Hull City 1 Arsenal 4: AS he approaches his 20th anniversary in charge at Arsenal, Arsene Wenger is far too long in the tooth to become embroiled in mind games with his managerial rivals.
As he spoke of Manchester City’s impressive start to the season, he was stating facts, not putting pressure on the Premier League leaders.
But he was the first manager to articulate what has looked increasingly clear with each passing game: Arsenal, and the rest of the Premier League, are playing catch-up.
While Arsenal continued to repair the damage inflicted by their two-game no-show at the outset of the campaign, Pep Guardiola’s men underlined their status as the eminent force in English football. They recorded an eighth consecutive victory in all competitions.
City enjoy a five-point advantage over the Gunners, who must wait until they travel to the Etihad Stadium, in December, to test themselves against a side already being talked of as champions-elect. Until then, it looks like a case of attempting to hang onto City’s coat-tails.
“I’d prefer to be five points ahead,” said Wenger, when asked if he was concerned about the early points differential. At least he knows recent history is on his side. City’s impressive sprint from the blocks mirrors that of a year ago, when they won their first five league games without conceding a goal, but were outlasted by the Frenchman’s perennial Champions League qualifiers, who finished two places and five points above them. Under Guardiola, however, we are dealing with a vastly different beast, one which shows little sign of repeating the fall from grace City suffered in the dying embers of the Manuel Pellegrini reign.
“We’ve only played five games,” said Wenger, who saw Alexis Sanchez score in each half, in addition to missing a penalty shortly before the interval, after stand-in Hull defender, Jake Livermore, was sent off for handball.
The Arsenal manager added: “Manchester City are the better team at the moment, as well as the most consistent. We have to play catch-up a little bit, but, hopefully, we can do that.”
Theo Walcott, with a deft chip, and substitute, Granit Xhaka, in stunning fashion from 30 yards, scored at the beginning and the end of second period to underline the visitors’ dominance, with Alex Iwobi providing two assists (the 20-year-old again impressed). “To play in a team like this is really exciting,” the forward said. “It was a great performance. There are so many good players to learn from, and I think the more I play with them, the more I will mature out on the pitch.”
As Arsenal contemplate their ‘mission implausible’ — catching City — Hull’s ambitions are more modest, as they aim to finish above at least three other teams in May. Mike Phelan needs to bring some much-needed stability to a club with an uncertain future in terms of its long-term ownership, with the 53-year-old caretaker manager this week set to accept an offer to take on the role full-time.
Fleetingly, they threatened a comeback when Robert Snodgrass converted a penalty awarded for Petr Cech’s foul on substitute, Dieumerci Mbokani.
But the outcome of dogfights against those other teams seeking salvation at the bottom will have a greater bearing on which division Hull find themselves in next season.
“I hope so,” Phelan said, when asked if it was more a case of when he takes charge, not if.
He added: “There’s been an offer and it will get done, sooner rather than later.”
Jakupovic 6; Elmohamady 6, Livermore 5, Davies 6, Robertson 7; Clucas 7; Snodgrass 6, Huddlestone 4 (Mason 58, 5), Meyler 5, Diomande 4 (Maguire 42, 5); Hernandez 5 (Mbokani 77, 6).
Subs not used:
Marshall, Maloney, Keane, Henriksen.
Cech 6; Bellerin 7, Mustafi 7, Koscielny 6, Monreal 7; Coquelin 7, Cazorla 7 (Xhaka 68, 7); Walcott 8 (Perez 87, 6), Ozil 7, Iwobi 8 (Elneny 77, 7); Sanchez 8.
Subs not used:
Ospina, Gibbs, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Holding.
Roger East (Wiltshire)
Man of the match:
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