Sunday, September 18, 2016

Hull eventually hammered as Arsenal begin to find form

There is still plenty for Arsenal to work on after the win over Hull City on Saturday, but it is impossible to not be pleased with a 4-1 win away from home, especially following a tough midweek away trip in the Champions League. The Gunners were aided by Hull going to down to ten men in the first half, but for the vast majority of the game, they looked in complete control and were ready to open up the home defence when needed.
Following the laboured performance in Paris on Tuesday, I was surprised that Arsene Wenger only made two changes, and one of those was expected with Petr Cech returning in goal. The midfield in particular had looked dysfunctional against PSG, and with Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny waiting in the wings, Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla will have been aware of the need to perform on Saturday. Just to freshen things up, I had a suspicion that Xhaka and Elneny might get starts, but Arsene Wenger stuck by his known formula and it paid dividends as the two starters combined well.
Against a team that was looking to sit deeper and soak up pressure, Coquelin and Cazorla worked as a midfield two because of the Cazorla’s ability to play probing passes and help move the defenders around, while Coquelin’s energy meant Arsenal could keep the tempo high to not give Hull much respite.
The other positive from Arsenal’s midfield was Alex Iwobi on the left. He needs to work on his defensive contributions as I’m not sure Nacho Monreal has overly enjoyed playing in front of him, but Iwobi’s attacking contributions are growing. He brings a freshness to the team, almost unburdened by fear, and just looks to express himself. Iwobi plays with his head up and is always looking to make something happen, rather than just being content with playing an easy sideways pass. Even if everyone is fit and available, I think there is a strong argument that Iwobi should be in the starting XI.
The Nigerian had a big hand in the opening goal as his shot deflected in off a combination of Jake Livermore and Alexis Sanchez. The build-up from Arsenal had been good to release Theo Walcott in space, and his cross/shot was only parried to Iwobi by Jakupovic. Iwobi fired at goal, but it looks as if the goal will be given to the Chilean for a tiny toe he snuck on the shot to help divert the ball in.
Petr Cech had to save a shot straight at him from Robert Snodgrass, but the likelihood of the Arsenal keeper having a busy day decreased massively as the hosts went down to ten men in the first half. More patient Arsenal build-up found Walcott on the right and he pulled the ball back to the advancing Francis Coquelin. The shot was on target and was clearly blocked by Jake Livermore’s hand, but as the goalkeeper was behind the Hull defender, the subsequent red card did seem a bit harsh. Alexis then took a weak penalty and saw it saved by Jakupovic.
It was interesting to hear Arsene Wenger be relatively scathing about the penalty situation by saying he had no idea why Alexis took the spot kick. The manager definitely gave the indication that he’d be having a word with Alexis for disobeying the penalty order. Of the four penalties Arsenal have won this season, Santi Cazorla has scored two, and the ones not taken by the Spanard have been missed. If he is on the field, Santi should be taking penalties. End of.
Despite missing the chance to go 2-0 in the fist half, the Gunners did double the lead after the break. Iwobi was central again as he received the ball from Theo Walcott on the edge of the box before spinning and back-heeling the ball back into the path of the flying winger. Walcott showed the end product we’ve been crying out to see more of from him with an excellent chip over the advancing keeper. Overall, it was a good showing from Walcott, and he is currently justifying his place in the team ahead of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Although Arsenal were in control of the game, they did threaten to make it interesting for the neutral by giving Hull hope. Petr Cech was adjudged to have fouled Mbokanie even though the centre-forward wasn’t going to get the ball after a heavy touch and he fell into Arsenal’s keeper. Snodgrass duly found the top corner from the penalty spot.
That sparked Arsenal back into life after cruising through parts of the game. Walcott and Alexis Sanchez linked up and after Theo was denied by Jakupovic, Alexis pounced on the rebound and smashed the ball high into the roof of the net with defenders scrambling to get on the line. It was another slightly strange game for Alexis as I’m not convinced it is best for the balance of the team to have him up front, but he still scored twice and should have had a hat-trick. It is encouraging to see him hitting the net early in the season after he had a slow start to the previous campaign.
The gloss was added to the victory in injury time by Granit Xhaka. Off the bench to sure the midfield up, Xhaka found himself in a bit of space 30 yards from goal, and without much happening ahead of him, unleashed an absolute piledriver into the top corner. It was a ridiculously brilliant strike, and reminded Arsene Wenger of the quality of the players waiting for the chances in reserve. Xhaka was superb in the win at Watford, but hasn’t started since. Surely he is ready to be exposed regularly to the Premier League as he looks to have all the attributes to be a bit of a beast in the Gunners’ midfield.
Arsenal could have been more clinical and could have killed Hull off earlier than they did, but 4-1 wasn’t a harsh reflection on the hosts. The Gunners outplayed them, scored some good goals and look to be finding form ahead of a big game with Chelsea next weekend.