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.

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