Sunday 19 November 2017

Ramsey's moments of magic show Arsenal fans what might have been

Hull City 0 Arsenal 3

Arsenal's Mikel Arteta complains to the referee after colliding with Shane Long which led to the Spaniard losing his tooth
Arsenal's Mikel Arteta complains to the referee after colliding with Shane Long which led to the Spaniard losing his tooth
Aaron Ramsey shoots to score Arsenal's first goal during against Hull City at KC Stadium
Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey celebrates after scoring against Hull City
Lukas Podolski scores Arsenal's second goal against Hull City
Hull City's Jake Livermore helps replace the advertising boards after they blow onto the pitch
Hull City's Nikica Jelavic challenges Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny
Arsenal's Olivier Giroud is challenged by Hull City's Liam Rosenior and Curtis Davies

Jonathan Liew

On the day their title challenge officially died, Arsenal fans must wonder how much longer it might have lasted had Aaron Ramsey stayed fit.

Here, Ramsey scored his first goal since returning from more than three months out with a thigh injury, and set up two more as Arsenal maintained their pursuit of Champions League football. With hindsight, those three months are beginning to look like lost months.

Liverpool's win earlier in the day brought their chances of winning the Premier League juddering to a mathematical halt, and for all the scintillating football they have played at times – including two more sublime goals here – this has the feel of another of those what-might-have-been seasons about it.

Still, they have three games and an FA Cup final against Hull to play, and if they can successfully lobby the Premier League to retroactively award extra points for artistic merit, glory may yet be theirs.

What is becoming increasingly apparent, however, is that their key player this season has not been Mesut Ozil or Santi Cazorla or top scorer Olivier Giroud, but Ramsey; and their fortunes have fluctuated with his.

Often playing behind Ozil and Cazorla, often in front, Ramsey was the glue holding Arsenal together during a difficult opening half-hour, and he went on to create both of Lukas Podolski's goals either side of half-time. Hull faded dramatically as the game went on, their defence ultimately proving about as secure as their stadium fittings.

By way of explanation: four minutes into the game the advertising hoardings in front of the West Stand blew over, shedding placards all over the pitch and almost taking out the assistant referee. Play was stopped as we were treated to the surreal sight of George Boyd carrying an advert for industrial roofing supplies under his arm, and over to the side of the pitch.

After the ambush marketing came an equally breezy start, from the home side at least. Hull's early intensity can startle even the best opponents – Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham all conceded in the first 20 minutes here – and they had marginally the better of the bruising opening exchanges, Mikel Arteta losing a tooth after a painful clash with David Meyler.

But it was Hull who lacked the cutting edge. Shane Long should have put them ahead, but sliced his shot over the bar after a laser-guided through-ball by Jake Livermore.

For Arsenal's part, Ozil had a very decent penalty appeal turned down, while Cazorla had a shot saved.

Both were involved in Ramsey's goal, a geometric wonder by which even MC Escher would have been mesmerised. Ramsey started the move – pass to Ozil, dink to Cazorla, nudge to Ramsey – and finished it emphatically, tucking the ball low past Steve Harper.

Livermore hit a post from 20 yards and Boyd headed over, but the goal had settled Arsenal, and Podolski doubled their lead before half-time.

The ball was swept forward to Giroud, who crossed for an unmarked Ramsey at the far post. Ramsey might have gone for goal himself, but nodded the ball across for Podolski, who volleyed the ball in.

A brilliant goal, although it was greeted by loud boos from the home fans, who believed Nikica Jelavic had been fouled by Arteta in the build-up.

Hull's only chance of making a game of it was by striking early in the second half, and they certainly had a good go. But they were fodder for the swift counter-attack, and instead it was Arsenal who plundered a third goal. Cazorla cut the ball back for Ramsey, whose shot was saved by Harper, only for Podolski to pounce. At 3-0, the Wembley songs could begin in earnest.

Giroud could have embarrassed Harper further, chasing down a back-pass and hitting the bar from a tight angle with the goal unguarded. But by and large, Arsenal were content to practise their passing triangles, and there was little Hull could do to stop them. Ramsey added a neat back-heel towards the end for good measure.

So Arsenal maintained their grip on fourth place – no higher, no lower – and it is on days like this that you wonder how they manage to make things so hard for themselves. Plenty of teams have come to Hull and struggled.

That Arsenal made such impressively light work of them merely underlines how much more they could have achieved. "Top of the league," the Hull fans chanted towards the end, "and you f****d it up."

And for all Arsenal's beaming smiles at full-time, for all the satisfaction at three points well earned, it is a thought that will sting them for some time yet. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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