Let me start with a rather corny phrase, I really hate Mondays. And for many reasons. Well, actually, there is one good reason – it’s not part of the weekend. This Monday, however, should bring us a few positive moments, we inch closer to booking a Champions League Group Stage place and two inches closer to second place while celebrating another St Totteringham’s Day.
Direct Champions League qualification
We have all laughed at Manchester United and, especially, their grey-haired striker who missed a penalty. In a bizarre twist of events, Robin Van Persie might have all but secured our place in the Top 3 this season three years after doing it in our shirt. He failed to score against West Brom and Manchester United lost at home 0:1.
A third consecutive defeat for United means we are still two points clear with two games in hand and superior goal-difference with seven extra goals. That means if we beat Hull on Monday night, we’ll probably need just four more points out of the last four games to book our place in the Champions League. We would dodge the bullet of the European qualifiers which would make everything easier – from our preseason plans to our transfer dealings. We all know that “easy” and “Arsenal” usually don’t go together but right now, our destiny remains in our hands.
If we manage to reclaim second place from Manchester City (they are currently three points ahead of us with superior goal-difference of four goals but we have two games in hand), it would be our best final standing since 2004-05. It would be a huge improvement and major boost ahead of next season when we will rightfully expect a real title battle until the end.
We won’t have too much space to make mistakes in this battle though as Manchester City are unlikely to spill points in their forthcoming matches against QPR, Swansea and Southampton respectively. If they win all three remaining matches, we’ll need thirteen points from our last five matches or twelve with four convincing victories. Our useless rivals could have helped us a bit on Sunday but they failed. However, that doesn’t have to be such a bad thing because…
St Totteringham’s Day is coming!
Remember how the former Middlesex-based club celebrated their victory over us in February’s North London Derby? There was even a voice about a shift of power. Well, three months later, we are nine points ahead of the Spuds and have two games in hand with a superior goal-difference of 26 goals. Some shift of power, eh?
Anyway, let’s focus on Hull. And I really mean that – let’s focus on them! They looked like a team with no hope just two weeks ago but surprising victories over Crystal Palace away and Liverpool at home brought them close to Premiership survival. Given that their next matches are against Burnley, Spuds and Manchester United respectively, they’ll try to use their momentum to escape the relegation zone. The Tigers know that a victory would give them four point advantage over Sunderland and a two point advantage over the awful Newcastle so they’ll give everything to beat us. Their wounds from the FA Cup Final loss last term haven’t healed and probably will never do so.
We must avoid complacency for more reasons than one. First of all, we haven’t beaten Hull in the reverse fixture at the Emirates. Well, at least not in the League as we have beaten them in the FA Cup Third Round. They had a 2:1 lead until injury-time when Danny Welbeck scored an equalizer to spare us from blushes. Second of all, they have won their last two matches. We haven’t lost in the last nine – that’s true – but Olivier Giroud hasn’t scored in the last two matches in the League. The matches against Burnley, Reading and Chelsea respectively have also been exhausting both physically and mentally. I would like to see a bit of rotation in our team which is unlikely given that Arsene Wenger likes to stick with the most successful combinations during the run-in.
What I’m afraid of is a possibility of our team being a bit dried up now that Chelsea have secured the title mathematically (repeat this one more time, Mr Van Gaal!), Manchester United have all but surrendered the race for the Top 3 and clubs outside the Top Four would need a miracle to endanger our place in the Champions League. With Aston Villa playing some good football in the last few weeks, the minds of our players might be more on the FA Cup Final on 30th May than their remaining league fixtures. Hopefully I’m wrong and we’ll show the same level of professionalism and quality that we have shown throughout 2015.
Hull have given both Manchester City and Chelsea a hard time this term. They clawed back from being two goals down against Chelsea only to succumb to Loic Remy’s winner while Manchester City just like us had to settle for a draw at home thanks to a late equalizer. They have dangerous players in Nikica Jelavić (who grew up as a Gooner judging by one of his photos in an Arsenal JVC shirt published in Croatian newspapers Sportske Novosti before EURO 2012), Ahmed Elmohamady, Dame N’Doye and Mo Diame. Diame had been linked with a move to Arsenal while playing for West Ham and his physical approach has given us a lot of problems in our past encounters.
