Emirates Stadium, North London
December 4, 2013; 19:45 GMT
Winter is well and truly upon us, and with football matches becoming more routine it is going to be a test of resource utility for teams heading into the busy month of December. Games come thick and fast and the fittest survive and thus many experts and pundits have earmarked this month as the one which will decide Arsenal‘s league credentials. Sitting 4 points clear their first task is to beat Hull City at the Grove on Wednesday. The Tigers are high on confidence, beating Liverpool for the first time in their history, and will be looking to replicate their 2-1 win in the 60,000 seater arena just like they did back in 2008. Back then Geovanni and Cousin’s second half strikes earned the Tigers a famous win, but this Arsenal side are different and will be looking to build on their lead in the league with a win.
Both sides have very different ambitions this season and from this game as a whole. A draw is probably the best result the Tigers can get at the Emirates and even that looks extremely unlikely, while the Gunners who started the season with a home defeat have thereafter won all their league games on home turf. Despite being favourites it’s fair to say Hull do stand a fighting chance. Despite their woeful away record, they remain the only side to have conceded 2 goals or fewer at the Etihad, a stadium considered a graveyard for away sides this season. Hull’s league position is impressive considering they have already played Tottenham, Everton, Chelsea and Manchester City. The discipline showed by Bruce’s men is appreciable, and one must wonder how different their approach will be travelling to the table toppers. Attacking intent has often been sacrificed to inject defensive solidarity, and it will be no surprise if the Gunners struggle to create chances.
Arsene Wenger will have one eye on his next 4 fixtures, which will see the Gunners play Everton, Napoli, Man City and Chelsea, and that could influence his team selection on Wednsday night. There has been a consensus that despite getting the results Arsenal have not looked at their flowing best. The Cardiff win was one game where they never let the noose loose except for a 10 minute spell in the second half, but they were more professional than swashbuckling. Hull too in their defeat of Liverpool thwarted all Liverpool attacks and did a good job of winning the ball early. If they approach the game against Arsenal in a similar way, we could be in for a surprisingly close encounter. The protests to prevent a name change might not be that big an agenda for the travelling fans who will need to back their side in every possible way.
Team News, Lineup and, Formation
The injury front has been getting kinder by the week for Arsenal as they prepare for a hectic winter schedule. With 4 games in 10 days, one would expect Arsene Wenger to chop and change a little to keep his players fresh. There are no fresh injury concerns for the North Londoners with Lukas Podolski eyeing a comeback by participating in training sessions with the first team. Diaby, Chamberlain and Sanogo remain long term absentees, each of them earmarking a return early next year while Ryo Miyaichi’s return date is a mystery for the time being. Other than that Le Prof has his remaining squad to pick from which effectively means all those who were available against Cardiff City.
In midfield, Arsenal are well stacked and Mathieu Flamini was rested for the trip to Wales, later coming off the bench to net his first goal since his return. With a rest at the weekend he could be in for a start and will be needed to shore the central areas versus the Tigers who were very impressive in the middle against Liverpool. Alongside Flamini, Arsene might field Mikel Arteta, who was brilliant against both Southampton and Cardiff, and would look to make the midfield more compact alongside the Frenchman Flamini and stop Huddlestone and Livermore getting a foothold in the game. In attack Olivier Giroud almost picks himself , especially with Bendtner not even making the bench on Saturday. Walcott would be brimming with confidence after laying up an assist for Ramsey on Saturday and after 3 substitute appearances might be ready to start this game from the off. The fact that Hull play 3 at the back will only accentuate his impact with channels to run into. Mesut Ozil and Ramsey have started every game in the league when available and could be in for a much needed break with Tomas Rosicky given a start along with either Cazorla or Wilshere. Jack has looked lively in his last 2 starts, playing on the right, but if Theo starts he would have to play in his more natural central position.
Tactically Arsenal need to use the ball smartly and need to make the most of their possession. Hull tend to play with a good defensive shape and defend with 10 men behind the ball, so Arsenal will need to play at a high tempo and break through the Hull defensive barriers at pace. Despite the away team not being free scoring by any means, they did score 3 against Liverpool and the Gunners’ defence, which has been tighter than ever this season, will need to be on their toes and be organized at the back. In a nutshell, it’s their attacking fertility and desire that will make the difference in this game and the extra quality among their ranks might be enough to get them a win.
