Arsenal 2 – 2 Hull City
1 – 0 Sanchez (13)
1 – 1 Diame (19)
1 – 2 Hernandez (47)
2 – 2 Welbeck (90+2)
A last-minute equaliser is the strangest of goals to score. The sense of relief is palpable, the eruption it brings is more guttural, visceral. And yet, in a match such as yesterday, against opposition – with all due respect to Hull – that you expect a top four team to win against, the goal doesn’t quite succeed in lifting the pall of defeat. A point that for fifty minutes seemed to be eluding Arsenal, was recovered and for that we shall be grateful.
Excuses are made for the rag-tag performance and I understand why the fingers are pointed in that direction. When you look at the list, it is somewhat disingenuous. Walcott has been missing for ten months and if we haven’t learned to cope without him by now then the question becomes different. Giroud has been replaced with an England international who has slotted into the side seamlessly. Like Debuchy, all of the above have been missing for some time, it’s nothing new. We’ve won games with them missing, it wasn’t an issue then so it’s a porous defence to use for this match.
All of which brings us down to Özil and Koscielny. Hands up, we missed them both and I suspect the latter more than the former. It’s such a well-trodden path – injured centre back early in the season necessitating a full back to step into the fray – that I expect to bump into Bill Murray any moment now.
There is no end to it in sight, Arsène admitted that Koscielny will only be able to play when he can stand the pain so the makeshift back four is going to be changed with Chambers slotting in centrally. Ironic really that the mistake that gifted Hull the lead came from his most experienced centre back; Mertesacker lost Hernandez and needed a tannoy announcement to find him again. A shame that it signalled the visitors lead.
Dangerous game, quoting statistics, Arsène found that out the hard way. 85% of teams who score first win games. Hell of a day to prove the manager wrong, lads, perfect timing. Arsenal huffed and puffed but couldn’t recreate the late Wembley winner, settling comfortably into the 15%. That sums the club up at the moment, it feels like everything is too comfortable, a lack of drive to match the verbal ambition.
The outcome didn’t seem likely when Alexis Sanchez capped a bright start with an early goal. A perfect day seemed to be in the making, a home win on the back of a Tottenham trouncing. The Chilean and Welbeck had already seen chances denied; Arsenal not quite rampant were purring through the gears to seal the win.
And then Mr East intervened, or more accurately, didn’t; Diame proved to be, as Kent Walton called it all those years ago, a “grapple fan” in winning his duel with Mathieu Flamini by two falls and a submission. It was, according to the referee, six of one and half a dozen of the other. The rest of us have a simpler word to describe the action; “foul”.
Yes, I have seen worse fouls committed, Diame’s offence was nowhere near as bad as a leg-breaker but it was a foul; Mr East got it wrong, Arsenal paid the price and suffered inexplicably. A team crammed with attacking intent became almost listless; they managed twenty-plus shots on goal but the directionless play is reflected by just a third of them being on target. These wayward distractions hold few pleasures.
You can’t blame the referee for the result though. Fifty minutes passed from Hernandez’s early goal until Welbeck’s equaliser with precious few clear opportunities created. Cazorla, Sanchez, Wilshere went close but on the occasions when they did break through, both Hull ‘keepers provided obstinate barriers.
It took another inspirational moment Sanchez to force the point, dribbling through to create space for Welbeck to finish with some aplomb. Moments like that are the reason clubs invest in players like Sanchez, why crowds adore them. With an injury list as intrusive as the current one, many more moments will be required if victories are to be carved out of this Premier League season.
And victories are a problem. Just two in eight is not the return of champions, not the return of challengers. Arsène was tetchy in his response to the questions of an eleven point deficit, knowing that it is a millstone. Mid-October and any title pretensions have been washed away. Talk of overhauling the gap is naïve, just as Chelsea have tough games so do we. Arsenal would have to go on an astonishing run of victories to catch the leaders and hope that everyone else is inconsistent at the same time. We’re in the dogfight for a top four place with a number of teams seeking to capture the ground Arsenal’s indifference has ceded.
Arguably, this is the toughest spell of Wenger’s reign. He’s had money for a couple of seasons, spent and provided an FA Cup as return. Problematically, we remain as far from the title as at any time in the past and that is a disturbing state of affairs. His answers to the media reflect the pressure he is feeling; terse, evasive when confronted by ugly truths.
There’s no immediate answer either. International breaks are notorious for providing indifferent performances, this one was no different. Groundhog Day. As before the team are going to have to play themselves back into form. As before, it is a hugely frustrating time until they do. Returning stars will help the process, Aaron Ramsey ventured from a bench which included Mikel Arteta and in coming games will see Theo Walcott. The hope is that in his desperation, Arsène won’t rush them back and cause further absences. Form, a versatile word at times.
A point it is; Arsenal sixth in the Premier League, likely to be three points off the Champions League places. A sea of mediocrity above and below tells you everything about how this season has panned out so far.