Thursday, 5 December 2013

Arsenal Beat Hull To Stay Four Points Clear

Arsenal continued their winning ways last night with a 2-0 victory at home to Hull City in the Premier League. On a night when some of the teams chasing them had to struggle for results Arsenal saw off Hull with relative ease. Tougher tasks lie ahead of them in the next two weeks, but the three points last night were very important.

Arsene Wenger kept true to his word and rotated the team by making five changes from the side which beat Cardiff 3-0 on Saturday. Only one of those changes was forced upon him with Carl Jenkinson filling in for the injured Bacary Sagna at right back. The other players to come in were Nacho Monreal, Tomas Rosicky, Mathieu Flamini and Nicklas Bendtner with Kirean Gibbs, Jack Wilshere, Mikael Arteta and Olivier Giroud getting a much needed rest.

The inclusion of Bendtner came as a bit of a shock as he hadn't even been on the bench on Saturday. I thought his ship had sailed after his recent comments and I wasn't the only one more than surprised at his name coming up on the team sheet. He is a genuine back up for Giroud at his best, but so much water has passed under the bridge that I thought his career at Arsenal had finished.

Arsenal came out of the traps very quickly and took took the lead after less than two minutes. A flowing move on the right led to a cross from Jenkinson and who was on hand to head home from close range but Bendtner. The Greatest Striker That Ever Lived had shown that he wasn't just there to make up the numbers as he put Arsenal 1-0 up.

After that Arsenal played some magnificent flowing football and all that was missing was another goal to add to the one they had. They had made five changes from Saturday but the players who came in fitted seamlessly into the pattern of how Arsenal play the game. A look at the Arsenal bench showed what strength in depth they have and competition for places is very high at the moment.

Hull did come back into the game a little and showed they can play a bit themselves, but a second Arsenal goal was always going to be enough to see them off. It was still 1-0 at half time and I was a little worried Arsenal might concede a silly goal and needlessly drop points. The commentators kept referencing the game in 2008 when a newly promoted Hull team came to Arsenal and came from behind to win 2-1.

The second half started in similar fashion to the first and again it took Arsenal less than two minutes to get on the scoreboard. A flowing move on the left this time saw Aaron Ramsey play Mesut Ozil in and he made no mistake as he beat the keeper at his near post. It was just what Arsenal needed and I really couldn't see Hull getting back into the game after that. They had a couple of half chances but Arsenal were always the more likely to add to their lead.

The best chance they had was the result of some sloppy play from Wojciech Szczesny and it's something he hasn't done in quite a while. He has been getting plaudits from all quarters recently and rightly so, but he let his concentration slip momentarily and luckily Arsenal didn't pay a price for it. It was a warning to him that he has to be switched on from first minute to last no matter who the opposition are.  

Sometimes a goalkeeper will have very little to do when his team are dominating and it's the mark of a great keeper to keep his concentration in those games. I think Szczesny will become a great keeper but he's still relatively young for a keeper and still has a bit to learn. He's sure to get an awful lot more to do in the next four games.

I was a little surprised to see Theo Walcott on the bench last night, but maybe he has a little more to go before he's fully recovered from his injury or maybe last night's opposition didn't suit his style of play. He could be a very valuable asset in the next four games and I expect him to see a lot more action very soon. He did come on for the final 20 minutes or so along with Wilshere and Arteta made an appearance late on too.

Maybe the most interesting thing of all was the inclusion from the start of both Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil. Surely they needed a rest as much as any of the other players, but it's hard to imagine Arsenal at the moment without those two players. Their understanding is developing game by game and they have become the axis on which the Arsenal attack flourishes. It's a joy to see two of the very best players in the Premier League linking up and making and scoring chances for each other and the team too. The abundance of talent in the Arsenal midfield must be the envy of almost every Premier League club and those two players are head and shoulders above the rest of the league on a consistent basis in my opinion. 

Next up it's a home game against Everton on Sunday and they're on a great run at the moment. They have only lost one league game this season and won away to the reigning champions last night. They will provide a much sterner test than Hull but Arsenal have the team to overcome that test.

With 14 games played it's coming close to the halfway stage in the season and Arsenal are still top of the league. If they can maintain that position after their next five games then they will be top after having played every team once. Surely that will be a stage where their title challenge will have to be taken seriously.

I think they will come out on top at the halfway point if they can take more than six points in those five games and that's quite achievable  no matter who the opposition is. Six points would give them 40 points from the first half of the season and that's certainly good enough to be right up there at the right end of the table. I think they will take more than six points though and hopefully head into the new year still at the summit of the Premier League.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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