Saturday, February 20, 2016

Arsenal Held by Hull in FA Cup Fifth Round (0-0)

Arsenal have fond memories of the last two times they have lined up against Hull City in the FA Cup, coming back from an early 2-0 deficit to snatch victory and their first trophy in nine years in the 2014 final and then cruising past them 2-0 in the Third Round last season. Today, with Arsenal fielding a strong lineup against a Hull City side that made 10 changes from their midweek encounter with an eye on a Tuesday trip to Ipswich, one expected an easy victory for the home side. One would have been sadly mistaken, as two missed calls from Mike Dean, some profligate finishing and an outstanding performance from keeper Eldin Jakupovic and the defense overall all combined to garner Hull a replay on their home turf. Three quick thoughts on this FA Cup tie:

1. Hull Set Up for Draw; Get it with an Assist to Arsenal Forwards: Hull had few chances of note in the game, instead relying on a back five and lying deep to disrupt the offensive momentum of Arsenal. And it worked a treat, as those across the pond like to say. Arsenal had 68 percent possession, 24 shots (11 on target) to 6(1) and yet failed to score. Hull did have an impressive 33 tackles, to Arsenal’s 15, while the Gunners somehow outfouled Hull 11 to 7. Even with that defensive formation, it still came down to a stellar day from goalkeeper Jakupovic to keep the waves of Arsenal attacks from reaping a goal. Hull was also assisted by the inept finishing of Arsenal’s front three. Walcott and Welbeck, of course, scored in the essential win over Leicester last weekend, but both are known for poor conversion rates and missing clear opportunities (both actually did last weekend) and it is truly disappointing to see Welbeck miss both an open header from seven-yards on 12 minutes (he headed it directly at the keeper) and a shot across goal later in the first half (among a few other half chances). He did send an excellent dipping shot across goal on 63 minutes that was well-saved by the keeper, but really should have put it in the back of the net earlier. Walcott was lively throughout his time on the pitch, and provided a number of excellent crosses that should have yielded a goal, but also missed out on a few chances his own. And Campbell, on the bench recently after a nice spell of fixtures and steady improvement, seemed a little off his best, fumbling passes in the box and failing to find the space to provide as much damage as one would hope given his pace and the opposition. But Hull should be credited with staying compact and making it difficult for Arsenal to find a way through, even after Ox, