Arsenal draw ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card as Hull nearly burn our title chances.
A less than impressive performance from Arsenal saw them go deep into injury time equal with Hull City, before in-from Danish striker Nicklas Bendtner poached the winner to keep our title hopes alive. The Arsenal attack looked impotent after the opening goal from Andrey Arshavin, in which the Russian Maestro evaded the challenge of two Hull defenders inside the penalty error before stroking home with a classy finish. After this, Arsenal took their foot off the gas considerably, a mistake which simply cannot be made again. We almost paid very, very dearly for it. Hull’s cause was helped by some ridiculously bad decisions, the worst of which saw lumbering striker Venegoor of Hesselink’s offside go unnoticed, before he was given a penalty for throwing himself on Sol Campbell; it would be worth noting that he never even made any attempt to control the ball. Disgraceful. Boateng left the pitch in a walk of shame just before half time after a ridiculously late, high and dangerous tackle which saw him fly studs up into Bacary Sagna’s knee. Don’t tell me those sorts of tackles happening to us are just coincidence; Sagna could very easily have had his leg broken.
But thankfully, big Nicklas Bendtner was Johnny-on-the-spot for Gunners yet again, scoring his 6th goal in four games (I think…) to take his teams form to a fantastic five wins on the trot.
Despite the win, which make no mistake, was absolutely imperative, I’d like to make a few points. Firstly, what a gamble Wenger took today with his team selection. Thank goodness we haven’t been made to rue its failure. His decision to try and assert Eboue’s ability to play anywhere on the pitch clearly backfired, as, by no fault of his own, the Ivorian international was invisible for most of the game, and seemed visibly annoyed at his managers decision to play him out of position and then take him off. Eboue played right attacking midfielder in place of Walcott, who began the game on the bench. The Walcott/Eboue partnership works fantastically together and this match was tailor made for Eboue on the right flank and Walcott further ahead of him; two players whose pace, touch and ability to turn a defender would have absolutely destroyed Hull. Sagna, whilst having a very solid game on defence, looked out of place on attack, and I think many will agree it was a poor decision to play Eboue out of position…again. Why not just start Walcott ahead of him, in his natural position? It’s hard to get your head around, and it certainly didn’t pay off.
Nicklas Bendtner reignites what appeared to be the dying embers of our title bid.
We were wasteful with our chances. I bet people won’t be calling for Arshavin’s head the way they did for Bendtner’s’ after he missed all of his shots today. His finishing was the worst I have seen from him all season, even more so than the Arsenal vs. Manchester United match. We have to improve on this, as our finishing is clearly off the pace every two to three games. If we take our chances, we will do fine for the rest of the season; we are playing teams whose heads will drop once they start going 1,2,3 behind, but who will get fired up if they get a sniff. Teams like Blackburn and Spurs.
Congratulations are due to the team for the win, none the less. The difficulties of the game arose from circumstances beyond their control: Terrible officiating, over physicality bordering on the dangerous, and a ridiculous penalty. This was always going to be a very tough game, in reality. Hull have had a good home record over their last few matches at The Circle, and it took a concerted and uncompromising fight to the death to secure victory; the important thing being that it was in fact secured, so well done. Credit to Denilson for doing what we should have been doing for half an hour; shooting. It was his shot that lead to the rebound for Bendtner, and it was exactly the right thing to do.
Manuel Almunia – 7: He did absolutely everything that was asked of him today, and didn’t deserve at all to concede; even made a good go of saving the penalty, and came pretty close. He showed command of his area and dominated balls coming into the box. Definitely a strength of his. It’s also worth noting that he saved the only real shot on him during the game, a one on one with Venegoor of Hesselink. Although this was called offside, the save was a good one and he deserves credit for being on his toes.
Bacary Sagna – 7: I thought Sagna had a pretty faultless game, particularly on defence. He was very strong down his flank and didn’t allow the Hull players any space. I thought his crossing was a LOT better two; he didn’t manage to find anybody sweetly but he sent a lot of good balls in; as well as a few bad ones too. Pretty much the same as always for Bacary, great at the back, but we really saw how much we needed something to surprise the opposition when we desperately needed a goal, and he didn’t give us it.
Sol Campbell – 6.5: Suffered a harsh penalty call and an even harsher yellow card. Not a great game for him, really, and as much as I have been singing his praises he did look in serious need of a rest, even if its just a game off. Important to remember he was recovering from a serious cramp too which had kept him out of training? His match had its high points though; he matched Venegoor of Hesselink for strength and he did pretty well with aerial balls. His highlight was, for me, a brilliant and hard-hitting Tony Adams-esque tackle to dispossess Kamil Zayatte. The tackle was bone crunching but pretty fair; the tackle of an experienced and confident defender.
Thomas Vermaelen – 7.5: A pretty good game for Vermaelen, he did well in matching the physicality of the Hull City front men, who had quite clearly been sent out with instruction to try and get physical and boss the Arsenal centre-backs. Vermaelen was having none of it, and he put on a clinic at times of getting the basics right at the back; undoubtedly one of his strong points and what makes him one of the best defenders out there. He always pops up goal side of his man to make a key tackle, interception or clearance; he notably had an excellent moment at the back where he tackled Altidore before clearing acrobatically and winning the foul in the process. He is the definition of reliable and no nonsense.
