Arsenal 2 – 0 Hull City
1 – 0 Bendtner (1)
2 – 0 Özil (47)
The winner takes it all, the loser has to fall
Football management is a sometimes thankless task. Organising scouts who report on the propensity of your next opponents to chase a quick goal, making sure the players are well looked after and properly prepared. And then the players concede an early goal, every plan of the last week goes out of the window. I’d like to offer some sympathy to Steve Bruce but this is football and Arsenal needed the win.
In the programme Arsene noted that more than three changes can have a negative impact. So he made five. It was the obvious match this month to break that rule and his theory was undermined by the performance; it was not apparent that almost half the side had been changed and that underlines the confidence oozing through the squad.
The early goal settled any nerves or sense that this might be a disjointed night, Bendtner finished well from Jenkinson’s outstanding cross. Two players who would have benefited most from an early good touch fed their self-belief with exactly that. Wenger was quick to ensure that the former’s balloon was not entirely burst post-match, observing that he believed in the player’s abilities. Not enough to offer him an extended stay at the club though. And to be honest, the Dane is at the point in his career where he needs to move on, a new club that will offer him the chance to fulfil his potential. Steve Bruce observed that salary demands were prohibitive in the summer but having twice used Bendtner on loan, you wonder if a move to Humberside might be on the cards.
Wenger was pleased with the clean sheet, changes in both full back positions might have unsettled but Hull lacked adventure and for large passages of play, any ambition to reduce the lead. In part that was down to Arsenal’s control of the match. Snappy tackles, clever interceptions and hard work when pressing meant the visitors enjoyed precious little possession; it is hard to score when the opposition are that dominant. Equally, they would have been mindful of not wanting to concede a second goal on the counter-attack. Those key factors led to an inertia building and when the midfield contains the impish virtuosity of Rosicky, trouble looms. The Czech was pivotal in the opening goal and much of the good play came about as a result of Flamini and Ramsey’s waspish harrying of their opposite numbers, the creative trio feeding off the possession which fell his way.
It was a night where the technical abilities of the squad flourished. Afforded time and space, Cazorla and Özil’s ingenuity created numerous chances for most notably, Bendtner and Koscielny. That was when they were not trying to add to their season’s tallies themselves. Chances came quickly in the opening half an hour, Hull never threatened the Arsenal goal in that period. And by the time they did offer a threat, Mesut Özil had doubled Arsenal’s advantage, a well-taken finish following a neat exchange of passes completed with Ramsey’s assist.
The procession continued and Arsène noted that the only disappointment being just two goals scored. It was the same against Marseilles but I am sure it is a problem. More concerns would surely be raised if not enough chances were being created? Matches against the top four or five sides share little in common with last night; chances in those games are at a premium and a different mentality exists, the pressure more telling. The outcome in those fixtures tend to depend more on mistakes than moments of genius.
As it is, the manager will have been pleased with the win ahead of a busy fortnight. Yes, the City match is close to the Napoli game and at odds with the visit of Chelsea but let us not forget that the only reason there is a nine day gap between those Premier League fixtures is Arsenal’s exit from the League Cup. Were they still in that competition, matches would be coming thick and fast into the New Year.
And as it was in the beginning, so shall it be the end
Being football, you dare to dream. Sunderland lead, draw level, reduce the deficit. In the end, all Arsenal can do is win their game; relying on others is soul-destroying, an admission your own efforts are not enough and Arsenal are not yet in that position. So far, their efforts have been good enough and last night saw nothing different.
If Bruce felt he’d taken a powerful jab in the first minute, that is nothing to the uppercut delivered by Oviedo at Old Trafford. All those years Moyes tried to win as Everton manager and having moved to Manchester, he still can’t emerge victorious in that fixture. That underlines the fragility of football. It was not so long ago that United beat Arsenal to close the gap to five points between the two sides, a gap that has widened to twelve a short space of time. Arsène may not have ruled them out of the title race but it is not the same as when the Premier League was a two-horse race; now there are two other sides to overhaul and inducing a collective failure to win points is very hard indeed. To put it into perspective, they are as many points from the top of the table as the bottom three.
Which is a satisfying enough thought upon which to finish today.