Saturday 20 January 2018

Hull win proves Arsenal are good enough to challenge for the title - Arsene Wenger

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger

Luke Edwards

Arsene Wenger is convinced Arsenal have removed any doubt they are good enough to challenge for the title and claimed his players have overcome a huge mental block in their quest to return to the top of the Premier League.

This thrashing of Hull City was impressive. Arsenal were slick, their movement hypnotising, their passing crisp and incisive, but we have seen it before. A time traveller could have dropped into virtually any year since the Gunners last won the title in 2004 and seen Wenger’s side deliver performances like this.

Every year, though, Arsenal have failed to seize the champion’s crown. They have always been capable of playing like champions, but they have not brought the title back to the Emirates Stadium. They have always had the ability to crush inferior opposition and make it look like a training session.

The problem is – and this is where the doubts remain – Manchester City, who are five points ahead of the Gunners and Liverpool are also playing with the verve of title contenders. Tottenham Hotspur look dangerous again, while Manchester United, Chelsea and –perhaps more excitingly – Everton are all stronger than they were last term.

Arsenal must do far more than beat a weak Hull team, reduced to ten men before half-time. Bigger tests of their mental strength remain, but that should not detract from the quality of their performance on Humberside.

They opened the scoring when Alex Iwobi’s shot deflected in off the heels of Alexis Sanchez, who scored another in the second half, but missed out on a hat-trick when his penalty was saved, after Jake Livermore had been sent off for blocking his shot with an arm.

Theo Walcott also maintained his recent rehabilitation with a clever finish in the second half, before substitute Granit Xhaka smashed in an unstoppable shot from 30 yards in stoppage time. Robert Snodgrass scored Hull’s consolation goal from the penalty spot.

“This is a statement victory,” said Wenger. “We scored three at Watford, we scored four against Hull. We played 0-0 at Leicester, but we had two or three opportunities. Away from home we look more convincing at the moment than at home.

“I believe that, when we lost our first game, it was a mental shock for us and for our supporters. Straight away you have a little bit of scepticism and doubt, you know, in your head. So it was important for us to win the Southampton game and hopefully now we can have the same quality at home.

"Look, the positivity comes from us, from our attitude. We have to think that we get the supporters behind us, when our performances are convincing and not the other way around.”

One of the big positives this season is the form of Alex Iwobi, the latest Arsenal Academy graduate to make his mark on the Premier League. It is just a shame he elected to play for Nigeria rather than England.

“You've seen his qualities and I don't really need to describe that,” Wenger said.  “What I like is his love for the game, his passion for the game and his hard work.

“Those things together, in our world, are a big quality and so I think he has interesting ingredients, but one game does not make a career. The consistency of your attitude makes a career.”

For Hull, this was a setback and although they have started the season well, they are going to find it difficult to avoid an immediate return to the Championship.

At least the uncertainty over manager Mike Phelan’s future should end this week. Having questioned the terms of the contract he had been offered on Friday, Hull caretaker manager claimed on Saturday evening he is happy to sign it as he is desperate to get on with the challenge ahead

“It’s a case of sitting down and sifting through a detailed contract,” Phelan said. “I need to do that and I’m sure it will be a matter of time, speaking to the powers that be and let’s get it going. I’ll sign it tomorrow if I get up early enough.”

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