KC Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
April 20th, 2014; 13:05 GMT
This Easter Sunday, Arsenal FC will travel to the KC Stadium to face Hull City AFC. Arsenal come into this match after a convincing win against West Ham United on Tuesday, despite falling a goal behind. Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski put in their usual good performances against The Hammers, and hopefully, they will carry that form into the final stretch of the season. Hull City come off back-to-back wins, a 1-0 win over Swansea in the Premier League, and an entertaining 5-3 win over Sheffield United in their FA Cup semi-final.
While this Premier League contest will not be the most important clash between the two sides (there is the matter of an FA Cup Final), both sides come into their match embroiled in races for places. Everton’s loss to Crystal Palace means that Arsenal go into the weekend in fourth. While Everton’s run in includes hosting Manchester United, going to Southampton, and hosting Manchester City, Arsenal would do themselves in the race for fourth by taking care of their care of business against an inferior side like Hull. Maybe more importantly, Arsenal would do well to rediscover some good form in their final Premier League matches, allowing them to maximize the probability of them winning the FA Cup. On the other hand, Hull City are in a fight against relegation. While they are six points ahead of 18th-place Fulham with a game in hand, even a point against Arsenal goes a long way toward ensuring Hull stay in the Premier League. Also, securing safety from relegation sooner gives them more time to prepare for the FA Cup Final.
Team news and tactics
Hull City come into this match without the services of Paul McShane, Robbie Brady, and Allan McGregor. Manager Steve Bruce will have both Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic available to him, after they were forced to sit out the FA Cup semi-final, as they were cup-tied. With these two back, it may help push Bruce to go with a 4-4-2, occupying both center backs, while looking to hit Arsenal on the counter-attack.
Steve Harper will probably continue in goal, with the pair of Curtis Davies and James Chester ahead of him at center back. Out wide, Liam Rosenior will likely play at right back, while Maynor Figueroa plays at left back. It will be interesting to see the position of Hull City’s back line. With Giroud likely playing at center forward for Arsenal and the lack of a threat in behind, Hull may look to push their back line up the pitch to squeeze the playing space and look to press Arsenal. However, with the likely midfield duo of Jake Livermore and Tom Huddlestone, Hull’s midfield may not be mobile enough to employ any kind of press against the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla, and potentially Mesut Ozil. On the wings, Hull will probably field Ahmed Elmohamady on the right and David Meyler on the left. Up top, it is likely that Bruce goes with a front two with Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic.
It is unlikely that Hull dominate possession, so the plan will likely be to hit Arsenal on the counter-attack, as they need to be as penetrative as possible with whatever possession they have. Hull may want to have their wingers tuck inside when Hull do not have the ball, to clog the center of the pitch, reducing the burden on the central midfield pair of Huddlestone and Livermore. In any case, Hull do not need to go for a win. Therefore, the strategy at first will probably be not to lose the match, rather than trying to win it.
Possible Starting Lineup [4-4-2]: Harper (GK); Rosenior, Chester, Davies Figueroa; Elmohamady, Livermore, Huddlestone, Meyler; Long, Jelavic
Going into this match, Arsenal will continue to not have the services of Abou Diaby (though he is set to return to training), Theo Walcott, and Jack Wilshere. Mathieu Flamini Nacho Monreal and Kieran Gibbs were not in the squad for the midweek match against West Ham United, and it is yet to be seen as to whether either will be fit for the match on Sunday. A potentially enormous positive bit of news for Arsenal and their fans is that Mesut Ozil may be fit enough to start, marking his first time playing for Arsenal since he injured his hamstring earlier against Bayern Munich. Mathieu Flamini also returns after a two-game suspension due to yellow card accumulation.
Other than left back, the back five for Arsenal should look familiar with Wojciech Szczesny starting in goal, Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker at center back, and Bacary Sagna at right back. If either Monreal or Gibbs are fit enough to play, expect them to start at left back. If not, then Thomas Vermaelen will likely be played at left back, as he was against West Ham United. Going with a basic 4-2-3-1 shape, the two in central midfield will likely be some combination of Mathieu Flamini, Kim Kallstrom, and Aaron Ramsey, who will start if fully fit. Given the amount of minutes Mikel Areta has played and the return of Flamini, it seems like Sunday could provide an opportunity to rest the overworked Spaniard. Assuming Mesut Ozil is fit to start, he will play in the attacking trio in a free role. Who joins him in the attacking trio is a bit of a mystery. Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla both performed well against West Ham (as they seemingly are wont to do), but Tomas Rosicky and Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain, if they are fit, provide greater energy. That willingness to make the run in behind could be valuable if Hull do attempt to squeeze Arsenal. At center forward, Arsene Wenger will probably start Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman scored an impressive goal against The Hammers and may be getting back some of that confidence that helped to define his early season success.
For Arsenal, it will be interesting to see how they start the match. Against West Ham, it was not until the visitors took the lead before Arsenal started playing with any tempo or purpose. Obviously playing that way is a dangerous habit to have, so it is important for Arsenal to begin to start matches better, so they lower the risk of a sucker-punch goal robbing them of points in this race for 4th.
Possible Starting Lineup [4-2-3-1/4-1-4-1]: Szczesny (GK); Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen; Kallstrom, Ramsey; Cazorla, Ozil, Podolski; Giroud
- Hull City have only defeat Arsenal once in their last six matches against Arsenal, a 2-1 win at the Emirates in September 2008.
- Jake Livermore, Nikica Jelavic, Robbie Brady, Shane Long, and Tom Huddlestone are all tied as the leading goal-scorer for Hull in all competitions; each one has scored 3 goals this season.
- 43% of Hull’s attacks come down the right flank this season (Whoscored.com)
- 29% of Hull’s goals (10) have come off of set-pieces.
- Only Norwich have scored less goals (4) off set-pieces than Arsenal (6).
Player to Watch For
Mesut Ozil (Arsenal)
If the German does make his return in this fixture, then his is certainly the player to watch. With the importance of these final four matches and an FA Cup Final in May, a return to form for the genius attacking player could go a long way in helping Arsenal secure Champions League football next season and their first trophy since their FA Cup win in 2005 over Manchester United. While Ozil is fantastic on the ball, his most important role in an attacking side is one of a balancer. Ozil constantly adapts his position in order to create space for his teammates and himself. He is more than willing to go wide or drop deep to decongest an area, to occupy a more favorable position, or to provide a passing option for a teammate. Given Arsenal’s proclivity to become too narrow in the attacking third, Ozil’s movement and positioning could help open things up for Arsenal and help return them to their first-half of the season form.
Hull 0-2 Arsenal
Arsenal are the better side, plain and simple. With the return of Aaron Ramsey and potentially Mesut Ozil, Arsenal will have their two best attacking players on the pitch and should begin to recover some of that potency in attack that put that on top of the league. Outside of a set-piece goal or a counter-attack where Arsenal’s defending collapses (Jelavic flicks a long ball towards the goal, Vermaelen runs back to claim the ball and slips, leaving hard-running Shane Long in on goal…or something like that), it is difficult to see from where the goals would come. Combine that with Arsenal’s somewhat restored firepower, and three points to the Gunners seems the most likely result.