A close family bereavement enforced a bit of a blogging hiatus on me over the weekend. Somehow the loss of a loved one makes anguishing about why Arsenal aren’t winning all games all of the time seem a bit irrelevant in the grand scheme of life. But ‘life must go on’ must be the mantra for myself and the family right now, so I’m returning to work via the usual TfL methods and find myself musing about Arsenal again after safe passage to the next round of the FA Cup was secured once more.
Thankfully there was to be no repeat of the nerve-jangling FA Cup final result of last May, as a makeshift Hull team could never really muster enough to trouble an equally makeshift Arsenal team, although ours was out of less choice and more necessity with the lengthy injury list that still engulfs the squad.
In truth, despite not securing the game until the last ten minutes with that fine Alexis goal, we looked (with the benefit of hindsight) like we were always in control and David Ospina will probably have both pleasure and irritation as his overriding feelings as he awakes this morning. With Szczesny being rightly questioned after a dismal display on New Year’s Day, this was Ospina’s chance to stake a claim as the number one, but with barely anything to do all afternoon he will probably once again resume his position on the bench on Sunday against Stoke.
I thought we might even see a rout after the first 15 minutes though, because Campbell was put in, Harper saved from Alexis a couple of times and Walcott just couldn’t get the final touch to steady himself enough to put the ball away in the opening exchanges. That it took a corner actually beating the first man to open the scoring should have been less of a surprise than it was. We’ve all collectively bemoaned our inability to make use of set pieces pumped into the box, but here again was another case for the prosecution when it comes to working more on our set piece delivery. Swung high and to the back post, Mertesacker nodding the ball into the net is a sight that should not be as rare as it is, but I am thankful nonetheless. Mainly because these types of games are those in which the opposition team grows stronger and stronger with each minute that the game remains at 0-0. So to go one up in the first 20 minutes normally draws out the opposition to come and play.
Hull certainly did push a little more in the second half and there was a spell in which our passing was pretty terrible actually. Not only that, but there seemed to be no real attempt to press the man on the ball by the Arsenal players, which enabled Hull to get more possession and despite the fact they didn’t really do anything with it, as an Arsenal fan you’re always nervous when you’re only a goal up.
Perhaps in defence of some of the players, they did look bloody knackered though, particularly Walcott who you could understand why he kept the afterburners switched firmly off with his first game back. He needs more games and yesterday was a prime example of that. Flitting in and out of the match, his contribution was what I would describe as ‘partially threatening’. Once or twice he nearly got on the edge of some balls out through from the midfield, but by-and-large he was almost invisible at times. It’s fine, it will come and he will get fitter, so you can’t really get too irritated. He’s human after all.
Where I thought the game was really won for us was in midfield, where the balance of Coquelin, Rosicky and Cazorla worked well. Rosicky was his usual direct self and always looking to move the ball forward quickly, Cazorla pulled the strings as his form continued to flourish, as does Coquelin’s, who put in another dogged display protecting our back four. That’s three in a row for the Frenchman, who looked for all of the world a lost cause being cast away to Charlton before an eventual transfer in the summer, but the fast-paced nature of the footballing world means careers can quickly be turned around and you can’t help but think another couple of games like he has this festive period will do no harm in forcing his inclusion into the team from the manager more often.
I am still not 100% sure that he is the long term option at the club, but I’d like to once again reiterate that I’ve always felt his Arsenal playing time had been kept unfairly short for the talent he possesses. He might just be a younger version of Matthieu Flamini, but remember how he evolved from flexible squad player to first teamer in 07/08. That pretty much came from nowhere so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Coquelin step up too.
So all in all it was a case of ‘job done’ more than anything else. We were alright, weren’t really tested and with players coming back into the side, the manager will be able to make choices on his starting XI rather than rounding up whoever is left at London Colney three days before a game.
Now, if both Burnley and AFC Wimbledon could do us a hilarious favour and knock out the Spuds and Liverpool respectively, that would be grand.
Catch you tomorrow.