Arsenal cruise into FA Cup quarter finals after eclipsing Hull – but injuries mount up
PUBLISHED: 21:35 08 March 2016 | UPDATED: 21:35 08 March 2016
Arsenal triumphed 4-0 against Hull City in their FA Cup fifth round replay at the KC Stadium tonight – but it was the prospect of further injuries to key players which were of more concern to Arsene Wenger.
Two goals apiece from new dad Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott eased the Gunners into a sixth round tie with Watford at The Emirates on Sunday lunchtime after a convincing performance in Humberside.
But it was the thigh strain picked up by substitute Aaron Ramsey, along with a cut head for captain per Mertesacker and a calf niggle for Gabriel, which worried Wenger – who had shunted Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Alexis Sanchez to the bench after a hard-fought 90 minutes in the North London derby.
Mathieu Flamini also started, coming in for the suspended Francis Coquelin. Alex Iwobi was in the first XI along with Mohamed Elneny who kept his place after impressing with a calm temperament in the white heat of White Hart Lane on Saturday.
As Tigers boss Steve Bruce hinted he placed his faith in his squad players as he made seven changes from the side that lost 1-0 to Birmingham five days ago, with the former Manchester United defender preferring the same 3-5-2 system that earned a 0-0 draw at the Emirates.
Eldin Jakupovic, Ahmed Elmohamady, Harry Maguire, Alex Bruce, David Meyler, Nick Powell and Adama Diomande all returned to his team, while also finding room for Mo Dame, who made the starting XI after Shaun Maloney suffered a training injury yesterday.
With Arsenal faltering in the business end of the season with three wins from their last 12 matches before tonight, it was perhaps understandable Wenger snapped this week,
Annoyed by persistent questioning about his tenure he mounted an impassioned defence of his reign, including issuing a withering riposte on whether he was the right man for the job by saying he found that particular line of examination ‘boring’.
Yet you could argue the long journey up to Humberside was boring for the 2,500 Arsenal fans in giving unwavering support to their team. With many having to take a full day’s holiday rather than just half due to the unusual 7pm kick off – prompted by the need to avoid a Champions League TV clash.
For them, and the tens of thousands of dedicated season ticket holders at The Emirates – paying some of the highest ticket prices in world football – not to mention the millions of fans around the world who call The Arsenal their team, perhaps the thought of Groundhog Day in the final as the teams falls aways in the final third of the season may be slightly tedious too.
With cash reserves of more than £150m, depending on which accountant you talk to, it could be further argued Wenger’s stubborn refusal to invest a sizeable chunk of those funds – garnered from TV and commercial deals on the back of a full stadium week in week out don’t forget – could be described as painfully frustrating.
And that the recent storm on social media including Twitter that the Frenchman professes to know little about could have been avoided by investing year-on-year in the team.
As it was the character shown by his team in Saturday’s bruising North London Derby was lauded as they refused to concede the game at 2-1 down with ten men and minutes to go. As this observer noted during the game – having attended more than 75 of these fixtures in three decades – commitment to the cause from an Arsenal team at White Hart Lane should be the bare minimum expected, not a surprising bonus.
So it was with a fair amount of trepidation Gunners fans packed out the away end tonight at the KC Stadium.
Were they going to see a team of fighters who were determined to keep their season alive in a cup competition?
Or were they to see a repeat of the side who surrendered meekly at O)ld Trafford, and against the criminally underrated Alan Curtis and Swansea City?
Thankfully we were soon to find out.
You could tell the FA Cup still means something to fans – and it wasn’t anything to do with the vapid ‘Americanisation’ of pre-match rituals at the KC which resembled a sub-standard disco more than a dignified old football club.
It was more intangible than a vacuous lights show.
No it was the feeling that this game meant a chance of glory. Not the chance of promotion to the richest league in the world – as enticing as that may be. Nor the race for the ‘Fourth Place’ trophy.
It was the real prospect of silverware.
For Hull the notion wasn’t so fanciful. After all they were minutes away from lifting the trophy in that unforgettable final in 2014. And for Arsenal it meant the chance to lift the fabled old cup for the third time in a row – something only achieved once before in English sporting history after Blackburn triumphed between 1884 to 1886.
The match started with the ever-vocal away support singing – and no doubt dreaming of Wembley – while they reminded their counterparts that they although they were 2-0 up they still managed to lose the game. Or words to that effect.
It was instructive to learn the Tigers fans responded with the same words about the Gunners efforts against Barcelona in the Champions League.
Arsenal started comfortably against a Hull side that kept to its 3-5-2 formation that successfully stifled Arsenal at The Emirates in the goalless stalemate in the original game.
On nine minutes good work from the promising Iwobi saw him feed the ball through to Joel Campbell on the right hand side of the box.