Diame scored the first goal for Hull in the reverse fixture but it should have been chalked off for a foul on Mathieu Flamini as he used his hands to get the better of the Frenchman. Their defence is led by the former Spud Michael Dawson who got himself on the score-sheet in their last match against Liverpool. He is not the only former Spud in Steve Bruce’s team as Jake Livermore and Tom Huddlestone play important roles for The Tigers. If there is a danger-man in their squad, it’s Dame N’Doye. He was signed from Russian outfit Lokomotiv Moscow and has scored five goals in eleven matches. He has clicked well with Jelavić and our central defenders should be aware.
If I were Wenger, I’d use either Walcott or Welbeck in the starting line-up at the expense of Santi Cazorla in order to both get some fresh blood in the team and to attack The Tigers down the flanks through Bellerin/Alexis/Walcott and Monreal/Welbeck/Alexis combinations with Coquelin, Ramsey and Özil doing what they usually do in the middle. Of course, I’m not Arsene so we’ll probably go out at the KC Stadium with the same line-up that drew against Chelsea.
David Ospina has been immense and he can further cement his No. 1 status.
Hector Bellerin’s inclusion in the starting line-up became a no-brainer not just because of his excellent performance against Chelsea but also because of Mathieu Debuchy’s injury. He’ll have a lot of defensive work to do in this game but that doesn’t mean he can’t offer his stunning overlapping runs.
Nacho Monreal has been one of our best players in 2015 and his inclusion is logical but also a warning to Kieran Gibbs. Monreal’s biggest task will be to prevent Hull having any opportunities to cross.
Per Mertesacker scored a goal against Hull this term (FA Cup) and Laurent Koscielny scored a crucial equalizer in the FA Cup Final 2014. Their primary task, of course, will be to keep Hull’s attackers at bay, especially in the air as Jelavić who is well-known for his first-touch finishing and N’Doye have shown they are aerial threats.
Francis Coquelin got lucky with a nasty tackle in the FA Cup tie between the sides but he is going to be our most important player on Monday again. He is key to our defensive shape and practically the only player that we can’t properly replace.
Santi Cazorla has had an excellent 2015 and his free-kick goal in the FA Cup Final started our come-back. His set-pieces might be our most important weapon again.
Mesut Özil is our No. 10. He has scored a goal against Hull before – our second goal in 2:0 victory last season at the Emirates and will be looking for another at the KC Stadium.
Aaron Ramsey is the only Arsenal player that has scored on Hull’s turf. The Welshman opened the score-line in our 3:0 victory last term before Lukas Podolski’s brace put the game to bed.
Alexis Sánchez – what is there to say about our brilliant Chilean? He has scored in both matches against Hull this season so why not to complete a hat-trick?
Olivier Giroud hasn’t scored in the last two League games but that should change on Monday night. It’s better for him when we have natural wingers on the flanks (e.g. Alexis and Welbeck/Walcott) as their pace stretches the opponents and leaves more space for Giroud to fire one of his left-footed projectiles into the net.
I have to admit I’m a bit anxious about this game for the reasons I’ve already written above. I’ll say we’ll win 3:1 though with goals from Giroud, Özil and Alexis while Jelavić will score a consolation goal for the hosts.
Head to Head
FA Cup Final (FAC) 17 May 2014 Arsenal FC 2 – Hull City 0
Premier League (EPL) 13 Dec 2009 Arsenal FC 2 – Hull City 2
FA Cup Final (FAC) 17 May 2014 Arsenal FC 3 (2) – Hull City 2 (2) OT
Premier League (EPL) 20 Apr 2014 Hull City 0 – Arsenal FC 3
Premier League (EPL) 4 Dec 2013 Arsenal FC 2 – Hull City 0
Hull 1 v 3 Arsenal