Monday 19 March 2018

Alexis Sanchez puts slick Gunners out of sight

Hull City 1-3 Arsenal

Hull’s Paul McShane gets a foot up on Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez during last night’s league clash
Hull’s Paul McShane gets a foot up on Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez during last night’s league clash
David Meyler shows the scars of Hull’s relegation battle but his efforts weren’t enough to save his team from a 3-1 defeat to Arsenal
Aaron Ramsey celebrates with Hector Bellerin after scoring the second goal for Arsenal
Hull City manager Steve Bruce

Chris Bascombe

It is always tease, tease, tease with Arsenal. Some would have been depressed 24 hours after the demise of their latest title challenge, but Arsene Wenger's side are excelling at being the best of the also-rans.

You did not know whether to stand and applaud the classicism of some of the football or yell in frustration as Hull City were disrobed in the first half at the KC Stadium.

Is this proof that the foundation is there for a more serious Premier League challenge by Arsenal next year, or evidence that they should have pushed Jose Mourinho and Chelsea closer this time?

The conclusion will depend on whether Wenger's carafe is half-full or half-empty. Brilliant when the pressure is off, the cynics will argue. They were certainly that for 45 minutes here.

This was flat-track bullying of the highest order, Aaron Ramsey and Alexis Sanchez eased through the gears to put such distance between the teams by half-time, Steve Bruce's main concern was ensuring a goal-difference superiority over the bottom three clubs was maintained.

Hull dropped below Leicester City upon conceding a third on half-time. They improved radically after the interval having looked in serious danger of shadow chasing from the moment Sanchez's free-kick deflected past Steve Harper on 28 minutes.

At that stage, the synergy between Arsenal's artists left a tapestry on the turf. It was made all the sweeter by the influence of Tottenham Hotspur in the opening goal.

Tom Huddlestone conceded possession, Jake Livermore tripped Sanchez, and Michael Dawson's deflection completed an unholy trinity.

"Tottenham Hotspur, it's happened again," was the chant from the away end, an obsession with their north London neighbours surely masking disappointment at being so far behind their other rivals from the capital.

It is all well and good mocking Spurs, but there was an irony siren hooting as they did so.

The deja vu of this campaign can surely be equally applied to Arsenal.

Wenger's repetitive stress syndrome is laudable when you consider that the Frenchman is maintaining his 100pc completion rate in qualifying for the Champions League - it is no wonder that he is bulletproof with that kind of record - but the craving for more lingers.

Wenger arrived in English football creating masterpieces, but nowadays he specialises in bubblegum pop. His latest creations are a delight at their best, but they are not yet as memorable as his former classics.

Hull's threat of a comeback further demonstrated concerns about Arsenal's underbelly.

When Stephen Quinn reduced the deficit before the hour it would be the cue for the others to pull up the drawbridge, but Wenger has never been one for rearguard action. That makes his approach both lovable but also culpable when such excellence does not breed an era of systematic title winning.

Those inside the KC Stadium choosing to target Spurs were rather like school hard-knocks with an easy target.

Landing a blow on the heavyweight over at Stamford Bridge requires greater strength, and it was no surprise that Hull improved with their physicality after the break.

Ramsey struck the second on 33 minutes, Robbie Brady the unwitting assistant as the Welshman's turn and shot wrong-footed Harper.

Sanchez missed an easy chance of a third goal seconds before the Chile forward made amends.

Ramsey's pass conjured images of prime-time Dennis Bergkamp to send the forward clear, and this time he elected to run beyond Harper and find the empty net.

Hull began in a position of safety but still precarious. Bruce would have taken a point and he set his side up accordingly, and was left cursing early missed opportunities.

The quality of Brady's cross on 23 minutes seemed to bewilder Sone Aluko, who somehow conspired to turn a sitter into a defensive clearance from six yards.

A half-time team talk must have been a combination of rage and prayer, but the response shook the Arsenal defence.

Quinn's header restored belief andthree minutes later Hull should have been back in shooting distance, another right-wing cross from the Egyptian finding Paul McShane in the six yard box.

Bruce himself acted out the leap from the touchline, but this time the header flew over David Ospina's crossbar.

It was to Hull's credit that Wenger felt he needed to make a change, Ramsey's influence waning to the extent that Jack Wilshere was summoned for his first appearance since November.

Typically, Arsenal continued to push for more, their insatiable appetite to walk the ball into the net showing no signs of being tempered.

"You've only come for the culture," the Hull fans taunted the visitors, their city of culture year in full swing.

The lesson came from Wenger's side. At times brilliant, at times flawed. It is ever thus in this Arsenal era.

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