Sunday, January 04, 2015

FA Cup 3rd Round: Arsenal 2 Hull City 0

Wenger has never lost a third round FA Cup tie in his time at Arsenal, and that streak continued today with a 2-0 win over Hull. Arsenal started the finals rematch brightly, with Joseph Campbell spurning a great chance to open his Gunners account in the 5th minute when a perfectly weighted pass from Sanchez sent him free on goal. In the 14th minute, Sanchez found himself with a free shot at goal himself, after having his first shot blocked, but tried to chip it over and hit the roof of the net instead. Hull almost opened the scoring less than a minute later as Thomas Ince easily beat Monreal and got a nice shot off, just wide of the near post.

In the 20th minute Bellerin sent in a lovely cross with nary an inch of room, resulting in a corner that Mertesacker headed in from close range. Arsenal were up 1-0 and looking likely to score more. The next chance came a minute later as a beautiful drive and then pass from Rosicky found Sanchez, who skirted around the goalkeeper only to have his shot blocked just outside the line. In the 26th, Walcott was free on goal on the left side, but had his rather weak shot saved and the rest of the first half went more or less the same, with Arsenal having more of the ball and shots but failing to add to their lead.

The second half started in a rather muted fashion, with much of the play between the two boxes and no clear cut chances for either team. Manager Steve Bruce summed up Hull City’s effort in the 58th minute when a free kick was sent long and out of play, leading the manager to shake his head in disbelief and consternation. But Arsenal were not doing much better, having a hard time putting more than a pass or two together, and the game still stood in the balance with 30 minutes to play. Campbell had another chance to score on a pass across from Sanchez just inside the box in the 61st minute, but sent it wide. In the 66th minute, Cazorla sent a beautiful ball into Walcott in the box, but the Englishman sent it horribly wide one-on-one with the goalkeeper. Arsenal picked up the pace and urgency from there, with Ox coming on for Walcott in the 76th minute. And in the 82nd minute, Sanchez finally sealed the victory with a lovely angled shot from the top of the box to the near corner for a 2-0 lead. Sanchez was then replaced by Chuba Akpom in the 84th minute and Campbell by Maitland-Niles in the 90th.

It was a less than sterling display but might serve as a minor inspiration as Arsenal try to get their second half of the season going in the right direction. Three quick thoughts …

1. Oh What a Relief It Is: after a first half of the season so maligned by injuries Arsenal could well have been safer in Stalingrad during World War II, the squad is finally getting off the training table in numbers. Walcott and Ospina were both in the game after long layoffs and Ozil and Ramsey are close to being back, with Koscielny, Debuchy and Giroud healthy but replaced for the game by Chambers, Bellerin and Campbell, respectively (Giroud is still suspended, of course).

2. Finishing Touch: one of the stories of the season has been the inability of Arsenal to finish enough of their chances, particularly if you take out the Sanchez goals. And as early as the 5th minute we saw that again, as a nice combination between Campbell and Sanchez left the youngster in on goal, only for him to try to pass it into the goal unsuccessfully. Sanchez had two chances in the first half, both blocked, Walcott missed two good chances to score with only the goalkeeper to beat (one in each half) and several other half chances went wanting before Sanchez finally sealed things. They will need someone to get hot in the second half besides Suarez if they are to guarantee themselves that coveted fourth spot.

3. The Youngsters: knowing this is his best chance for a trophy, Wenger played a relatively strong team. But he did give Koscielny a rest, allowed Bellerin to start over Debuchy and Monreal over Gibbs, with Ospina in goal for the maligned Sz. Bellerin was the most impressive of the bunch, showing great skills and crossing ability and nice poise on and off the ball. Joel Campbell showed hints of his talent, but plenty of his rawness as well – missing a good chance to score, sending several errant passes and suffering from a few loose touches. Coquelin was relatively solid in the DM role, though his passing could have been better and he could easily have been sent off for a late challenge, that should have been a second yellow. And Chambers was relatively solid pushed back into CB. Akpom and Niles were not on long enough to make much of an impression.
There were few upsets in the round, though Man City had to come back with two second half goals to advance past Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 and United kept it until late before winning 2-0 at Yeovil Town. Chelsea, Sunderland, Aston Villa, Stoke and Swansea all won. QPR did lose 3-0 to Sheffield, Newcastle lost 1-0 to Crystal Palace and Southampton will have to head to Ipswich for a replay after drawing 1-1 at home. Tottenham and Liverpool play tomorrow and Everton takes on West Ham on Tuesday. In the biggest news of the day, Real Madrid fell to Valencia 2-1, ending their winning streak two short of Cortiba’s world record of 24. That means that after the incredible run, Real are but a solitary point ahead of Barcelona and Atletico Madrid (though the latter has played one more game). It looks like La Liga could come down to the wire, just as the EPL (between Chelsea and Man City), Series A (between Juve and Roma) and Ligue 1 (between Marseille, Lyon and PSG) probably will as well.

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