Friday 24 November 2017

Granit Xhaka scores cracker as Arsenal cruise to victory over 10-man Hull

Arsenal's Granit Xhaka celebrates scoring their fourth goal with Lucas Perez Action Images via Reuters / Lee Smith
Arsenal's Granit Xhaka celebrates scoring their fourth goal with Lucas Perez Action Images via Reuters / Lee Smith

Luke Edwards

Arsenal cannot do anything more than this. A convincing away win over a Hull City team playing with 10 men does not prove they are good enough to win the Premier League, it merely teases their supporters and suggests they could be.

Arsène Wenger’s side were by far the better team long before Jake Livermore was shown a red card five minutes before half time, but we have seen this so many times before at this stage of the season. The doubts always linger.

It probably does not matter how well they play anymore. Until the title is won, few people will be convinced Arsenal are good enough, often enough, to be crowned champions again. We have reached the 'only believe it when I see it' era at the Emirates Stadium.

It is difficult to know how good this Arsenal team is. It is muddled by Wenger’s bold proclamation last week that this is his best side for more than a decade. Given the Gunners were last champions of England in 2004, it was a very deliberate time-framing by the Frenchman.

Wenger thinks they are title contenders but their recent history of flattering to deceive means his is an isolated voice, a man shouting to be heard above the noise of countless conflicting conversations.

While he talks about his team being mature enough to win titles and European Cups, his critics continue to focus on Arsenal’s fragile mindset, their flaky reputation under pressure, their inability to change their style to suit certain games and the manager’s continued failure (or refusal) to sign a truly world class centre forward.

They will not change their minds on the basis of beating a Hull team most people tipped for relegation.

The contest followed a similar pattern for these two sides. Arsenal had lots of the ball, produced lots of nice short passing and graceful movement. Hull sat deep, kept nine players behind the ball whenever they did not have it and tried to shut Arsenal’s attacks down on the edge of the area.

Hull might have snatched the lead against the run of play when Petr Cech had to sprint off his line to prevent Abel Hernández from collecting a ball in behind his defence.

Hull’s game plan has worked well for them under Mike Phelan, who remains caretaker manager despite the offer of a permanent contract last week, but Arsenal are a dangerous side to relentlessly soak up pressure against.

Alexis Sánchez should have opened the scoring when he received a low pass from Theo Walcott but his scuffed first time shot flew over the bar from 12 yards.

The Gunners did not have to wait long for another chance. A shot from Francis Coquelin was blocked and fell kindly for Walcott to put back into the danger area. It looked like a cross that went too close to Hull goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic, but he did not deal with it well, palming the ball into the path of Alex Iwobi who shot deflected in off the heel of Sánchez, who will try to claim it.

That dispute can wait. Arsenal had the lead and looked in control. Hull looked like the team many tipped for relegation back in August and they should have fallen further behind when Mesut Özil inexplicably failed to hit the target with Jakupovic grounded having struggled to deal with ball in from Héctor Bellerín.

It was a terrible miss and Hull might have punished Arsenal’s profligacy when Robert Snodgrass found himself in a decent shooting position, but hit it straight at Cech.

Arsenal continued to waste chances and even managed to miss from the penalty spot when Jakupovic kept out Sánchez’s effort with a fine save. Hull, though, had already been wounded as the penalty was given when Jake Livermore blocked Sánchez goalbound shot with an out stretched arm.

Down to ten men and trailing, Hull looked doomed but without the second goal, they retained some hope. It was extinguished by Walcott who played a sharp one-two with Iwobi, whose return flick was perfection, and delicately chipped a shot over the goalkeeper. The ball went in off the head of substitute Harry Maguire, but appeared to have beaten Jakupovic before it hit the defender.

Arsenal switched on the cruise control. Hull kept their foot on the gas and made things interesting with 12 minutes remaining. The Tigers’ record signing Ryan Mason, who moved from Tottenham Hotspur last month for £13m, was key, sliding an excellent through ball into the path of Dieumerci Mbokani, who was brought down inside the area by Cech.

Snodgrass converted the penalty, but Arsenal merely went back through the gears and scored a third through Sanchez after Walcott’s initial effort had been saved.

Arsenal put a gloss on the scoreline with a magnificent strike from Granit Xhaka who beat Jakupovic with a dipping, swerving effort from 30 yards in injury time.

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