Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Hull City 1 Arsenal 3

St Totteringham's Day is here again for 20th year in a row. After Man City's 1-0 victory over Tottenham on Sunday, we needed at least a point to secure a finish above our north London rivals. Not only did we fulfill the requirement, but did it in style. A 3-1 victory at the KC Stadium saw us move level with second-placed Man City on points and 5 points clear of fourth-placed Man United, having played a game less. Arsenal all but secured a place in the Champions League for the 18th consecutive year as they are now 9 points and 22 goals above fifth-placed Liverpool who have just 3 games remaining to make up the gap.

 Arsene Wenger named an unchanged side that started in a goalless draw with Chelsea last weekend. Wojciech Szczesny, Kieran Gibbs, Gabriel, Mathieu Flamini, Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott occupied the subs' bench. Danny Welbeck was conspicuous by his absence, having not travelled due to an inflamed knee. Amid a rumour that he might not play again for his club this season, Wenger made it clear after the match that the England striker's injury is a question of days.

In fact, Arsenal's perennial injury problems have much eased in recent weeks, with a number of players coming back to fitness. So much so, Arsene Wenger started talking about his team selection dilemma last week. According to the Frenchman's weekly pre-match injury updates, the only doubt was Mathieu Debuchy's fitness after suffering a slight hamstring strain in training. Mikel Arteta and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had already been in full training, but were still short of match fitness for this fixture. Even the injury set-back of our first-choice right-back did not worry us too much. Such was the depth of the squad at the moment.

As Arsene Wenger described this game as "a big challenge" in his pre-match press conference, we expected it to be a tough game. The Frenchman was full aware of the threat of Hull's wide men, in particular, Elmohamady, and their January signing, N'Doye. Hull were full of confidence on the back of back-to-back victories, including a shock 1-0 defeat of Liverpool midweek. Despite the two straight wins, they were still in the relegation battle, while it was needless to say that they were looking to take revenge on last season's FA Cup final and this season's third round. Pre-match talks were focused on how to break down Hull's stubborn defence. However, such concern was blown away in the first half as Arsenal started dominating the game with purpose and energy. Scoring the first goal is always crucial to unlock resolute defence. Arsenal took the lead in the 28th minute through Alexis' free-kick via a deflection on an ex-Tottenham player, Michael Dawson. In fact, the goal involved all three ex-Spurs players on the pitch, including him. The other two were Tom Huddlestone who was robbed in possession and Jake Livermore who gave away a free-kick with his foul on Alexis (he was lucky to stay on the pitch).

After the match, the Arsenal coach said, "the surprising thing of the night is that we scored the goal that we didn't necessarily deserve to score and we missed the chances we should have scored". Our second goal was fortuitous, too, as it also took a deflection, but how Aaron Ramsey took the goal cushioned the ball and turned as well as Santi's pin-point 50-yard pass with his left foot, deserved a goal. We cannot ignore the role Giroud played in the build-up of this goal, either. The France striker did not have much luck in front of goal throughout the night, marked by three centre-backs, but he drew McShane to the left-hand side to create acres of space for Rambo to exploit. Arsenal's third also came from a great combination play. Özil won possession in the midfield before finding Ramsey. The Welshman's perfect pass then released Alexis behind defence before the Chilean rounded the keeper and rolled the ball into the empty net in stoppage time of the first half.

Hull got a goal back 12 minutes into the second half, which raised the home crowd's hopes of comeback. The hosts rallied following the goal, but Arsenal did not panic. They also looked dangerous every time they broke. Many heaped their praise for our first-half display, but in fact, there were as many brilliant attacking moments in the second half as in the first half, if not more. The reasons why we failed to add to the goal tally in the second half were Steven Harper's heroics and our profligate finishing. Özil's back-heel flick to Alexis on the left wing was one of those moments as well as Giroud and Ramsey's clever one-two. The Gunners' stunning interchange in the final third, as well as some breath-taking individual skills, were a joy to watch.

