: 7
Scored his first goal since September with great composure. Created 3 chances for his team-mate.

Walcott: 7
Had 2 shots, both of which were on target, including the first goal for more than a year. But made a wrong decision when Rosicky was better positioned on his right-hand side and waiting for his pass. He later apologised to the Czech international, though.

Giroud: 7
Provided an assist for Rosicky's goal with an inch-perfect pass. He combined with the midfielders very well. Replaced in the 69th minute by Akpom. His hold-up play was sorely missed when he came off the pitch. 


Alexis: 6
Came in for Walcott in the 69th minute. Had 3 shots of which 1 was on target. Unlucky not to get on the scoresheet.

Akpom: 6
Replaced Giroud in the 69th minute. he brought more directness and counter-attacking threat to the side. His shot from a tight angle forced David Stockdale a fine save.

Coquelin: 7
Came off the bench in the 79th minute to replace Özil and see out the victory.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Manchester City 0 Arsenal 2

Going into the game, Arsenal were underdogs with almost all the pundits and journalists alike giving no chance of the north London club's overcoming the champions on the basis of their poor record against top teams away from home (apart from Glen Hoddle who surprisingly wrote that he fancied Arsenal at least getting a draw). In the last season's corresponding fixture, Manuel Pellegrini's side beat us 6-3, but the final score did not reflect the two sides' performances. We had two legitimate goals disallowed and a strong penalty claim was turned down, while Manchester City were awarded a dubious penalty towards the end. In addition, on the back of Arsenal's strong performance against Stoke City last time out, we were fairly optimistic. In fact, a few of our members were confident of coming away with all three points.

Arsene Wenger made two changes to the side that started in Arsenal's comfortable 3-0 win over Stoke a week earlier. Hector Bellerin replaced Mathieu Debuchy who had undergone a surgery on his dislocated shoulder during the week. As we hoped, Wenger picked the Spanish teenager for the vacant right back spot, which meant Calum Chambers sat on the bench after recovering from the illness that ruled him out of the Stoke game. Aaron Ramsey came in for Tomas Rosicky. David Ospina retained his place in the starting XI. Once again, we had the strong-looking bench with Ozil, Walcott, Rosicky, Flamini, Szczesny and Gibbs all at Arsene Wenger's disposal.

The starting lineup looked similar to the attack-minded set-up against Stoke last weekend. In fact, Arsenal adopted the same 4-1-4-1 formation, but this time around they sat deep in their own half. The most obvious difference from the previous game was Aresne Wenger's approach to the game. It was refreshing to see the Frenchman change his tactics according to the opposition. His gameplan was to deny Man City's attacking players space and attack on the break. We knew this was the way to win away from home against a good offensive side like Man City, but our defensive frailty was the hindrance. We thought we didn't have strong enough defence to fend off the waves of attacks for a full 90 minutes, but Arsene Wenger's side proved us wrong.

As Aaron Ramsey stated in his post-match interview, Arsenal were often too open in these big games, which was the major cause for the heavy defeats to our title rivals last season. The high defensive line with two full-backs bombing forward proved to be suicidal. However, they prepared very well this time. The team executed Arsene Wenger's gameplan with precision. They defended with concentration, commitment and organisation. The team kept their shape compact and never allowed gaps between the two centre-backs or between the back-four and midfield. Our defenders were never exposed. Arsenal's impeccable defensive display stunned everybody, including Manuel Pellegrini who was taken aback by the fact that the Gunners were capable of playing a defensive game. It was a totally different game from Arsenal's brand of possession-based passing football.

Santi Cazorla won all the plaudits and rightly so. His quick transition from defence to attack played a vital role in the success of Wenger's new approach. Another outstanding player was Francis Coquelin who played a defensive enforcer role in front of the back four. Arsenal have been accused of the lack of defensive leaders since the departure of Patrick Vieira or Giberto, but the 24-year-old midfielder was often seen this day sending instructions to his more experienced team-mates and organising defence against set-pieces. Who would have imagined this when he was sent on loan to Charlton in November after unsuccessful loan spells for the last two seasons? It was an incredible turnaround in his career since he was called back from Charlton at the beginning of December.

One of the talking points apart from those two stand-out players' performances was the referee's penalty decision. When we first saw it, we couldn't believe the fact that our bogey referee, Mike Dean, had actually given us a penalty. Some say that it was a soft penalty, while naturally Pellegrini disagreed with the decision. Most of people seemed to have agreed with the decision at the first glance (and that was all that the referee had to base his decision on). Gary Neville blamed Kompany's rustiness for leaving his leg out in Monreal's way.

