Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Arsenal Beat Hull 4-0, But At A Cost

Arsenal went to Hull last night in their FA Cup fifth round replay as they looked to continue their quest to win the cup for the third season in a row. They hadn't lost an FA Cup game since 2013 and the drawn game was the first one they didn't win at the first time of asking in those three years. After drawing 0-0 in the first game it wasn't going to be easy going to a team looking for promotion from the Championship.

As in the previous FA Cup games this season Arsene Wenger made as many changes as he could from the team which fought back to draw 2-2 with Spurs on Saturday. There's a fine line between getting the team right and resting players ahead of other challenges and the boss has just about managed to get it right so far. With a few players unavailable last night he made six changes to that team which had to play most of the second half with only 10 men against Spurs.

With Petr Cech injured David Ospina had to continue in goal while Calum Chambers was the only change in defence as he came in for the rested Hector Bellerin. There was no real choice for him in the center of defence with Chambers playing at full back and Laurent Koscielny injured while Kieran Gibbs got another chance in place of the rested Nacho Monreal on the left. There was still plenty of experience in the defence and I felt confident they could cope with anything a fairly toothless Hull team had to offer. 

The midfield and attacking trio were all as expected with Mohamed El Neny the only player retaining his place from the weekend. It meant Alex Iwobi, Joel Campbell, Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud all got a chance to impress in attacking roles while Mathieu Flamini filled in for the suspended Francis Coquelin. 

The first half was a pretty drab affair in the main, but the most worrying aspect for Arsenal was the the knock Per Mertesacker took to his head which saw him substituted on the half hour mark. With Koscielny already sidelined it meant Monreal had to come on and play in the center of defence for the last hour of the game. He spent some time in that role last season when others were injured and he emerged from it a better player in his own position.

The game turned in Arsenal's favour five minutes before the break when a Hull defender played a dreadful ball back into his own box and Giroud pounced to score from close range. Arsenal hadn't looked like creating anything themselves at that point and the gift from Hull was gladly accepted. Hull hadn't conceded a goal at home since mid December and that goal looked like it could easily be the one to settle the game.

Only 10 minutes into the second half Arsenal lost another central defender when Gabriel Paulista went down with what looked like a muscular injury. It has to be hoped both Gabriel and Mertesacker will recover quickly with a game to come at the weekend followed by a daunting trip to Barcelona. With limited defensive options on the bench Aaron Ramsey had to come on in midfield with Flamini going to right back and Chambers going to the center of defence.

Hull took some encouragement from Arsenal's injury woes and began to exert a little pressure. Arsenal held firm though and took the game by the scruff of the neck in the last 20 minutes. They added another three goals, but in true Arsenal style they also lost another man to injury.

The first of those goals came from Giroud again when he connected with a deflected Walcott cross to make it 2-0. The game looked comfortable for Arsenal at that stage, but shortly afterwards they lost their third player of the night to injury. Ramsey had only been on the pitch 16 minutes when he pulled up with a muscle injury and he was replaced by Jeff Reine-Adelaide.

Arsenal were looking comfortable at 2-0 and it soon became three when Walcott got on the end of an excellent Campbell pass to finish calmly into the far corner. The game was over at that stage, but there was still time for Walcott to add to his tally when his shot from an Adelaide pass was deflected past the keeper at his near post. The final result was a pretty comfortable victory for Arsenal and their biggest win of the season as well as being only the second time this season they had scored more than three goals.

In the grand scheme of things it puts us a step closer to an incredible achievement and it will hopefully help to reinstall some confidence too. Both Giroud and Walcott managed a brace of goals and maybe that's what they need to get them out of the rut they were in. Hull may not have put out their strongest side, but they played a similar team in the first game and came away with a scoreless draw.

The performances of El Neny, Campbell, Iwobi and Ospina were all impressive and they showed there may be more strength in depth than we imagine, but maybe not in the places where we imagine it to be. The goals for Giroud and Walcott have to be positive and strikers form can change very quickly once the goals are going in. Monreal showed he can still play in the center of defence too and that could be very important given the injuries currently piling up in that position.

On the negative side the injuries are a real concern and there are now 10 players on the injured list. The boss is most concerned about the injury to Ramsey and it looks like the other two will only be short term. Given Ramsey's history it's hard to say how long he will be out yet, but at least a few others showed they might be ready to step up during that time.

The win means the league game at home to West Brom on Saturday has been postponed and it's Watford at home in the last eight of the cup on Sunday instead. The team are only one game away from a Wembley semi final and the boss needs to think about the team he plays in that game. There's a trip to Barcelona only a few days later, but surely that's a lost cause and the FA Cup is a very real route to a trophy.

There were still plenty of dissenters after last night's win and I fear there is nothing the boss can do to win them back short of taking the Premier League title. At this stage that's a very long shot, but at least the team got a win last night to put an end to a run of five games without one. It will take an awful lot more wins from here on in to bring the success which is what the team has to be aiming for this season. Last night suggested they could at least give it a shot, but it's still a very long shot.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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