The FourFourTwo Preview: Arsenal vs Hull

FA Cup | Wembley Stadium | Sat 17 May | 5pm

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Stumble for the prize.

The lowdown

If you, like us, enjoy wasting time by watching total nonsense on YouTube, you might well be familiar with The Crawl.

ARSENAL FORM

  • Norwich 0-2 Arsenal (Prem)
  • Arsenal 1-0 WBA (Prem)
  • Arsenal 3-0 Newcastle (Prem)
  • Hull 0-3 Arsenal (Prem)
  • Arsenal 3-1 West Ham (Prem)

HULL FORM

  • Hull 0-2 Everton (Prem)
  • Man Utd 3-1 Hull (Prem)
  • Aston Villa 3-1 Hull (Prem)
  • Fulham 2-2 Hull (Prem)
  • Hull 0-3 Arsenal (Prem)

The slightly shaky footage, filmed at the 1997 Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii, shows two female athletes, Sian Welch and Wendy Ingraham, approaching the finish. Shattered beyond comprehension and near delirious, they somehow waddle onwards like a pair of constipated penguins, before crumpling to the ground simultaneously with just metres to go. Reduced to crossing the line on all fours, infant-style, it is an incredible testament to the human spirit, and also possibly the funniest three minutes on the entire internet.

Steve Bruce and Arsene Wenger, however, probably wouldn’t crack a smile watching it this week. There’s a real air of The Crawl about English football’s showcase, the 133rd FA Cup Final.

Hull have already enjoyed the finest season in their history, finishing 16th in the top flight (breaking their previous record of, ahem, 17th) clinching European qualification and booking two trips to Wembley. But the Tigers ran horribly out of steam over the race’s final strides, picking up just 14 points from 19 games in 2014, and supporters must be fearful their full-on collapse could be completed on Saturday.

For Arsene Wenger, things are arguably worse. Every season seems to have been a little bit like The Crawl over recent years. The Gunners come whizzing out the blocks, full of style and energy, looking like genuine contenders in early season. But by May they’re writhing around on the pavement in their own mess, wondering why they didn’t take another couple of Lucozade tablets or sign a striker.

Sure, Arsenal’s form is currently pretty healthy – they’ve won their last five matches, sealing Champions League football under some pressure –  but it is when the chips are really, really down that they’ve stumbled over recent seasons, including this one.

An FA Cup Final, with a nine-year silverware drought hanging over them and a recent history of blowing it against unfancied opposition in such situations? The chips couldn’t be any more down, and Hull can play with the freedom of knowing that they are not expected to win.

“[The drought may make it] a little more difficult,” Wenger told the press this week, “but at the end of the day once you walk over the line you just focus on your football. You don’t play with history, you play with quality. We just need to turn up and play well.”

He’s right. On paper Arsenal will win this match nine times out of 10. They have beaten Hull twice this season, scoring five and conceding none. But this is the FA Cup Final, where the formbook of cliché famously counts for naught. Hull will set out to frustrate them for an hour or longer, before hoping to capitalise on late-game frustration. With a sturdy defence and fine goalkeeper, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility.

Arsenal loyalists’ nerves will be on edge this weekend until either their side is out of sight, or the final whistle blows. A Crawl-like situation on Saturday might just be too much for some to take.

Team news

Serge Gnabry, Thomas Vermaelen, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott are missing for Arsenal, but Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil, Jack Wilshere and Laurent Koscielny should all play a part. Wenger insists that Bacary Sagna will start despite his ongoing contract wrangles.

Joe Dudgeon will be missing for Hull, but winger Robbie Brady could make a surprise appearance after an extraordinary recovery from groin surgery.

Player to watch: Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)

That curiously English pre-World Cup phenomenon of morphing from a club fan into an international fan will afflict numerous “neutrals” on Saturday: those supporters of other clubs who have spent the entire season shouting vile abuse at Wilshere will suddenly be wishing the little fella well – ‘cause he’s English, right?

The midfield maestro has been out since breaking his foot in a March international, but eased himself into the final game of the league season against Norwich, and should feature at Wembley. Arsenal fans will be praying he can help mastermind the conclusion of their trophy drought; the rest of the country will be mainly hoping that he doesn’t snap anything, and can assist Roy Hodgson’s youth-led charge.

LAST FIVE MEETINGS

  • Hull 0-3 Arsenal (Prem, Apr 14)
  • Arsenal 2-0 Hull (Prem, Dec 13)
  • Hull 1-2 Arsenal (Prem, Mar 10)
  • Arsenal 3-0 Hull (Prem, Dec 09)
  • Arsenal 2-1 Hull (FAC, Mar 09)

The managers

“The average lifespan is now 13 months,” said Steve Bruce last week, like some kind of footballing David Attenborough, sorrowfully surveying his fellow species being slain by impatient chairmen all around him. “It’s terribly disappointing.” Bruce has achieved something quite remarkable for a bottom-10 Premier League manager this year simply by not getting axed, and no wonder: he has won admirers for turning the KC Stadium into a real fortress, galvanising Hull’s defence, and showing some real tactical savvy during 2013/14.

He will certainly occupy the Hull hotseat next season, but Wenger – by far the Premier League’s longest serving gaffer after 17 years with Arsenal – is surely reaching a crossroads. While both boss and club have denied that this game will affect his long-term future, and Wenger has hinted that he’ll extend his Emirates stay this summer, the result will have a huge psychological impact on the club either way.

Bag his fifth FA Cup here (only three other men have achieved such a feat: Sir Alex Ferguson, Thomas Mitchell of Blackburn Rovers and George Ramsay of Aston Villa) and he may get the kind of boost needed to launch another north London dynasty. Another horrible defeat might finally sap his admirable spirit for good.

Wenger has won 15 of these two men’s 21 meetings, Bruce outwitting the Frenchman just twice, and drawn four. Despite the one-sidedness of their clashes, they remain mutual admirers – dating back to Wenger’s offer of a replay to Bruce’s Sheffield United in 1999 after Marc Overmars scored from a “misunderstanding”.

FourFourTwo prediction

1-0 to the Arsenal thanks to a late goal, the nine-year hoodoo to be finally lifted, and Gooners everywhere to crawl into bed in the small hours, seriously depleted of sodium.


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