FA Cup Preview: Arsenal vs Hull City - It’s our cup to keep!
It seems ages ago now since Arsenal won the FA Cup. I was packed with hundreds of Gooners in a tiny pub in Delhi watching a hazy streaming of the Cup Final. Abusing our defensive woes after going 1 down, sheer anguish at 2-0 and an almost chorused sigh of relief at a Gibbs clearance off the line, which otherwise would have meant entering a 10th consecutive season without a trophy. Loud cheering when Santi’s thundering free kick bolted in and pandemonium when Koscielny poked home the equalizer.
And the moment of the day arrived when we lifted the roof off the place, as Ramsey scored the winner with just minutes left to play. There was, of course, our typical Arsenal moment when Fabianski, well Fabianski’ed, and gave Hull an open chance to score, which they narrowly missed. Singing “We love you Arsenal, we do!”, “Jeetega Bhai Jeetega, Arsenal Jeetega! (We will win brother, We will win, Arsenal will win!)” and “We are by far the greatest team the world has ever seen!” for an hour after the trophy celebration and hugging every Gooner in vicinity. It was one heck of a night.
Fast forward 7 months, and we find ourselves in a sticky situation. 6th in the table, compared to the top spot we were holding on to at this stage last year. To make it worse, we find ourselves below Sp*rs. Just of the back of a putrid loss to Southampton, and an injury list longer than the number of first team players available to select from. Things ain’t rosy as they looked on that fine day in May. But, this is the Cup, where all equations go out of the window and it can work wonders to any side’s faltering season.
Hull City, the same side we vanquished in the final in May, come to the Emirates, hoping to get some measure of revenge. It’s been a hard season for Hull too. They lie 15th in the table, and have had a bad patch of form since the start of November, losing 7, drawing 2 and winning 2. They come into this game, in slightly confident mood, having beaten Everton 2-0 at home. Hull have already visited the Emirates season, and left with a creditable 2-2 drawn, a game which they could have so easily won.
After Alexis Sanchez gave Arsenal the lead, Hull bounced back to score twice, before conceding late on to a Danny Welbeck equalizer. In all honesty, Arsenal were sluggish that afternoon, struggled to create any chances, and the equalizing goal was down to the drive of Alexis, who provided the assist for Welbeck.
Recent performances have been below par, and Arsenal overall have struggled with injuries this season. Arsenal have failed to put together 3 consecutive wins in the league. The only time they did that this season, in all competitions was beating Dortmund 2-0 at home, before 1-0 wins over West Bromwich Albion and Southampton. And, remember, this was on the back of a 3-3 capitulation at home to Belgians Anderlecht and losses to Swansea and Manchester United.
The worrying aspect of today’s team selection is that the manager will have more or less the same players to choose from the pool he took to Southampton. It doesn’t make for a very rosy picture. With Olivier Giroud suspended owing to his stupidity, Danny Welbeck a doubt with a thigh problem, Yaya Sanogo a doubt with a hamstring problem, and of course, our German cannon Lukas Podolski loaned to Internazionale, it will either be Alexis Sanchez starting up front, or Theo Walcott making his first start in nearly a year, or young Academy striker Chuba Akpom asked to play up front. Either ways, it is going to be a gamble.
Last season, Yaya Sanogo was asked to start against Liverpool and he did pretty ok, I think, his miscued effort paving the way for Chamberlain’s opener. Alexis looks exhausted at the amount of work he has had to do over the course of the season. Unlike the Spanish league, where the game is more technical and slower, and additionally, playing for Barcelona, the masters at a painstakingly slow passing game of football, he has had to adapt to the faster, more physical English league. He has done immensely well of course, scoring 15, and assisting a further 12, but the physical aspect seems to have taken a toll on the Chilean.
Wojciech Szczesny will be rested and given some time to mull over his disastrous display at the St. Mary’s, which means Columbia international keeper David Ospina, who has missed over 3 months of the season due to a niggling injury, will make only his second start. His first start was the 2-1 loss at home to Southampton, which knocked us out of the League Cup.
In defence, the manager will be pleased that he will have all six defenders available for selection. Mertesacker has started 26 out of 30 Arsenal games this season, and looks a tired figure. I would like to see Calum Chambers and Laurent Koscielny start today, but I think it will be Mertesacker and Chambers, as Koscielny still is working his way to full fitness. Nacho Monreal also looks set for a start, if the manager decides to give injury prone Kieran Gibbs a rest.
In midfield, the freshness of Tomas Rosicky will be an issue. Francis Coquelin has done reasonably well in the centre of the park, and will start. The other players are Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Santi Cazorla. Mesut Ozil and Mathieu Flamini are close to a return, and will undergo late fitness tests, but hoenstly, I do not see them starting, or being named on the bench.
Hull have some injury concerns of their own. Defenders Liam Rosenior, Michael Dawson and Andy Robertson are doubts, while midfielders Robert Snodgrass, Mohomad Diame and Gaston Ramirez are also out. However, they will welcome back Stephen Quinn and Tom Huddlestone. Hatem Ben Arfa is apparently close to leaving the club, and will move to Ligue 1 side Nice on loan from Newcastle United.
This is how I expect the teams to line up.
Enjoy the game wherever you are!
Jai Arsenal :)