Gael Clichy – 7.5: Clichy’s rich vein of form runs on and on, as he turned out another good performance, and stood out as a top performer in a team that was struggling. His defensive problems which were evident at the start of the season seem a distant memory now, and it really seems one of the strong points of his game, actually. On attack he was very good and offered pace and options in the final thirds. His crossing wasn’t as good as Sagna’s today though, so credit to Sagna for obviously working hard, as his crossing was also better in the Porto game.
Denilson – 7: It really is a story of the good, the bad and the ugly for Denilson’s game today. Let’s start with the good: he made some excellent and at times vital interceptions, and had the brains to take the shot at the end, which was the only smart thing to do at that stage of the game; pop one off and hope for a nice rebound. It paid off and he went a long way to winning us this game with that decision. Made one or two good tackles, too. I seem to remember a very good one to win possession back in Hull territory. The bad and the UGLY: His main tactic of keeping possession off a tackling player is to get smashed doff the ball and hope he gets a foul given to him. He honestly lacks so much strength; he lost the ball this way perhaps 5-10 times during the game by getting pushed off softly and appealing for a foul which was never going to be given. He needs to show a lot more spine and strength, because at the moment he is nowhere near strong or consistant enough to play defensive midfield. At heart, he still looks for fouls like an attacking midfielder.
Abou Diaby – 7.5: Was assured in possession, and very harrowing to the Hull players when they were in possession; he never gave them an inch. Showed excellent work rate in his closing down and I really think he should be the first choice replacement at defensive midfield when Song is absent. He has a much better grasp of the defensive duties of the game in the last two months. But his best work was on attack. His top quality in this game was that he seemed to be able to keep possession extremely well in tight situations. More than once he would be closely marked by one or two defenders and he found a way past them with both control and elegance several times. He helped set up a lot of attacks for us and I thought he did well. He wasn’t wasteful in possession on the flanks and didn’t fire in crappy crosses, either, opting rather to duck back inside to try and link up.
Samir Nasri – 6: Mr Invisible today, very little to say as he was he failed to make an impact to the point where he was almost just making up the numbers. Had a few moments early on where he sent some decent through balls through, one notably to Bendtner but the Dane could quite pick it up. Other than that, his passing was a fraction out and he was too closely marked to make a real difference. Substituted in the 76th minute for Eduardo, which really said a lot about how much he had struggled to create. I’m sure he will bounce back, just an off day for him.
Emmanuel Eboue – 6.5: He had some fleeting moments of great vision but nothing quite came off for him. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ll repeat again that he is simply wasted when played up the pitch. He is an instinct player, not a thinker per se, and he is at his best when he simply plays the course he thinks is right when under pressure as a right back often is. A cheeky back heel pass summed up his effort, trying hard, but suffering from being out of position. Really, he should have started on the bench instead of Walcott. This was plain stupidity and stubbornness by Arsene Wenger, I’m sorry to say.
Andrey Arshavin – 7.5: Scored a great goal which proved to be very important in a tightly contested affair, but was guilty of throwing away gilt edged chances. Blazed three fantastic opportunities over the bar and realistically would feel he could have ended the day with a hat trick or more. He didn’t seem to have many opportunities to run directly at the opposing defence, as our game plan was out of tune today, though on the one chance he did get he battled his way through two defenders to score.
Nicklas Bendtner – 8 (MOTM): He had a very good game today; he played his role well and was not greedy nor wasteful with the possession he had. Scored the winner and did brilliantly to stay onside, I was biting my nails thinking he had strayed offside but he did extremely well. My only criticism is that he needs to stay around the penalty box more; too often we see him drifting out to the touch line in possession, when he is the man that we are aiming for in our play. Great to see him score again, the Christ he didn’t miss. Well done, Nik! He was delighted to score it. His was the assist too, if you forget. Really great day for him.
Theo Walcott – 8: In The brief time he had on the pitch, I think he was our best player. The moment he came on the game started to open up for us, the only problem was that by that point, most of the others were so disheartened that they couldn’t keep up with hi, so many of his crosses found no targets. He exhibited a great first touch which is exactly what a player like him needs’ a brilliant touch to make a yard of space from which to launch from. Made an instant impact and was lightening on attack, the Hull defence couldn’t handle him.
Arsenal can look forward to the return of some very welcome reinforcements next week.
The important thing is that, although the squad seems stretched and exhasuted, we got the three points, and not only that, we are coming to the end of a bad time in terms of injuries. Tomas Rosicky and Fabregas look set to return by next week, which will be a really massive lift. Alex Song’s mdifield presence will also be available following the termination of his suspension, and it desperately showed we were missing him today. We made it through, guys and girls, which is something to be proud of, and althought he win was unconvincing, the determination to achiveve it was worth the three points by itself.
Congratulations to the manager and the squad for their win today, and for making it such a dramatic one for us fans! You don’t need to do us any favours now, and comfortable 2-0 win will be just fine by me! This was a must win and although it wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t fast and it wasn’t flashy, it was three points that we can bank nonetheless.
Join me and others on the Arsenal Action Forum for all the discussion in the final run in for the season,