Arsenal 2 Hull City 0
Arsenal’s victory over Hull in the FA Cup final last May was meant to unleash the club’s potential after so long without a trophy; and although we await those fruits, Alexis Sanchez’s performance in a third round rematch provided evidence that perhaps progress is, after all, being made at the Emirates.
With him on board — and in this form — there must surely be hope for the future if he can drag teammates up to anywhere near his level.
The Chilean was outstanding against a weakened Hull side as Arsenal cruised to a 2-0 victory, scoring the second and decisive goal after Per Mertesacker headed the home side ahead from a first-half corner. Considering Theo Walcott also made a first start since rupturing cruciate ligaments a year ago, it was a big evening for Arsenal.
“It was a positive game for us,” said Arsene Wenger. “We had a serious, positive and good collective performance. As for Sanchez, he looked always dangerous. He’s lively and always dangerous. He has a good combination of what you want to see from top players, which is fighting spirit and talent.
“I hope he can keep going like this all season. I was tempted to rest him but when a player is confident, it’s important to keep them going, especially when they have that physical potential. He recovers very quickly and he doesn’t look in our tests to have any fatigue problem.”
That’s good news for Arsenal because Sanchez’s energy was the key against Hull — and it was all rather different to the final eight months ago — a match Wenger recalled in his programme notes, being 2-0 down after 10 minutes at Wembley as “one of the biggest emotions I’ve had here”. The significance of Arsenal’s comeback that day cannot be underestimated — it paved the way for Wenger to agree a new contract and begin rebuilding work that included signing Sanchez, who has 16 goals this season and was far too good for Steve Bruce’s Tigers.
If Hull were ever looking for revenge at the Emirates, they must have known that history was against them anyway; Arsenal have not been knocked out in the third round of The FA Cup in 19 years and have now suffered just one defeat in their last 39 FA Cup home matches. So it was no shock when Wenger’s side took the lead in the 20th minute, although the fact it came from a corner — a simple downward header by Mertesacker — may have taken some by surprise.
From that point on, you never expected Arsenal to give away their advantage, although they missed a series of chances as, inspired by Sanchez, they cut through the Hull ranks at will. The Chilean should have added a second within minutes, but his effort after a flowing move was spectacularly cleared off the line by Paul McShane.
With Hector Bellerin at right-back and Walcott, Sanchez and Joel Campbell in attacking positions, Wenger selected a team with pace and they dominated the opening stages before Hull — who did threaten once in the first half, through Tom Ince — began to show some ambition.
The game was decided eight minutes before time when the excellent Sanchez got the goal he deserved, turning and curling home a beautiful effort from 18m, set up by Cazorla.
“We huffed and puffed but didn’t have any cutting edge,” said Bruce. “It was a big ask to come to the Emirates after three games in six days and with problems we have with injuries. But there’s no sign of Sanchez looking tired — he looks a world class player.”
For Arsenal there were other positives. Walcott survived 76 minutes on his comeback and although looking rusty — he missed two excellent chances — he did enough to suggest he will play a big part in the second half of the season. Young Francis Coquelin, too, produced a strong performance in the holding midfield role while Campbell and Bellerin were both lively, presenting Wenger with further options as he welcomes back Mathieu Flamini and perhaps Aaron Ramsey against Stoke on Sunday. But the overriding memory of the match will be Sanchez’s remarkable energy and skill. He has set a standard every other Arsenal player needs to aim for.
ARSENAL: Ospina 6, Bellerin 6, Chambers 7, Mertesacker 7, Monreal 6, Coquelin 7, Rosicky 7, Cazorla 7, Walcott 6 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 76; 6), Campbell 7 (Maitland-Miles 90), Sanchez 9 (Akpom 84).
HULL: Harper 6, Figueroa 6, Maguire 7, Davies 6, McShane 7, Ince 6, Huddlestone 7, Quinn 7, Brady 6, Aluko 6 (Elmohamady 62), Sagbo 5 (Hernandez)
Referee: Bobby Madley
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