What we learned from Arsenal 2-0 Hull: There's still plenty of life in Wenger's fringe
Arsenal’s fringe players have what it takes to step up
When he’s not crashing cars and stripping down to his pants, Nicklas Bendtner does a bit of side work as a footballer. He doesn’t usually take this part-time work very seriously – he can usually be found strolling around the pitch, readjusting his little ponytail and looking for the Emirates' exit signs. But against Hull City he actually did a good impression of a professional footballer.
Given a rare start by Arsene Wenger, Bendtner took his chance. He scored his first goal for the Gunners since March 2011 inside two minutes, heading home Carl Jenkinson’s pinpoint cross. The Danish striker managed two more shots on goal – one even hit the target. He put his 6ft 3in frame to good use, winning three of his five aerial duels. Along with Bendtner, Jenkinson and Nacho Monreal were handed starting berths and followed the example set by their superiors, Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs. Both full-backs posed an attacking threat and stifled the visitors when they tried to get the ball into the channels. Monreal was one of Arsenal’s top passers on the night, completing 21 of 22 attempts in the attacking third.
The pass masters have got more trigger-happy
When they rip teams apart, pundits wax lyrical about Arsenal’s short, sharp, incisive passing. When they get it wrong, they’re criticised for trying to walk the ball into the back of the net.
Against Steve Bruce’s Hull, the Gunners did a bit of both. Over the 90 minutes Arsenal had 20 shots on goal. Visiting goalkeeper Allan McGregor was given plenty to do, with seven strikes finding the target. Long-range shooting is not something you would usually associate with the kings of possession, but five of their efforts on the night were from outside of the box. Aaron Ramsey was responsible for three of these.
Full of confidence, the Welsh midfielder, was more than happy to let fly when the opportunity presented itself. No longer can teams just invite the Gunners to open them up – this multi-talented midfield are just as enthusiastic about shooting as they are passing.
Hull couldn’t cope with Arsenal’s pressing game
Usually it’s the Gunners on the receiving end of a high-energy pressing game, but on Wednesday night it was them dishing out the harassment.
Predictably, most of the game was played in the visitors' half, with Arsenal dominating possession, but on the odd occasion they did give it away Wenger’s men made sure Hull’s technical ability was put to the test. They shut out their guests quickly, often forcing them to go backwards or long. When the Tigers played the ball back towards their own goal they had more success (95% completion rate) – as you’d expect.
The hosts were more than happy for them to drop deep into their own territory. Lose the ball there and the Gunners are in business. To avoid this Hull had to go long – but unfortunately they had Danny Graham and Yannick Sagbo up front. Isolated and starved of quality service, the pair had little joy against Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny. Only 128 of their 193 forward passes found their intended target – that’s a completion rate of just 66%.
Santi Cazorla weaves it all together
Mesut Ozil and Ramsey are a double act with more punchlines than the Two Ronnies. Not sure what that means? Neither are we, but the point is that there’s an end product to all their preamble. Ramsey played his part in the opening goal with a perfectly measured pass to Jenkinson. He then threaded a masterful through ball to Ozil who slotted past McGregor to double Arsenal’s lead.
But there’s a third member of this devastating strike team. He’s 5ft 4in, plays with a smile and uses the ball with ruthless efficiency. Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for Santi Cazorla. Watching him zip around the pitch is a joy – he plays the ball around tight corners, dances away from danger and controls the momentum of the game. He has the ability to keep possession ticking over before shifting up a gear when he sees an opening – often an opening no one else has seen.
Enough of the gushing praise – the stats tell their own story. The little Spaniard’s use of the ball was unrivalled – 90 of 99 passes found the feet of a team-mate. Of these exchanges, 47 came in the attacking third – again no player could match his numbers. Peerless.
Hull didn’t do enough to disrupt the rhythm
Criticising Hull’s players for their performance against Arsenal would be harsh. You could sit there and say they should have done this and should have done that, but bottom line is that they were outclassed by a team of far superior players. Simple as that.
However, lesser teams have gone to the Emirates, barely seen the ball and managed to upset Arsenal’s tempo. It’s crude, but you’ve got to get in their faces, and Hull didn’t manage that.
They tried to create an impregnable blue wall, but by backing off – possibly in fear – they invited pressure. Statistically speaking their tackling was effective, with 21 successful challenges from an attempted 29, but the majority of these were made on the edge of their own box. This is too late in the day – let Arsenal get in this area and you’re in trouble. They needed to win the ball higher up the pitch so they could relieve the pressure on their back four.
If you can’t out-pass Arsenal you try and take the game to the skies, but Hull conceded ground in that battle as well – losing 20 of the 33 aerial contests. They took a beating in every area of the game.
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