Match Preview: Hull City v Arsenal; The Match No One Wanted
Neither Arsenal nor Hull City had this on a list of preferences—an FA Cup 5th Round replay in the middle of crucial fixtures in other competitions. Yet Tuesday’s meeting at the KC Stadium appeared on the agenda after neither side could score at the Emirates on February 20th.
In that contest, a combination of tame Arsenal finishing and an outstanding performance by Hull goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic prevented the Gunners’ dominance from being decisive.
Tigers’ manager Steve Bruce’s approach was a little odd, changing his team’s setup to a very defensive 3-5-1-1 even though a draw didn’t suit him. He may have figured that going for a sucker punch was the best way to knock Arsenal out at home.
This time, Hull has no reason to play more assertively. Another 90-minute clean sheet, followed by extra time and potentially a penalty shootout, would give Bruce’s team a reasonable chance of advancing to host Watford in Saturday’s quarterfinal.
A priority on defending makes even more sense in light of Hull’s own recent struggles in front of goal. The Tigers have scored just once in their last five matches, including the first leg against Arsenal, despite shooting 72 times.
That relative impotence has contributed to Hull’s fall from the Championship’s top spot to third place, outside the top-two positions that secure promotion to the Premier League.
Of course, Arsenal are no strangers to inefficient finishing, scoring just 46 goals from the 356 chances (12.9 percent) they’ve created in league play. The gap between the Gunners’ Expected Goals (xG) and their goals scored is the widest in the league.
Perhaps Arsenal’s better than expected performance on that measure against Tottenham on Saturday will be the start of an improving trend: Two goals, one at a numerical disadvantage, from an xG measure of 0.7.
There were other encouraging signs from Saturday’s combative 2-2 draw in the North London Derby.
Despite Francis Coquelin’s dismissal in the 55th minute, the Gunners held their own statistically, with passing numbers comparable to their opposition’s. The midfield seemed more coherent as well, as Mohamed Elneny’s inclusion in the center and Aaron Ramsey’s return to the right resulted in quicker ball movement and enhanced defensive cover. And once they had pulled level through Alexis Sanchez’s first league goal since mid-October, Arsenal created the chances most likely to produce a match-winning goal.
Do these indications of progress tell us anything about the team’s prospects for Tuesday? After all, a fair number of Saturday’s starters won’t see action against Hull. Don’t be surprised, though, if Wenger gives Alexis another go in an effort to build on the Chilean’s spirited and successful showing against Tottenham. He’ll help the Gunners put greater pressure on Hull’s back line and help them win their first FA Cup replay since eliminating Swansea in the 3rd Round in 2013.
Arsenal’s fullbacks against Hull’s wide defenders. Hull succeeded in funneling Arsenal’s attacks into central areas in the first leg, so the onus will be on the Gunners to widen their play on Tuesday. Without any true, touchline-hugging wingers, Arsenal will rely on its fullbacks to stretch the Hull defense.
Calum Chambers will probably get the nod on the right, while either Nacho Monreal, if he’s shaken off the minor injury that kept him out Saturday, or Kieran Gibbs will play on the left. All are capable on the ball; they’ll need to be quick, clever, and dynamic to offer the variety and danger that seemed lacking in the home fixture.
Where to Worry
This Arsenal side seems its own biggest challenge at times, in the sense that bad decision-making and lackluster displays have kept it from fulfilling its potential. Its task on Tuesday is twofold: Re-energize itself after a physically and emotionally taxing derby, and combine effectively as a selection that hasn’t played together much. This will not be easy work against a determined and accomplished Championship side on an iffy pitch.
Arsenal moves the ball quickly and succeeds at moving Hull City’s defenders out of position. Joel Campbell and one of Alexis or Ramsey bring ingenuity to the proceedings, and Alex Iwobi keeps things flowing to his attacking teammates. Hull are stubborn but can’t hold out.
Players to Watch
Arsenal. Alex Iwobi. Arsenal’s latest young talent has caught the eye in home cup matches, receiving the ball on the turn, slipping past defenders, and picking some dangerous passes. If he can keep the ball moving away from home, the Gunners will get good chances to score.
Hull City. Edin Jakupovic. It was his blinder in London that made this replay necessary. If the Hull keeper can stop Arsenal early, the favorites might start to doubt their prospects while the hosts gain confidence.
Injuries and Suspensions
Arsenal: Cech (calf), Arteta (calf), Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee), Wilshere (leg), Cazorla (knee), Rosicky (thigh), Koscielny (Achilles)
Hull City: Akpom (ineligible), Hayden (ineligible)
Arsenal: Ospina; Chambers, Mertesacker, Gabriel, Monreal; Flamini, Elneny; Campbell, Iwobi, Alexis; Walcott
Hull City: Jakupovic; Tymon, Bruce, Davies, Taylor; Elmohamady, Maloney, Meyler, Aluko; Powell; Diomandé
Referee: Kevin Friend
Assistant referees: M McDonough, D Cann
Fourth official: G Scott
UK: BT Sport, 1900 GMT
US: Fox Sports 2 and Fox Soccer 2Go, 2:00 PM EST
Hull City 0-2 Arsenal
The Manager’s Take (Courtesy Arsenal.com)
I have to rotate a little bit and keep the right balance in the team I will have to, but I’m not so much concerned about replacing one player with another one.
We are in a position where we always have to win the next game. It is always the most important game of our life because it is treated like that by everybody else. That’s the way we treat it. It’s the most important game of the season for us because it’s the next one.
Match Facts (Courtesy BBC)
- The Gunners have won each of their last five visits to Hull in all competitions, scoring at least twice on each occasion.
- Alexis Sanchez has scored five goals in six starts in the FA Cup. His first goal in the competition was scored against Hull in January 2015.
- The Tigers have won their last three FA Cup games at home. They also won the only previous FA Cup meeting between these sides in Hull, though this was back in 1908.
- Wenger’s side have won their last three FA Cup games away from home.
- Arsenal have never lost an away FA Cup match against lower-league opposition under Wenger (W11 D4), last losing out to Sheffield United in January 1996.
- Meanwhile, Hull are winless in 15 FA Cup games against top-flight opposition as a lower-tier side (D4 L11), last beating West Ham in February 1973.
- Eldin Jakupovic made 11 saves in the 0-0 draw at Emirates Stadium – more than any keeper had made against Arsenal in a match at home this season.
- Arsenal have won 14 consecutive rounds of the FA Cup. The record is 16, which the Gunners jointly hold.
- The Tigers’ last five games in all competitions have produced just two goals – one for, one against.
- Arsenal are winless in five games in all competitions. They’ve not gone six without a win since December 1998.