It was an accomplished performance from the Gunners, but Wenger pointed out that there was still room for improvement. Arsenal's two goals came from set-pieces, but they had chances to score from open play as well. Aaron Ramsey had a great chance, but his left-footed shot flew over the cross bar. Alexis' 20-yard curling shot was palmed away by Joe Hart. If Flamini had crossed in his first touch, Giroud would have had an easy tap-in. Bitter Man City fans say that Arsenal parked the bus, but it was Arsenal who had more clear-cut chances from open play. We played a more open game at the start of the second half and started to look a bit vulnerable but after about 20 minutes regained their discipline. On this day, two goals from set-pieces were enough to claim three points against the champions on the strength of our flawless defensive display, but with more clinical finishing, we could have sealed the victory earlier.

Partly thanks to the two-goal cushion, Arsenal controlled the last 20 minutes of the game very well. It was a very professional display with a textbook approach to run down the clock and see out the victory. Not being able to hold on to the lead had been another criticism this season.

We are obviously delighted with the result as the three points were vital after all the teams around us won earlier this weekend. On top of that, the most pleasing prospect is that the media will stop reminding us that we had not beaten big teams away from home in recent seasons. Hopefully, the team will build on this victory and go on a consistent run of form from now on.

Players ratings

Ospina: 7
He was totally bystander in the first half and only made a couple of saves in the second half, but we like his commanding and calming presence in the box. He is still to be tested (a lot of people said before the match that this would be a stern test based on the scorelines in last season's corresponding fixture and this season's reverse fixture), but there is no reason for Wenger to drop him as he did nothing wrong. Kept his third clean sheet in as many appearances.

Bellerin: 8

Made 2 tackles, 6 interceptions and 7 clearances. Disciplined display.

Mertesacker: 7
Looked solid, but it's worrying that he makes uncharacteristic stray passes and poor clearances at times these days.

Koscielny: 8
Kept Sergio Aguero quiet between him and Per. Despite being shown a yellow card early in the game, he kept the discipline and never looked troubled. In one of few moments Man City looked close to scoring a goal, he made a crucial interception in front of Aguero. 

Monreal: 9
Had a good game. Made 6 tackles, 8 interceptions, and 9 clearances. 
His run into the box after a one-two with Giroud resulted in a successful penalty claim.

Coquelin: 9

Outstanding performance. Mashalled David Silva very well.

Ramsey: 7
Got in great positions going forward, but clearly lacked pace and sharpness. That said, he was instrumental in our midfield solidity, making 5 tackles, 3 interceptions and 2 clearances. Shielded our back-four well alongside Coquelin. He suffered cramp and was replaced by Flamini in the 84th minute.

Cazorla: 10

Got on the scoresheet with a powerful spot-kick into the right-hand bottom corner and set up the second with an perfectly-weighted free kick. He was the difference between the two sides. Thankfully, we had a creative maestro in Santi. His current form is even better than his first season as his defensive contribution is added to his performances now.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7

Worked hard. Replaced by Rosicky in the 66th minute.

Alexis: 7
Not his best game partly due to tight marking by City players. He held the ball too long only to be closed down by a group of Man City players. Replaced by Gibbs in the 84th minute.

Giroud: 8
Held the ball well and won his aerial duels impressively (7 of them). Scored his 7th goal this season. Created 3 chances for his team-mates.


Rosicky: 7
Came in for the Ox in the 66th minute. Had 1 shot which was off target and made 2 interceptions.

Flamini: 6
Replaced Ramsey in the 84th minute. Made a good run and muscled out Clichy into the box but his cross was blocked by Kompany.

Gibbs: 6
Came off the bench to replace Alexis in the 84th minute.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Arsenal 3 Stoke City 0

Arsenal blew away Stoke City in the high-tempo first-half with the help of an early goal from Koscielny. After the comfortable 3-0 win, the Gunners sit fifth in the table, leapfrogging their north London rivals who succumbed to a 2-1 defeat by the hands of Crystal Palace a day earlier.

Arsene Wenger made 4 changes to the side that started in a 2-0 victory over Hull City in the third round of the FA Cup 7 days ago. Mathieu Debuchy and Laurant Koscielny came in for Hector Bellerin, who was dropped to the bench, and Calum Chambers, who missed the game due to illness. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain started in place of Theo Walcott, who started on the bench. After his return from a 3-match suspension, Olivier Giroud replaced Joel Campbell who was also dropped to the bench. Mathieu Flamini, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Özil were all fit again to make the bench.