The Costa Rican opened up his body - in a movement reminiscent of Gunners hero Thierry Henry - but curled wide.
How Gooners everywhere would have loved the man with the copyright on that move to be playing tonight, despite his ‘poor’ view from the posh seats these days. Maybe it was co-incidence but the away support immediately launched into their homage commemorating the Invincibles unbeatable 49 match run.
The lack of spice in the opening stages also led to them inquiring whether the quiet KC Stadium was ‘The Emirates?’ They say all humour starts with a kernel of truth.
One player who wasn’t laughing was captain Per Mertesacker who received lengthy treatment after clashing heads with former Crewe starlet Nick Powell on the quarter hour.
The delay seemed to galvanise the teams as the tempo rose after the restart even if the play remained shapeless as both teams cancelled each other out.
That was to change on the half hour as Nick Powell swung in a free kick wide on the right flank. After a scramble the ball fell to captain David Meyler on the edge of the box who unleashed a powerful shot that Arsenal keeper David Ospina did well to palm away.
Per Mertesacker was subbed shortly after still looking groggy from his head injury. The move was bookended by two Arsenal bookings in Elneny and Giroud for tangling more than anything malicious. But immediately the mind recalled Coqeulin’s unnecessary two yellows on Saturday.
The big German’s replacement was Nacho Monreal who slotted in alongside Gabriel in the middle.
On 41 minutes Campbell flicked the ball down the line but without much belief. Yet his action may have confused the players around him as Meyler who received the ball then played it across the box in anticipation of keeper Jakupovic coming to claim.
But the pass was misplaced and it fell straight to a predatory – if somewhat surprised - Giroud.
The Frenchman, who has been having a fallow time of late was never going to dismiss such a gift and promptly slotted the ball past hero of the first game low into the net to make it 1-0 to the Arsenal.
Moments later Kieran Gibbs fired off a swerving shot that clipped the top of the crossbar as the North Londoners finished the half well in control.
Arsenal legend Ray Parlour – and very briefly a former Hull City player – was on the pitch at half time. It was amusing to hear him answering honestly to his questioner saying he couldn’t see the Arsenal goal coming. To be fair nor could many in the ground either.
Just after the restart Elneny had a shot tipped over by Jakupovic as both teams started the second half very much in the same vein as the first - committed but lacking penetration in the final third.
On 65 minutes a cross by Ahmed Elmohamady saw substitute Aaron Ramsey get his head to the ball first. However his touch only succeeded in directing the ball to what looked like the inside of Ospina’s far post. The fact it deviated just past the post when it looked nailed on to be an own goal made you wonder whether the Gunners name’s on the cup. Again.
Ramsey had come on for Gabriel nine minutes earlier with Chambers slotting alongside Monreal - in a central defensive pairing which should have been the dictionary definition of ‘makeshift’.
With 20 minutes remaining Arsenal looked to have made the game safe as Theo Walcott crossed the ball into the Hull box for Giroud to aim it past Jakupovic.
It was the type of simple – but hugely effective – goal the team haven’t scored for a while.
On 77 minutes Giroud returned the favour as he played an angled ball into the box for Walcott to take in his stride. The wideman then curled a lot shot beyond the
Bosnian keeper to make it 3-0 - and game over.
However, worryingly for the Welshman and his manager, he was forced to come off with 18 minutes remaining. Despite it being an eventful 16 minutes on the pitch with his side scoring two goals – and the 2014 FA Cup Final matchwinner nearly netting an own goal - the fear was his injury, which looked muscular, may be one that sidelines him for a chunk of the most important part of the season.
As the game petered out, and many in the crowd heading for the exits - prompting gleeful Gooners to sing: ‘Is there a fire drill?’ – Iwobi forced a good save from Jakupovic after a stinging shot on the edge of the area.
Iwobi then had a hand in Arsenal’s fourth as he played a clever ball to Walcott’s feet with seconds remianing. He then drove on and fired past an increasingly beleaguered Jakupovic at his near post.
It was harsh on the Bosnian after his superb performance in the first game – but 4-0 to Arsenal was not harsh Wenger’s team’s performance tonight.
As referee Jones blew the final whistle Arsenal joyous players and fans celebrated in the far corner.
But for Wenger – with a clutch of season defining fixtures to come, the injuries to key men in his team – if not the quality of his side’s performance - raised more questions than answers.
Jakupovic, Bruce, Maguire, Davies, Odubajo (Robertson 65), Elmohamady, Meyler (Aluko, 57) Huddlestone, Diame (Taylor 87), Powell, Diomande
Ospina, Chambers, Mertesacker (Monreal, 32) Gabriel (Ramsey, 56 – Reine-Adelaide, 72) Gibbs, Flamini, Elneny, Walcott, Iwobi, Campbell, Giroud.