FA Cup Final Focus: Four Key Issues Ahead Clash between Arsenal and Hull City
At 5 o’clock UK time on Saturday evening, there will probably be slightly more interest worldwide in Atlético Madrid’s showdown in Barcelona than proceedings at Wembley, but for Arsenal and Hull, north west London provides the location for them to end respective seasons that have petered out on a dramatic high.
A great deal has been made of the Gunners’ 9-year trophy drought that followed such a successful period, while Hull are one – albeit unlikely – win away from their first ever major trophy. Reaching the final is an achievement in itself for Steve Bruce’s side, but having seen Wigan take Arsenal to penalties in the semi final, there is indeed some hope for them.
Doing so remains highly improbable, though, and an in-form Arsenal side will go all out for victory. Here, we look at four key issues ahead of the clash.
Will Steve Bruce go with 3 or 4 at the back?
The Hull manager is one of the more experimental in the Premier League, having flitted between formations using 3 and 4 centre-backs and 1 or 2 centre-forwards all campaign. They played much of the beginning of their campaign with 3 at the back and enjoyed some success, consolidating their place in the Premier League at a relatively early stage considering many had tipped them for an immediate return to the second tier.
However, it was more Bruce’s flexibility and willingness to change formation that aided them most. In their win over Liverpool in December, Hull started in a 3-5-2 formation, but with the scores tied at 1-1 after 66 minutes, Bruce withdrew Robert Koren, who was playing up front, and replaced him with full-back Liam Rosenior. Maynor Figueroa went to left-back and Hull went on to win 3-1, playing the final 24 minutes in a 4-5-1 lineup.
Hull begun 20 Premier League matches this season with 3 centre-backs and wing-backs out wide, but they won only two of them, losing on 14 occasions. At the Emirates earlier in the season, they started with 3 at the back, went 2-0 down, switched to 4 defenders and looked more solid in the latter stages of the game. However, in the return fixture at the KC Stadium, Bruce set his team out in a 4-4-2 but were utterly overawed in the middle and lost 3-0.
Arsène Wenger is steadfastly committed to playing with 1 up front, and if Bruce were to play with 3 at the back he leaves his team open to allowing Lukas Podolski space to get in behind on the left with the right wing-back up the pitch attacking. Keeping the game level in the early stages will be vitally important and he won’t want to concede early, so may be best advised setting up with 4 at the back and an extra body in midfield, too, and though that will leave the lone centre-forward isolated, Bruce is arguably not in a position to do otherwise.