Against a physical Stoke side, we expected Arsene Wenger to take a similar approach to the one against West Ham, especially now with a fit-again Flamini back in the squad. However, the side he picked against Stoke was quite attack-minded in an almost 4-1-4-1 formation with Rosicky often playing higher up on the pitch.

The biggest talking point prior to the match was who would be picked in goal. Some feared that facing a physical Stoke side on his first league start might be too big a challenge for David Ospina, but Wenger gave the Colombia international another chance after keeping a clean sheet in his last game against Hull.

Another question the media was asking in the run-up to the game was if Arsenal could take revenge on Stoke. The rivalry and animosity between the two clubs has been well documented. Especially, after the humiliating first half of the reverse fixture a month ago, the Gunners needed to make amends for the 3-2 defeat. Although Stoke are one of our bogey teams, our home records are on our side, with 12 wins in a row at the Emirates against the Midland side.  Most pundits, even Jamie Carragher, predicted a home win, but some of the press were still sceptical. In fact, few would have expected such a comfortable win.

The Gunners clearly learnt their lessons from the previous clash with the opposition. They started in a blistering pace and created a series of chances in the opening 5 minutes. Alexis Sanchez and Tomas Rosicky went to close to taking a lead only to be denied by Asmir Begovic's stunning saves, before Arsenal grabbed the lead through Koscielny's powerful header in the 6th minutes. It was all Arsenal, with the Ox and Giroud having goal in their sights, but they fired wide or forced another fine save from Begovic. However, Alexis eventually doubled Arsenal's lead in the 33rd minute after beautifully worked out build-up with Rosicky. The build-up and the goal epitomised the Chilean's qualities: namely tenacity, industry, passion, excellent balance, and technical prowess.

An early second-half goal from Alexis, his 18th of his first season in English football, ensured a victory. After that, we, the supporters, never doubted the three points, but our only concern was keeping a clean sheet. There were even  more positive moments, when Walcott and Özil came on the pitch with warm receptions from the home crowd and us at Doolan's Irish Bar. Who would have thought these two would get run-outs against a physical Stoke side. Both the players were played in on goal, but missed the target.

It was arguably one of our best performances this season. The Gunners were at their fluent best, while the back four looked solid. Although Alexis was obviously the star of the show, the whole team produced a good collective performance. Arsene Wenger's attack-minded approach to the game was spot on, too. In line with his instructions, Arsenal moved the ball quickly to avoid Stoke's close challenges. Nonetheless, it didn't stop Stoke, in particular, Peter Crouch, using their arms. The win against the physical side didn't come at no cost.

Injury to Debuchy overshadowed a great Sunday afternoon. The France right-back only came back last month from a serious ankle injury and the dislocated shoulder could keep him on the sidelines for another lengthy spell. Annoyingly, Marko Arnautovic was not even punished for his needless push on Debuchy. Replays showed that the Stoke midfielder shoved the Frenchman when the ball was already out of play. The FA will not take any action against Arnautovic for his malicious intent to harm a fellow professional as the referee Jon Moss saw the incident and deemed that it was in "a run of play" (he should have another look at the incident in replays). Nacho Monreal also ended up with a cut above the right eye in a clash with Peter Crouch's elbow. The referee did not punish Crouch until 62nd minute.

It was a great win that not only saw us climb the table above Tottenham, but also completed a sweet revenge on Stoke. After all the results earlier, with Tottenham beaten and Swansea and West Ham drawing, we needed all the three points and got the result we wanted. As a result of Southampton's 1-0 victory at Old Trafford, we are now trailing 4th-placed Manchester United by a point. The day's performance made us a little bit more optimistic about Arsenal's trip to the Etihad next weekend.

Players ratings

Ospina: 7
With Stoke registering only 2 shots on target, he had little to do, but did very well towards the end to save Steve Ireland's efforts, which he saw late behind two Arsenal defenders. Two clean sheets in a row was quite encouraging and should boost confidence among the back five. 

Debuchy: 6

Replaced in the 13th minute by Bellerin after being pushed into the hoardings. It is a big blow to lose him again for possibly another long period. You cannot blame Arsenal medical/fitness staff for his two injuries, though.

Mertesacker: 7
Generally solid display, apart from one strange pass/clearance that could have put us in trouble.

Koscielny: 8
Scored his second goal of the season. Surprisingly, Arsenal now have eight headed goals this season. 