Possible Starting Lineup [4-2-3-1]: Szczesny (GK) – Sagna (RB), Mertesacker (RCB), Koscielny (LCB), Gibbs (LB) – Arteta (CM), Ramsey (CM) – Cazorla (LAM), Ozil (CAM), Walcott (RW) – Giroud (CF)
Steve Bruce and his Hull side have no fresh injury concerns from their 3-1 win on Sunday and will go into this game full of belief, lying only one place below Arsenal’s neighbours Tottenham. Curtis Davies however will be missing the trip to North London thanks to his 5th yellow card and an automatic suspension. Liam Rosenior will replace the Englishman in an otherwise unchanged expected lineup for the Tigers. Steve Bruce would be concerned about Hull’s away woes but after their exploits at the weekend the away side would be in high spirits.
Tom Huddlestone has been a revelation after signing for the newly promoted side this summer and his partnership with former Spurs teammate Jake Livermore would be given the task to prevent Arsenal’s midfield from dominating the ball and at the same time link up with the forward line. Wingbacks Brady and Elmohammady need to avoid giving open spaces for the Arsenal wide men to drift into and put pressure on the centre backs. In attack Koren will play behind centre forward Sagbo who would be without his regular strike partner Aluko, who is out with an injury. Sagbo will look to draw Mertesacker-Koscielny out of position with his hold up play and create openings for Meyler and Koren to run past him.
The game plan would be fairly simple with Hull looking to keep their shape and packing the central areas, knowing midfield is where Arsenal’s strengths lie. Breakthroughs and turnovers will be their best hope of getting a goal and thus Huddlestone will need to sit deeper, hoping to break the Arsenal build up play and thereby release the wing backs on the counter. Creativity from the middle of the park is a problem and one of the major reasons why Hull have scored so scarcely this season. Bruce would be hoping the 3 on Sunday will change that trend.
Possible Starting Lineup [4-2-3-1]: Mcgregor (GK) – Elmohammady (RWB), Bruce (CB), Rosenior (CB), Figueroa (CB) Brady (LWB) – Livermore (CM), Huddlestone (CM) Meyler (AM) – Koren (SS), Sagbo (ST)
- Szczesny has the best saves-to-shots rate of any regular Premier League goalkeeper this season at 81%.
- There have been 3 goals or more scored between these sides in each of their last 6 meetings.
- Mesut Ozil leads the assists charts in the Premier League despite joining the league after Gameweek 3.
- Hull City’s win over Liverpool was their first win over the Reds in their history and also their first win against a team above them in the league standings.
- Hull City average 311 short passes per game when playing away from home, the third worst in the division (only Aston Villa and West Ham have worse).
Player To Watch Out For
Per Mertesacker (Arsenal)
The Arsenal defence has looked a lot more steadier in recent weeks and Mertesacker has lead the team from the back. Always a figure of calm and poise, he will have to be up to his task facing Meyler’s dynamism and Sagbo’s physique. What has worked to Arsenal’s advantage in their vastly improved defensive game is that Koscielny and Mertesacker work in tandem and the Gunners don’t play a high line per se as was seen in previous seasons, something that works to Mertesacker’s advantage. Even in the opposition box he can be a nuisance, as shown against Soton where he won the penalty for Giroud to seal the 3 points. To add to that, the German is an excellent organizer of the defence and will be hoping to lead by example again and replicate his recent performances by racking up another clean sheet.
Arsenal 2-0 Hull
On paper this could look like a regulation home win, but Hull barely 2 nights back proved what they are capable of, and anybody writing them off completely will be in for a surprise. Hull would like to add another scalp to their hitlist on Wednesday but face an Arsenal side that have set the pace in the league so far and would look upon this as another opportunity to stay clear of the chasing pack for now. Hull City are no walk in the park for any of the top sides and can be resilient and extremely stubborn in defence. But if Arsenal’s title ambitions are for real, anything other than 3 points in this fixture will be seen as disappointment. They obviously have the quality in defence and attack to gun down the Tigers and with some of the trickiest fixtures lined up after this game, the Gunners would be motivated enough to maintain their lead at the top. The biggest challenge will be to contain the Gunners and stopping them from scoring, which is easier said than done. Hull will make it tighter than most people predict but eventually Arsenal are expected to see the job done. Home form will be key in the long run and the North Londoners can’t afford to drop points here and despite Hull’s impeccable Sunday night display they can only do as much.