Monday, 5 January 2015

Arsenal See Off Hull And Face Brighton Next In The FA Cup

Yesterday we saw a rerun of last season's FA Cup final with Arsenal taking on Hull in the third round this time. In last May's final Arsenal had to dig deep and come from 2-0 down to lift the trophy after extra time, but they had no such problems yesterday. As cup games goes it was fairly routine and Hull rarely looked like causing them any real problems.

Arsene Wenger made five changes from the team which lost to Southampton on Thursday with David Ospina, Nacho Monreal, Hector Bellerin, Joel Campbell and Theo Walcott all coming in to the team. The players to miss out were Wojcirch Szczesny, Kieran Gibbs, Laurent Koscielny, Mathieu Debuchy and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as the boss looked to rest some weary limbs. If reports are to be believed Alexis Sanchez was given the option to sit the game out, but chose to play. Hull found themselves in the same boat as Arsenal and they made 10 changes from the team which got them three very important points against Everton on Thursday.

Hull had plenty of possession early on but Arsenal got in behind them easily enough and the only surprise was Arsenal's first goal came from a corner and not a break or a one on one with the keeper. Per Mertesacker rose almost unchallenged to head home from five yards out from that corner on 20 minutes and for me it was a matter of when Arsenal would add to their lead after that.

They missed so many good chances in the first half in particular that the game should have been well and truly over before the break. Campbell had a glorious chance when Alexis played him in early on and the keeper saved well, but it was a chance he really should have taken. Alexis had a couple of close calls of his own, but Hull thwarted him one way or the other. Walcott had a fairly good chance too as the half progressed, but he unsurprisingly looked rusty in front of goal after a year out.

Francis Coquelin assumed the defensive duties in midfield and he certainly put himself about. He got a yellow in the second half for a lunge which got the ball and not the player, but it was the type of tackle some referees will see as a red card. He made a somewhat similar challenge early in the first half from which he caught a Hull player and I thought he could easily have seen yellow or red for that challenge too. 

On another day Arsenal might have had to play almost the whole game or even the last 10 minutes with 10 men. They were lucky he stayed on, on both occasions and he has to be more careful with his tackling. He's got the chance to prove himself in the last few games and I'm sure he's very anxious to do just that, but he won't impress anyone if he's sitting out a three game ban.

Arsenal were more lackluster in the second half and I thought the hectic festive schedule was showing on a few of the players. Hull came into the game a little more, but they never put together a sustained spell of pressure or asked any real questions of the Arsenal defence. Behind that defence Ospina did all that could be asked of him and has to be considered seriously as an alternative to Szczesny if there are any more performances like the one against Southampton.

The second goal took it's time coming, but when it did it was well worth waiting for. Santi Cazorla slipped the ball to Alexis outside the box and he controlled it with one touch, shifted it with the next, turned and shot into the corner of the net. It's almost impossible to weigh up his value to the team but he is a dream to watch and worth every penny and a lot more of his large transfer fee. He now has 16 goals this seaon and it's hard to see how Barcelona sold him to us considering all the duds who have gone in the opposite direction over the years.

There were other chances in the second half with Campbell again fluffing his lines when well positioned and Walcott making the right runs but lacking the touch to finish properly for the moment. Chamberlain came close too after he had come on for Walcott, but he took a knock to the knee and looked to be in a fair deal of pain to me. Hopefully he won't suffer any long term effects and he will be available to play against Stoke on Sunday.

I'm sure Campbell will be feeling he has missed a real opportunity to stake a claim for more game time today. He played well and did all that could be expected of him, but he missed a couple of chances which could have made an awful lot of difference for a player struggling to make an impression. He hasn't had too many chances to show what he can do this season and a goal or two might just have moved him up in the pecking order.

As cup games go it was far from a difficult task for Arsenal and I expected Hull to put up a much harder fight. I know their Premier League survival is their biggest priority, but surely the cup is worth fighting for too. Not that I mind Hull making things a little easier for Arsenal and any other team are welcome to do the same from my perspective.

The draw for the fourth round was made tonight and Arsenal will play away to Brighton in three weeks time. Brighton are struggling at the wrong end of the Championship at the moment and recently replaced Sami Hyypia with Chris Hughton in the manager's hot seat. Hughton has had his fair share of run ins with Arsenal over the years as a Spurs player and will look forward to getting a pop at the holders in the cup.

It's a game Arsenal will be expected to win, but Brighton won't make it easy for them no matter what their league position is. The two teams met in the fifth round of the cup two seasons ago with Arsenal going to Brighton and narrowly winning a very close game. Another Wembley final is only four wins away and certainly within the team's capabilities for the second season in a row. I may be jumping the gun just a little with all of the top clubs still in the competition and avoiding each other in the next round, but we can only hope the team put up a strong defence of the trophy they fought so hard to win last season.

That's it for this today.

See you tomorrow.

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