Monreal: 8
According to stats-based Whoscored.com, he was the best rated left-back of the Premier League this weekend. He won 4 aerial duels and made 3 tackles, 5 interceptions and 1 key pass. Brave performance after suffering the injury from the clash with Crouch's elbow. Keep fingers crossed that he can stay fit as Gibbs' inflamed ankle does not seem to be healing quickly.

Coquelin: 7

Another strong performance. Won 5 aerial duels and made 2 tackles, 3 interceptions and 1 clearance.

Cazorla: 8

Made 4 tackles and created 3 chances. Made a whopping 89 passes with an impressive 93.3% accuracy. Unlucky not to score when his chipped effort from a tight angle struck the cross bar after connecting to good work by the Ox in the right-hand channel.

Rosicky: 8
Combined beautifully with Alexis to set up the Chilean for Arsenal's second goal. Unlucky not to score when he made a great run into the box in the opening minutes only to have his shot denied by Begovic.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7

Had 3 shots which narrowly missed the target. Earned a free-kick that led to Alexis' second goal. Replaced by Walcott in the 67th minute. Another consistent display.

Sanchez: 9
Unanimous Man of the Match, with Whoscored.com giving him 10 out of 10. Provided an assist for Koscielny's goal with an inch-perfect cross immediately after his own poor corner kick. Had 4 shots, 3 of which were on target, and created 5 chances for his team-mates. He was so selfless when he passed the ball to unmarked Walcott despite a chance to complete a hat-trick.

Giroud: 7
Had 2 shots, 1 of which was on target. Unlucky not to score when his well-struck effort drew a superb save from Begovic. On the other occasion, he beat the off-side trap to get in behind the Stoke defence only to blaze his effort wide. He looked ineffectual on the left flank. Subsequently, withdrawn and replaced by Özil in the 72nd minute. 


Bellerin: 8
Replaced injured Debuchy at right-back in the 13th minute. Barring one misplaced pass, he didn't put a foot wrong. Made 3 tackles, including a well-timed crucial tackle in the box, 3 interceptions and 4 clearances. Good going forward, too, making 4 crosses. During Debuchy's absence, we want to see him more in this position rather than playing Calum Chambers out of position.

Walcott: 6
Replaced the Ox in the 67th minute to continue gaining playing time. He should have scored when he had time and space with a clear sight of goal after receiving the perfect ball from Alexis.

Özil: 6
Replaced Giroud in the 72nd minute. Great to have him back from a lengthy lay-off. He had a half-chance when he was unleashed by Cazorla's pass in the right-hand channel, but he fired his right-footed shot over the bar. Showed a glimpse of his class when his astute flick-on released Monreal on the left flank unmarked. It was a promising display in his first appearance in 4 months. Wenger reckons it will take the German playmaker 2 to 3 weeks to gain match fitness. As long as Santi continues to flourish in his favourite No. 10 position, we probably don't need to rush Özil's full return.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Arsenal 2 Hull City 0 (3rd Round of FA Cup)

Arsenal began their defence of the FA Cup title with a comfortable 2-0 win over Hull City in a repeat of last season's FA Cup final. They needed to bounce back from their disappointment at St Mary's 3 days earlier with a convincing performance, in particular, defensively. That said, some of the Arsenal fans' reaction to the result was excessive. They claimed that Arsene Wenger's side was outplayed by the Saints, but in fact, they enjoyed the majority of possession, which was close to 60%. Other stats, including shots on target, hardly separated the two teams. The only difference between those sides was that our keeper made two crucial errors, while their keeper made a couple of great saves.

Arsene Wenger made 5 changes to the side that started in the 2-0 defeat by Southampton on the New Year's day. We were disheartened by the fact that the shambolic defensive performance in that loss came from our first-choice back five, when they finally started all together for the first time this season. In light of that, it might not have been a big surprise that three of those five changes were made in the backline on this day. Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal replaced Mathieu Debuchy and Kieran Gibbs, respectively. The French right-back was dropped to the bench as well as Laurant Koscielny, while Gibbs was not even on the bench. Calum Chambers paired up with Per Mertesacker in the heart of our defence. Wenger's selection appeared bold, considering how reluctant he was to field two teenage defenders together and that when he eventually did so, it resulted in a disastrous start, giving early 3 goals away in a 3-2 loss to Stoke. Fit-again David Ospina started his FA Cup campaign in goal at the expense of Wojciech Szczesny. After his two costly mistakes against Southampton, the media tried to talk up the young Polish keeper's falling out of favour, but Wenger always intended to field Ospina in this game.

