Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Arsenal Beat Hull To Close In On Second Place

Arsenal had won eight games in a row before drawing with Chelsea last week and needed to get back on track away to relegation threatened Hull last night. It didn't look like it was going to be an easy task against a team who had won their last two games and kept clean sheets in both of them including a victory over Liverpool. As it turned out it wasn't as difficult as predicted and Arsenal won 3-1 and could have scored quite a few more too.

Arsene Wenger picked the same team which had drawn with Chelsea last week and is now recognised as what he sees as his current strongest 11. The team came into the game on the back of four away wins in a row, but the performances hadn't always being fully convincing in those games despite the players getting the results they needed. With Chelsea having won the title with another dour performance on Sunday it was time for Arsenal to show what they could do and how well they could play.

Arsenal had by far the better of the opening exchanges and dominated the possession while looking the most likely to open the scoring. When the first goal did come it had more than enough help from ex Spurs players to make it all the more enjoyable for Arsenal fans. Spurs had lost to City on Sunday which meant Arsenal only needed a point to celebrate St. Totteringham's Day mathematically, but in truth it was as good as done and dusted anyway.

Tom Huddlestone was caught in possession in midfield by Mesut Ozil and the ball made it's way to Alexis Sanchez who ran at the hull defence. Jake Livermore had already taken a yellow card, but he took Alexis down just outside the box to stop his run and could easily have fallen foul of the referees cards again. Alexis got up himself to take the free kick and his effort was deflected past Steve Harper by Michael Dawson to complete the helping hand from the former Spurs' trio.

With Hull reeling and looking like they had little to offer in attack Arsenal seized the chance and added to their lead within five minutes. Huddlestone again lost possession in midfield and Santi Cazorla played a delightful pass to Aaron Ramsey who took it down with an excellent touch and turned to shoot. As he got his shot off Robbie Brady slid in to block it and could only deflect it past Harper into the top corner.

There was only just over 30 minutes gone, but the task already looked beyond Hull and Arsenal went in search of a third goal to kill the game. Alexis had a one on one with the keeper, but had his effort saved and it looked like they would reach half time at 2-0 and on 99 goals in all competitions for the season. Just before the break that changed though as they got that third goal through that man Alexis again.

It was Ozil who won the ball in midfield again and gave it to Ramsey who played a lovely pass behind the Hull defence for Alexis to run onto. He took the ball around the keeper and rolled it into an empty net for his 24th and the team's 100th goal of a season in which Arsenal still had five and a half games to play. At that stage it looked like Arsenal could add to their lead and maybe even pull back the five goal advantage City had over them on goal difference.

The second half belonged to Arsenal again despite Hull pulling a goal back inside the first 15 minutes when Stephen Quinn headed in a cross which was their only effort on target in the whole game. David Meyler had been sent on at half time to put the boot in and had already kicked a couple of Arsenal players before he followed through on Laurent Koscielny to win the ball and take the Arsenal player out. When the cross came in Koscielny was still down and Quinn nipped into the space he would have occupied to score. How the referee didn't give a free kick is a mystery to me, but Myler got away with it and Hull got the lifeline they so desperately wanted.

They still didn't try to over commit players in attack though as Arsenal looked so dangerous on the break, but they did have one more chance when Paul McShane put a header over when he could have done better. The chances Arsenal missed were far more frequent though and probably a fair deal easier too. The very best of them fell to Jack Wilshere and only failed to nestle in the net when the arm of James Chester blocked it. I'm not sure whether there was intent or not, but surely the referee would have given a penalty if he had seen it as the ball was destined for the net.

Wilshere had replaced Ramsey who had another fine game with a goal and an assist and Wilshere looked very sharp when he came on too. His willingness to run at the Hull players with the ball unsettled them and he should have had a penalty late on as well as being hauled down just outside the box after a great run a little earlier. It was good to see him back in the team after a five month absence and he took the chance to remind the manager of exactly how good he can be.

Quite often in the past Arsenal have been vulnerable when Wilshere has lost the ball when running at the opposition defence, but with the always impressive Francis Coquelin behind him it could be a very different matter. Coquelin again did all the donkey work in the middle and showed what a great engine he has as his energy levels never dropped from first minute to last. Since his promotion to the team Arsenal have taken more points than any other team in the Premier League and he continues to look like the link that was missing from the team.

Arsenal didn't add to their lead though and Alexis didn't get a hat trick either despite going close on another couple of occasions. He has had a great first season at the club and he's only two goals off the amount Thierry Henry scored in his first season at the club and Alexis isn't even a central striker. I'm still not sure how Eden Hazard beat him to the PFA player of the season award when you consider how many of Hazard's goals came from the penalty spot and how often he falls over his own feet to win those penalties and free kicks too.

Speaking of the PFA I also cannot comprehend how Phillippe Coutinho got into their team of the season and Santi Cazorla didn't when you consider the contributions of the diminutive Spaniard for Arsenal this season. He was at his imperial best again last night and deserved his man of the match award and you can only imagine that other footballers just don't watch many games if they have rated Coutinho above him this season.

The three points brought Arsenal level on points with City and three goals behind them on goal difference with a game in hand. They have five points to spare over United and only need five points from their last four games to guarantee third spot at worst and one of those games is away to United in just under two weeks. They are also nine points ahead of Liverpool with only three games for Liverpool to play and have a goal difference advantage of 22 goals over them.

Champions League qualification for next season is as good as guaranteed and St. Totteringham's Day has arrived and all with four games to spare too. Third place looks very much on the cards too which would mean no Champions League qualification round next season and second place is most certainly up for grabs too. It's just a pity it took Arsenal so long to find some real form with so many players missing early in the season and I would have liked to have seen how they and Chelsea both reacted if they could have put up a much tougher challenge to the new champions. It has to be remembered Arsenal were 15 points behind Chelsea after only 12 games and were even behind Spurs only 10 games ago.

It's hard not to be positive about Arsenal at the moment with so much good football being played and the team looking so balanced and with so much strength in reserve too. The boss added a World Class player in the last two summers and it has to be hoped he can find another one to add this summer. If he can do that it might just be the final piece Arsenal need to make them genuine contenders for the whole season for the first time in a long, long time. 

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

No comments:

Post a Comment