Arsenal put a stop to a damaging run of five games without a win by coasting to a 4-0 victory against Hull City in their FA Cup fifth round fixture.
While the away side racked up the goals on one end, the injuries seemed to pile up on the other. Mertesacker, Gabriel, and Ramsey suffered assorted aches and niggles and had to be taken off, but Arsenal’s patchwork defense held firm against all of Hull’s overtures at goal. Four goals from an erstwhile misfiring attack and a clean sheet from a makeshift defense are both causes for optimism in the Arsenal camp ahead of a crucial few weeks in their season.
Arsene Wenger made a swathe of changes to the starting lineup after the draining game at White Hart Lane over the weekend. A completely rejigged attack had Campbell, Iwobi, and Walcott supporting Giroud up front. Elneny and Flamini formed the midfield base, with the Egyptian the more adventurous of the two. At the back, Chambers came in for a rested Bellerin, and Gibbs kept his place over Monreal, with the rest of the backline retained from the Spurs game.
This game was as quiet as the North London Derby was raucous. In a far from full KC Stadium, both teams started out cautious in possession, content to play the ball laterally without venturing into risk-heavy passes. Alex Iwobi was bright from the start, turning on a dime and always looking to move the ball forward. In the opening stages, he passed it to Campbell who swept the ball wide from a good angle. Apart from that chance and a Walcott goal correctly ruled offside, Arsenal offered minimal attacking threat in the first half. The most noteworthy save of the half was made by Ospina, who palmed the ball away smartly after a shot came through a sea of legs from a poorly cleared corner.
For a side currently so shorn of confidence and in-form players, it was perhaps necessary for Providence to lend a helping hand for the opening goal. Five minutes before half time, David Meyler attempted a suicidal back pass to the keeper which was duly intercepted and slotted into the net by Giroud. It was the Frenchman’s first goal in 11 games and a much needed reprieve from his scoring drought.
The second half was a more open affair, with Hull slowly increasing the tempo of their play and attempting to catch Arsenal out with crosses into the box. They changed their system to play two strikers up top, winning many balls and knock downs for onrushing midfielders. This situation seemingly worsened when Gabriel suffered a muscular injury and had to be subbed off. After Mertesacker had already hit the showers with a swollen eye in the first half, Arsenal’s centre-back pairing of Nacho Monreal and Calum Chambers was left raw, untested, and there for Hull’s taking.
The home side almost took advantage, with Diame heading wide before Ramsey almost put a clearing header into his own net. But just when Hull were cranking up the pressure, Arsenal broke away and scored their second. Gibbs trapped a stray clearance well and slipped the ball through to Walcott, who picked out a neat cross for Giroud to side-foot home. This proved to be the pivotal goal of the game, taking the wind out of Hull’s sails and handling Arsenal the comfortable cushion that their low confidence needed.
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But where the footballing gods gave, they also took away. Aaron Ramsey, who had come in for Gabriel, lasted all of 16 minutes before straining a thigh muscle and being replaced by energetic tyro Jeff Reine-Adelaide. To their credit, Arsenal didn’t let the injuries dampen their momentum. Campbell cut in from the right before sweeping a spectacular cross-field pass to Walcott’s feet, and the struggling Englishman buried it past the keeper instinctively. As the game wound to a close, man of the match Iwobi raced forward and played it out to Walcott, who deflected in his second and Arsenal’s fourth of the game.
Although the injuries are worrying and Arsenal were not at their free-flowing best throughout, there are plenty of positives for Wenger to take from the game. Chief among them is the fact that Giroud and Walcott seem to have found some goal-scoring form. With Welbeck and Sanchez also finding the net recently, it bodes well for an attack that has often been stingy in its creation and profligate in its finishing this season.
It remains to be seen whether this was just an isolated drizzle or if the floodgates have been opened. The Gunners now face Watford in the quarter finals this weekend, and Arsenal fans worldwide will be hoping that a corner has been turned.