Hull 0 Arsenal 3: Three talking points
Hull 0 Arsenal 3: Three talking points as the Gunners keep hold of fourth spot in the Premier League
A dress rehearsal
One can only hope that, when these two teams go at it all over again in just under a month’s time, that game is just as feisty as the first half hour of this one. And it certainly should be, because there is a lot riding on it. On the one hand, there is Hull, whose trophy-winning history to date peaked with the old Third Division title in 1966. In the other dressing room at Wembley will be Arsenal, whose own silverware drought is so well-publicised as to scarcely need repeating here. The Tigers may yet need another point or so to guarantee their safety, but on the basis of today’s efforts, they are not going down, as they sought to get on the front foot from the outset, snapping (occasionally overzealously) into challenges from front to back. They can surely start to look to the final already, with every effort focused towards claiming the crowning glory of 110 years of history. At the Emirates, meanwhile, there is a growing sense that the end of an era is approaching. For so long a club of youthful promise, a team always coming but never arriving, the 11 which Arsene Wenger put out against West Ham was his oldest in over a decade. No more time for the future – now it is about the present. All of which puts the upcoming Wembley showpiece into sharp relief. Would a cup win for the Gunners release a decade’s pressure on the players and prompt a rise back to the top? Could another final capitulation prompt Wenger to call it a day? Can Hull buck the trend that, in the Premier League era, the only victorious team in an FA Cup Final dress rehearsal not to have then gone on to win the trophy is Manchester City last year? There is a Hull v Arsenal match this season which will have serious ramifications for the long term. Today’s was not it.
The value of the January sales
There is, of course, only one league table which, come the end of the season, truly counts. That is not, however, to say that it cannot be instructive – not to mention great fun – to put together other, bespoke versions. And there is one particular variant which is particularly illuminative. If the season had started on 1st February 2014, after the closure of the January transfer window, Hull would now sit 12th. Today’s illustrious opponents, 34 points clear of them for the season as a whole, would be a mere two places, and five points, higher. During the transfer window, Hull bought Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long. Arsenal, on the other hand, signed Kim Källström on loan. Long has three goals and an assist in 12 starts since joining the Tigers, while Jelavic has three goals in 13 games, and both have immersed themselves to the full in Hull’s push for survival. Both were haring forward from the first whistle today; Jelavic had a shot just tipped wide on the quarter hour, and Long was a livewire before a calf injury forced him off the pitch. They have done their jobs this season. Källström has made one start and a substitute appearance, and his biggest impact has been on Antonio Nocerino’s shins to earn himself a yellow card against West Ham in midweek. He was an unused substitute today, which in a season in which Arsenal could have won their first title for a decade begs the question – what exactly does Arsene Wenger think the January transfer window is for?
Özil’s best is still to come
Mesut Özil, make no bones about it, is a world-class player. This season, though, the 25-year-old Germany international has suffered, perhaps more than most, from the almost unmatchable expectation that comes with a high price tag. Today, though, he was impressive. He found space for a clever through ball for Monreal in the first ten minutes only for the Spaniard to be halted by the offside flag, and could have won a penalty a minute or so later after deft footwork outwitted the Hull defence. Another excellent turn in midfield should have led to more than a wasted free kick after 37 minutes. While he faded a little and was substituted after the hour, this was his first match for over a month. In an injury-hit season, he has five goals and ten assists across his league and Champions League appearances, and it would be a brave person to bank against him improving those stats next term.