Match Preview – Match Facts – Predicted Lineup
Hull City v Arsenal
Barclays Premier League
Kingston Communications Stadium
Kick off: April 20, 2014 2:05 PM BST
Four more matches to go, we are in pole position for the proverbial “fourth-place-trophy” that secures a place among Europe’s best clubs next season and, more importantly, a financial windfall. If we manage to qualify for the illustrious competition, we will be second only to Real Madrid in terms of consecutive seasons in the Champions’ League as we have been regular participants since 1998-99. Only Madrid have managed longer – their streak started the year prior in 1997-98. Of course, it’s mostly because Manchester United won’t extend their 18-season-streak due to a terrible David Moyes’ debut season.
Given how poor our away form has been lately (one victory and four defeats with a goal-difference of 2:15), we should take our remaining away games with plenty of caution. Hull City and Norwich don’t have either a Suarez or a Hazard but they can cause a lot of trouble for the best teams in the league. Ask Liverpool (lost at Hull) and Manchester City (drew at Norwich). Everton are just one point behind us and have superior goal-difference which makes our advantage even smaller than one point (mathematicians would say: “0 < x < 1″, where “x” represents our advantage).
Hull City are FA Cup finalists and that means they are very close to Europa League football next season. A brief look suggests they are relatively safe with six points separating them and 18th-placed Fulham with a game in hand but they are yet to play against Arsenal (h), Manchester United (a) and Everton (h) with a trip to Fulham next week being the crucial moment of their Premiership campaign.
When I wrote that they are very close to Europa League next season, I wanted to say that they should cheer for us in the league to get fourth place in the Champions’ League. If we win the FA Cup and claim fourth spot at the end of the season, the Tigers will qualify for Europa League. If any of Everton, Spuds or Manchester United make a break-through into the Top Four at our expense and we win the Cup, Hull won’t play in the European competition next season. Of course, there is a short-cut for the Tigers to play in Europa League – they just have to win the cup against us. Not very likely, eh?
When it comes to their team, they have some dangerous players. Nikica Jelavić has worn his shooting boots on a few occasions since his transfer from Everton in January – four goals by his name prove that. He is a strong striker with the ability to score from outside of the box and our defenders shouldn’t leave him too much space. In a way, he is similar to Giroud – his most dangerous weapon is his first-touch shooting as he is not the paciest striker on Earth. Shane Long is another one to keep our eye on as the Irishman can make deadly runs behind defences – our central defenders had their share of problems with Long when he played for West Brom.
Their defence has conceded less goals (40) than ours (41) but they should be a team that suits our game. In the reverse fixture we won 2:0 thanks to an early header from Nicklas Bendtner after a delightful cross from Carl Jenkinson and Mesut Özil slotted the ball home after Ramsey’s clever through ball. It was arguably the easiest victory we achieved in the first half of the season.
Arsene Wenger has said that Özil might be back for the game against Hull. I don’t believe that the German genius will start given that his last outing was against Bayern in the Champions’ League. Furthermore, his away form has left a lot to be desired this season so it’s very likely that the most expensive signing in Arsenal history will start the game on the bench. Gibbs is out and that’s another frustrating injury this season. Monreal might return for the match but it is more likely that Wenger will opt for Vermaelen again as a “wide central defender” given that the Belgian has already dealt with Andy Carroll in aerial duels and a similar performance might be needed against Jelavić. Sagna, Mertesacker and Koscielny should remain important bricks in the wall in front of Wojciech Szczesny while it’s uncertain whether Wenger will opt for Arteta/Flamini paired with Ramsey or Kim Kallstrom will get another start. The Swede did neither excel nor disappoint against West Ham on Tuesday night. Fortunately, there are a lot of options for Wenger and it’s up to him to pick the best one (Flamini-Arteta, Arteta-Ramsey, Arteta-Kallstrom, Flamini-Ramsey…or even Ramsey-Rosicky). My guess would be Arteta-Ramsey – those two were in the heart of our midfield during the first half of the season while we were leading the league but Ramsey’s injury ruined everything.
Oxlade-Chamberlain didn’t play against West Ham but should get a chance on the right flank. His pace and power should be our important outlet, especially if Özil gets a chance to show his magical passes behind the defence. Chamberlain’s presence should open more space for Giroud in the middle and it’s interesting to see what kind of performance we will get from Lukas Podolski (provided that the German gets the nod again). He has scored a goal against Liverpool in the FA Cup, scored an equalizer against Bayern, scored a goal and assisted to Giroud at home to Swansea, assisted for Flamini’s goal against Manchester City and scored twice against West Ham…in the last two months. He has contributed with either a goal or an assist in the last three home games but he hasn’t been able to repeat that away from home. His defensive game isn’t the best but his finishing skills might be worth the risk against the side that has averaged just a little over a goal per match this season. Santi Cazorla was magnificent against West Ham and we can only hope he will serve us more of the same against Hull as well. With Tomas Rosicky back in the team, however, there is a strong possibility that the Czech maestro will take his place in the hole while Cazorla will be moved to the left flank and Podolski dropped to the bench.
Perhaps Arsene Wenger should consider to recall Nicklas Bendtner to the squad for this match. Bendtner has scored in three out of last four matches against the Tigers including two late goals in his last two visits to the KC Stadium.
If we win and Everton fail to beat Manchester United, that fourth-place-trophy will be within our reach. I won’t say that we will get a peaceful finish because whenever I say that, we get into so much trouble that people can now recognize a Gooner by a simple look at their nails.
Nevertheless, we should and will gun the Tigers down and insert strike fear into them ahead of the FA Cup Final!
Arsenal: Ozil (doubt – hamstring), Monreal (doubt – dead leg), Gibbs (groin/hamstring), Gnabry (knee), Wilshere (foot), Diaby (doubt – knee), Walcott (knee)
Hull City: McGregor (kidney), Brady (groin), McShane (ankle), Dudgeon (knee)
Head to Head
Premier League (EPL) 4 Dec 2012 Arsenal FC 2 – Hull City 0
Premier League (EPL) 13 March 2010 Hull City 1 – Arsenal FC 2
Premier League (EPL) 13 Dec 2009 Arsenal FC 3 – Hull City 0
Premier League (EPL) 17 Jan 2009 Hull City 1 – Arsenal FC 3
Premier League (EPL) 27 Sep 2008 Arsenal FC 1 – Hull City 2
13 Apr 2014 Hull City 5 – Sheffield United 3
5 Apr 2014 Hull City 1 – Swansea 0
29 Mar 2014 Stoke 1 – Hull City 0
26 Mar 2014 West Ham 2 – Hull City 1
22 Mar 2014 Hull City FC 2 – West Brom 0
15 Apr 2014 Arsenal FC 3 – West Ham United 1
12 Apr 2014 Wigan Athletic 1 (2) – Arsenal 1 (4) FA
6 Apr 2014 Everton 3 – Arsenal 0 EPL
29 Mar 2014 Arsenal 1 – Manchester City FC 1 EPL
25 Mar 2014 Arsenal 2 – Swansea 2 EPL
Sagna Mertesacker Koscielny Vermaelen
The Ox Cazorla
Hull City 0 Arsenal FC 2