Sunday, 20 April 2014

Arsenal's Trip To Hull City Previewed

Fortune took a turn in Arsenal's favour on Wednesday night when Everton lost at home to Crystal Palace. That result meant Arsenal stayed in fourth place with a one point advantage over Everton and four league games left to play for both clubs. It's a far cry from the lofty heights of only a couple of months ago, but it's vital for Arsenal to maintain that advantage until the season ends.

On the face of it Arsenal have the easier run in of the two clubs and they play before Everton on Sunday. To put as much pressure as possible on Everton who play against United it's very important for Arsenal to beat Hull. United have the best away record in the league despite being back in seventh place and they need results in their last five games to try to make the Europa League places.

That shock defeat to Palace will have been a real blow to an Everton team who had won their previous seven league games and an Arsenal win before they play could put another dent in their confidence. Arsenal have a real chance of a trophy with the FA Cup final against Hull in four weeks, but an FA Cup victory would feel more than a little hollow if they missed out on next season's Champions League. It would be a fantastic day for them if they can beat Hull in the Lesgue and lay down a marker for the cup final too. 

In team news Mathieu Flamini returns from suspension, Nacho Monreal might have recovered to take his place at left back and it looks like Mesut Ozil will make the trip too. There's also Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who didn't start in Tuesday night's victory over West Ham, but should both be refreshed enough to take their places in the team. I doubt if Ozil will start but it will be great to see him back in the squad and probably getting 20 minutes at the end of the game. Arsene Wenger hasn't had too many options with his team selection recently, but he will certainly have a headache deciding who should play and who should be on the bench. 

I think both Ramsey and Chamberlain have to come back into the team as they offer the drive and pace this side needs. I'm not too bothered whether Mikel Arteta or Flamini starts in the holding role, but I think Arteta is probably due a rest. It will be impossible to leave Lukas Podolski out of the team after he scored twice on Tuesday night and his inclusion will go a long way to deciding the rest of the team. The other two places should go to Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud who both did well in that win over West Ham.

With that team there is a chance the boss will change the formation to 4-4-2 with Podolski playing alongside Giroud rather than wide on the left. Podolski's two goals on Tuesday came from a very similar position just to the left of the goal and inside the box. He is by far the best finisher in the Arsenal team and is more than capable of getting the goals they need if they can get the ball to his left foot in the Hull penalty area. Arsenal have struggled in front of goal quite a lot in the last few months and having two strikers from the start might just make the difference for them. 

I thought Cazorla was back to his best against West Ham and showed the form which made him so good for much of last season. He pulled the strings in midfield and caused problems for West Ham time and again. He could be the man to pick the passes for the runs of the attacking players in the absence of Ozil.

Hull will have both Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic in attack, but neither of those players will be available to play in the FA Cup final. They were both signed in January and had already played in the competition this season for their previous clubs. It won't be too easy to get an idea of how Hull will play in that final with two different strikers in the league game. 

With four games to go it's still possible for Arsenal to finish the season on 79 points and that would be their highest points tally since 2005. Despite the slip ups by both City and Chelsea in the last week it still looks like 79 points will only be good enough for fourth place. Those games cannot be taken for granted though with Sunderland showing in their last two games just how dangerous teams struggling at the wrong end of the table can be. In their last four games Arsenal have to play three teams who still need points to ensure their Premier League survival and any lapses in concentration in those games could be costly.

The players cannot let their minds drift to the cup final and they have to go to Wembley having booked their place in next season's Champions League yet again. The ideal scenario will be for Arsenal to do what is needed of them to get the three points and then sit back and see how Everton get on against United. It has the potential to be a very good day for Arsenal once they give their all to their game.

Hull are a tough team to beat at home, but Arsenal's away record has been very good against the teams in the lower reaches of the league this season. Hull probably need three more points to make sure they stay in the Premier League and they would love to get those points as soon as possible. The longer they go without ensuring their safety the more nervous they will become as the teams below them pick up points. 

I have no doubt Arsenal are good enough to take the three points and lay down a marker for the FA Cup final as well as putting it up to Everton. Hopefully they can do just that and finish the season strongly enough to dispell the disappointments of the last couple of months.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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