Hull City 1 Arsenal 3: There are occasions when the recurring criticism of Arsenal and their manager Arsene Wenger simply appears absurd.
This was one of them as Wenger’s team’s produced a performance that illustrated all their best qualities, albeit against a Hull City side, whose limitations were exposed on a night that fuelled their relegation concerns.
Alexis Sanchez scored two of their goals as Arsenal stylishly eased to a victory that lifted them five points clear of fourth-placed Manchester United and represents a substantial step towards guaranteeing they will play Champions League football next season for the 18th year in succession. Aaron Ramsey was also on target for a team that has now scored 99 goals in all competitions this season.
Santi Cazorla, who sparkled in Hull last night, now wants to go one step further. “We want to win the title next year, but second place this season is for now the most important thing. We want to finish in the Champions League places and win the FA Cup final.”
The Gunners have also won 18 of their last 21 games and, when you factor in a forthcoming appearance in the FA Cup final against Aston Villa, those Arsenal supporters who regularly surface to call for the end of the Wenger era at the Emirates are currently keeping a low profile.
Arsenal’s control and composure was shaken only briefly last night when Stephen Quinn scored his first Premier League goal in eight years to give Hull hope when they trailed 3-0. They can also point to a wasteful finish by Sone Aluko before Arsenal and the fact that two goals came from deflections, but there was a huge gulf in class between these two sides.
Indeed, it had looked ominous from the start for Hull, who dropped below Leicester with this defeat and are a point outside the relegation zone. They did force Arsenal keeper David Ospina to come out of area to head away a through ball, but otherwise saw little of the ball for the first 20 minutes.
Arsenal dominated possession as they so often do against teams such as Hull. While it would unfair to describe such a cultured team as flat-track bullies, they have dropped only six points in 17 games against sides from the bottom half of the Premier League.
It is an impressive record and one they were determined to continue judging from the way they approached this meeting with a side that virtually ended Liverpool’s Champions League ambitions by beating them 1-0 at the KC Stadium last week.
Tom Huddlestone, impressive for Hull in that priceless victory, was among those who was stretched by Arsenal midfield mobility in those early stages and almost gave them the lead in the 10th minute. A cross flicked off the former Tottenham player and it was fortunate that the ball went straight towards keeper Steve Harper.
The 40-year-old keeper was far less comfortable two minutes later when he pushed away a shot from Sanchez and was grateful that Michael Dawson, another of Hull’s ex-Spurs contingent, was well placed to clear the loose ball.
The balance of power was altered slightly, however, after Hull survived those opening 20 minutes unscathed. Quinn directed a header wide before Dame N’Doye, hoping to catch Ospina off his line, attempted an ambitious 50-yard effort that went wide.
They could scarcely be called chances, but Hull did squander a glorious opportunity to go ahead in the 23rd minute. It was a key moment in the game as Robbie Brady curved in a perfect cross towards the unmarked Sone Aluko, who was unable to find the target with his header.
Hull despair at Aluko’s woeful finish was compounded five minutes later when they went behind to a goal that illustrated Sanchez’s value to this Arsenal team. The Chilean won a free kick on the edge and, taking the free-kick himself, beat Harper with the aid of a deflection off the head of Michael Dawson, who had scored the winner against Liverpool six days earlier.
Arsenal were now able to relax, controlled the match and could have scored even more than the two further goal that went beyond Harper before the interval. Arsenal’s second in the 33rd minute owed much to the vision of Cazorla, who found Ramsey inside the area and his quick turn created space for a shot that angled away from Harper because of another deflection, this time off Brady as the wing-back tried to tackled the Welshman.
And the second exposed the limitations of Steve Bruce’s side as Huddlestone lost possession in midfield and Hull simply couldn’t live with the speed and imagination displayed as Ramsey switched the ball to Sanchez and he round Harper to scored the third goal in stoppage time at the end of the half.
Arsenal were less extravagant in the second-half, although Ramsey had chances either side of Quinn’s 57th minute goal, headed in from Ahmed Elmohamady’s cross.Arsenal remained calm as they cruised toward three more points.
Harper 6; Chester 6, Dawson 5, McShane 5; Elmohamady 6, Huddlestone 5 Livermore 5 (Meyler 46,7), Quinn 6 (Jelavic 81,5), Brady 7; Aluko 4 (Robertson 65,5), N’Doye 6.
Ospina 6; Bellerin 6, Mertesacker 6, Koscielny 7, Monreal 6; Coquelin 6, Cazorla 7; Ramsey 8 (Wiltshere 68,6), Ozil 8, Sanchez 9; Giroud 6 (Walcott 86,5) Referee: Lee Mason 6
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