Theo Walcott made his first start in exactly a year since his suffering of a cruciate knee ligament injury, while Joel Campbell was handed a rare start. With Welbeck still struggling with a "minor" hamstring strain and Giroud serving the last of his 3-match ban, Arsenal tried to take advantage of the mobility and pace of their attacking players.

Arsenal started brightly and controlled the game with their usual domination in possession. They created a host of chances, but ironically, Arsenal took a lead from a set-piece. At half-time, only Mertesacker's headed goal from a corner separated the two sides. As long as the scoreline stayed at 1-0, the game remained a close contention. Especially, after the Southampton game, we had little confidence in our defence. Besides, if we can surrender a 3-0 lead, like we did against Anderlecht, a one-goal lead is far from secure, even though the Gunners looked comfortable and Hull didn't look likely to score. With 8 minutes remaining, Alexis Sanchez's goal finally settled our nerves.

In the end, it was a fairly straightforward game, with Arsenal cruising past last season's FA Cup runners-up without hiccup. David Ospina looked reassuring, although Hull didn't offer too much upfront. With newspaper reports on Szczesny's smoking incident rife, it is interesting to see who Wenger will pick against Stoke this weekend. It was great to keep a clean sheet, especially for the two young defenders. This season, clean sheets are few and far between them.

Another positive was Theo Walcott's return to the starting XI. His finishing was obviously not up to scratch yet, but it was good to see him making those runs in behind the opposition's defence.

Although Alexis Sanchez won all the plaudits for his tireless display, Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky also merit praise. Some say that Alexis has been carrying the entire Arsenal team, but Santi's recent resurgence to the height of his performances strongly challenges that claim. When Alexis had a rare off-day, Santi has shone in the games such as the match against W. Ham

Arsenal are through to the fourth round of the FA Cup and will face a Championship outfit, Brighton & Hove later this month. When we visited then Gus Poyet's side in the same round of the competition in January 2013, two goals from Giroud and another from Walcott saw us through to the next round with a 3-2 win over the Seagulls. If everything goes as planned, we should have all of our players back from injury by 25th January, apart from Jack Wilshere. But before that, we need to return to winning ways in the Premier League.

Players ratings

Ospina: 7
With Hull registering only 3 shots target, he was hardly tested, but he looked authoritative in his area. His distribution had a good variety. With no target man upfront, he didn't just hoof the ball high up the pitch, but rolled out the ball for midfielders at times.

Bellerin: 7

Did not put his foot wrong. Made 6 interceptions and 5 clearances. Not eye catching, going forward (with one wild shot), but defensively sound.

Chambers: 7
Proved that centre-back is his best position. After his non-performance as a box-to-box player or defensive midfielder (with no tackles made) against his former club, this was much improved display. Made 2 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 5 clearances. Made 77 passes, a second highest number only behind Santi, with 96% accuracy.

Mertesacker: 7
Scored his first goal since April 2014.

Monreal: 7
Rather easily let Tom Ince slip him past in the first half, but apart from that, he did OK.

Coquelin: 7

Another good performance, apart from that two-footed lunge, which could have ended in a red card on another day. He was also lucky as his 4th yellow card in as many appearances came after 1 January, the disciplinary deadline. He can now pick up 5 more yellow cards by the second Sunday in April without being suspended. Made 2 tackles and 7 interceptions.

Cazorla: 8

Provided an assist for Alexis' goal with an astute pass. Created 5 chances and made 77 passes with a 88.3% passing success rate. His passes twice released Walcott behind the defence.

Rosicky: 8
Lively. After his below-par display against Southampton, this was an encouraging performance.

Walcott: 6
Looked rusty. Replaced in the 76th minute by the Ox.

Campbell: 6
Good movements in the final third. Tracked back to win 3 tackles. Had 4 shots, 1 of which was on target. Had a great chance to take a lead in the 4th minute, but his shot was straight at the keeper. He needs to improve his finishing. Replaced in the 90th minute. According to Wenger, it was not due to an injury, but cramp.

Sanchez: 9
Set up Per Mertesacker's goal with a corner and scored another. Unanimous Man of the Match.


Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7
Replaced Walcott in the 76th minute. The improvement this season is his consistency. Even when he comes on as a sub, he rarely has a bad game.

Akpom: 6
Replaced Alexis in the 84th minute.

Maitland-Niles: 6
Replaced Campbell in the 90th minute.