The FourFourTwo Preview: Hull vs Arsenal
The most tense dress rehearsal imaginable.
The scent of FA Cup final glory will be in the nostrils of both teams, but neither can afford to remain distracted for too long. Hull’s Premier League future is not yet fully secure, while Arsenal will most likely need to win all of their games if they’re to pip Everton to fourth spot.
- Hull 5-3 Sheffield Utd (FAC)
- Hull 1-0 Swansea (Prem)
- Stoke 1-0 Hull (Prem)
- West Ham 2-1 Hull (Prem)
- Hull 2-0 WBA (Prem)
- Arsenal 3-1 West Ham (Prem)
- Wigan 1-1p Arsenal (FAC)
- Everton 3-0 Arsenal (Prem)
- Arsenal 1-1 Man City (Prem)
- Arsenal 2-2 Swansea (Prem)
Arsenal minds may be slightly more focused, with the Londoners having returned to league action against West Ham on Tuesday. More significantly, the Gunners’ 3-1 victory over the Hammers was their first in the league in five matches, ending a sorry month-long period that saw them take just two points from four matches.
And they will be now be especially motivated to secure Champions League football for yet another year after Everton's shock home defeat to Crystal Palace on Wednesday, the Toffees failing to retake fourth place from Arsenal and facing the tougher run-in with both Manchester City and United to visit Goodison Park.
Although it’s not inconceivable the Tigers could stay up with just one more point – or perhaps even on the 36 they’ve already accrued – their safest bet will be to put another three on the board.
There are certainly more winnable games than this one – the upcoming fixtures with Fulham and Aston Villa spring to mind – but with Manchester United and Everton also on the agenda, there may not be too much margin for error.
Hull will again be without their No.1 Allan McGregor, out for the season with a kidney injury picked up in the recent defeat at West Ham. Paul McShane (ankle) and Robbie Brady (groin) remain doubts.
Arsene Wenger confirmed Mesut Ozil should return to the fray for this match. Abou Diaby (yes, Abou Diaby) has also returned to training, but is unlikely to feature before the end of the campaign.
"Abou is back in full training on Thursday," said Wenger.
"It's very difficult to say [if he will play this season] because he has not played for over a year now. He looks physically fine, but he has to play one or two games before I consider bringing him back."
Player to watch: Lukas Podolski (Arsenal)
Podolski may not have enjoyed a particularly success season with Arsenal, but his performance in Tuesday's win over West Ham shows what he can bring to the team. Although he doesn’t often display the energy or work-rate to offer defensive cover, he offers a decent attacking threat from out on the left.
He’ll drift inside into the box, and when he gets there, he’s generally clinical. He only received 4 passes in the penalty area on Tuesday, but managed to get away 2 shots, hitting the net with both. With Aaron Ramsey and Ozil both returning to fitness, now is the time for Podolski to prove he’s worthy of a place in the team.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- 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)
- Hull 1-3 Arsenal (Prem, Jan 09)
Steve Bruce and Wenger may seem to be from different footballing worlds, but they appear to be comrades of sorts. This likely goes back to the days when Wenger would send young players on loan to Bruce’s Birmingham to smooth off the rough edges (including Sebastian Larsson, Nicklas Bendtner, Fabrice Muamba and Johan Djourou). Speaking in October 2011, the Sunderland boss Bruce said of an under-pressure Wenger: “We are all open to criticism because of the job we are doing, but Arsene Wenger and what he has achieved, to criticise him is, for me, ridiculous.”
When Bruce was given the elbow by the Black Cats, Wenger returned the favour. "I think it is a mistake [to sack Bruce] because the one to question at Sunderland is certainly not Steve Bruce. He has competence, the desire to win and is the last one I would question on that. Change does not always sort out problems."
It’s possible Arsene may find himself repeating that last comment in the next couple of months.
Facts and figures
- Arsenal have won 10 of 11 games against promoted teams since the start of last season – all by at least 2 clear goals.
- Hull have lost 5 of their 7 home games this season against the current top nine.
- 8 of Arsenal’s last 11 away matches have had at least 3 goals.
- Hull have scored 14 goals in their last 7 home games in all competitions.
Arsenal’s need – and ability – just outweighs Hull’s. 2-1 to the visitors.