We also had two penalty claims turned down. Jack Wilshere was blatantly pushed in the box by Chester who had no intention of going for the ball. Then, the England midfielder's goal-bound effort was blocked by Chester's spreading arm. While Wilshere was appealing for a handball, Alexis pounced on the rebound only to be saved by Harper.

It was a shame that we could not keep a clean sheet. Koscielny was brought down by Meyler, a foul that left the French centre-back on the floor. However, the referee gave nothing for the challenge, with the game continuing without Koscielny, who would have most likely prevented Quinn from heading Elmohamady's cross.

There are a few positives to take away from this game apart from the result. It was great to see Arsenal's free flowing football at its best, especially after last weekend's goalless draw. Arsenal can be dangerous on the break when the opponents are not determined to play for a 0-0 draw. Hull needed a win to get out of the relegation mix, which made them vulnerable.

Jack Wilshere's return to the first-team action was another boost. The England midfielder made an impression, coming off the bench. Arsene Wenger was pleased with the return of his "burst", but when we saw Jack brought down just outside Hull's box after his trade-mark jinking dribble, we thought that Jack was truly back. Many Arsenal fans probably feared of all too familiar injury scenario, but we lamented his bad habit of holding the ball until he hits the wall of defenders. He hasn't changed a bit! But he climbed to his feet straight away. Overall, he looked sharp and it was an encouraging performance on his first game after his injury in November.

Arsenal's convincing display on this day seemed to have put down a marker for the next season's title challenge as it changed many pundits's opinions for positive. Now a home clash with Swansea City awaits next Monday. We have to put things right from our 2-1 defeat at the Liberty Stadium and of course, three points will be paramount in the race for a top-two finish.

Players ratings

Ospina: 6
With Hull registering only one shot on target, he had little to do. His distribution is becoming monotonous these days, relying on Giroud too much.

Bellerin: 7

Looked confident and had good game both offensively and defensively, but allowed too many crosses in from his side for our liking. Fortunately, only 2 of Brady's 9 crosses were successful.

Metesacker: 7
Kept Hull's two strikers quiet between him and Koscielny. Won 4 aerial duels.

Koscielny: 7
Solid. There is no coincidence in Hull scoring their only goal while he was on the floor.

Monreal: 7

Made 3 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 6 clearances. Overlapped well with Alexis.

Coquelin: 7
His misplaced pass nearly cost us a goal, but put in some crucial tackles in our midfield. Had a rough treatment by the opposition players and our keeper, but to our relief, he carried on playing. Made an impressive 6 takcles, 3 interceptions and 2 clearances.

Cazorla: 9

Sky Sport and Arsenal fans' Man of the Match. He claimed an assist through his incredible raking pass to set up Aaron Ramsey's goal. Made 106 passes, including 4 key passes, with a highly impressive 94.3% accuracy.

Ramsey: 7
Scored his 10th goal of the season and made an assist for Alexis with his incisive pass to release the Chilean behind the defenders. Although he was highly praised for his goal and assist, his passing left something to be desired at times. That said, statistically, his passing success rate of 89.3% is not shabby at all.

Özil: 8
Continued his fine form. He showed his class.

Alexis: 9

Stats-based's Man of the Match. Scored his 23rd and 24th goals of the season that took his league goal tally to 16. Had 8 shots, 4 of which were on target, and created 3 chances. Won as many (3) aerial duels as Giroud. Wenger praised the Chilean's performance this day, especially for the good mix of his play. The Frenchman is aware of Alexis' tendency to over dribble. In this game, the Chilean played within Arsenal's system. He had a couple of chances to complete a hat-trick.

Giroud: 7
Not his best game, but he still worked hard for the team. Replaced by Walcott in the 85th minute.


Wilshere: 7
Replaced Ramsey in the 67th minute. 

Walcott: 6
Came off the bench to replace Giroud in the 85rd minute. When he had a glorious chance to score, he fluffed the line. His finishing looked rusty.

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