Friday 23 March 2018

Gunners find groove to tear 10-man Tigers apart

Hull City 1 Arsenal 4

Alexis Sanchez celebrates Arsenal’s third goal. Photo: PA
Alexis Sanchez celebrates Arsenal’s third goal. Photo: PA

Louise Taylor

Alexis Sánchez scored twice but Theo Walcott was the real mastermind behind this deconstruction of Hull City. Heavily involved in Arsenal's first three goals, Walcott was in fine form on an afternoon when, despite Sam Clucas's best efforts in Mike Phelan's midfield, home hopes were wrecked by Jake Livermore's 40th-minute dismissal.

Arsenal started deceptively slowly, barely having a sight of goal before Sánchez gave them a 17th-minute lead. Even then it was partly down to an amalgam of goalkeeper error and sheer luck, with Eldin Jakupovic's weak parry of Walcott's cross-shot falling conveniently to Alex Iwobi, whose shot took a hefty deflection off Sánchez en route to the back of the net. It went down as the Chilean's fifth goal against Hull in as many games.

Alexis Sanchez scores Arsenal's third goal. Photo: Getty
Alexis Sanchez scores Arsenal's third goal. Photo: Getty

Until then it had been very much the Curtis Davies show, with the Hull centre-half looking international class as he ran through an impressive repertoire of blocks, interceptions and intelligent passes out from the back.

Talking of passing, Hull at times manoeuvred the ball every bit as adroitly as Arsenal, with Clucas, not so long ago a lower division journeyman, appearing anything but out of place in central midfield.

When Arsenal tried to up the tempo, Tom Huddlestone proved extremely adept at slowing it right back down and, up until the goal, the only time Jakupovic seemed remotely under threat was when Sánchez swivelled sharply before sending another Walcott cross ballooning over the bar.

Inevitably, the balance of power shifted following Sánchez's goal and it would have tilted even further against Hull had Mesut Özil not squandered an excellent chance to make it two in the wake of Jakupovic performing wonders to repel Iwobi's shot.

Hull's Jake Livermore (L) gets sent off. Photo: Getty
Hull's Jake Livermore (L) gets sent off. Photo: Getty

For all the home side's pleasing ball manipulation they rarely succeeded in getting behind Wenger's defence. It did not help that Robert Snodgrass, so often their inspiration in recent weeks, seemed in danger of suffocation, so tightly was he being marked by Nacho Monreal. When the winger did finally escape the left-back's clutches he shot straight at an otherwise underemployed Petr Cech

In contrast, Jakupovic was increasingly busy, justifying Phelan's decision to select him ahead of £5m former Cardiff City new boy David Marshall when he saved Sánchez's penalty. Awarded after Jake Livermore was sent off for handling Francis Coquelin's goalbound shot (created by yet another Walcott cross) it was far from a copybook 12-yard kick from Sánchez but Jakupovic still reacted superbly.

As Arsenal fans wondered why Santi Cazorla - a more reliable penalty taker - had not stepped forward, Phelan pragmatically forfeited Adama Diomandé's attacking skills, introducing Harry Maguire's central defensive nous in his stead.

With Clucas and Huddlestone highly effective at second-guessing their guests' intentions, Arsenal initially made heavy weather of capitalising on the numerical advantage but, emphasising that his was very much his afternoon, Walcott eventually ensured that Arsene Wenger could relax a little by chipping in the second with an angled dink over Jakupovic from Iwobi's backheel, despite the best efforts of Maguire, who could only help the ball over the line.

Creditably Hull refused to fold and Snodgrass reduced the deficit courtesy of an assuredly struck left-footed penalty given following Cech's foul on substitute Dieumerci Mbokani. That goal reflected the benefit of Phelan having finally been able to sign four senior players shortly before the transfer window's closure. It meant he can finally refresh tired legs from a reasonably experienced bench and sure, enough fellow newcomer Ryan Mason cued up Mbokani.

Suitably galvanised, his players briefly looked capable of snatching a point only for Walcott - who else? - to shatter such illusions as Jakupovic could only push in the direction of the hovering Sanchez, who responded by lashing the ball high into the net.

Not quite done, Arsenal saved the best until last, Granit Xhaka sending a 30-yard shot swerving viciously into the top corner two minutes into stoppage-time.


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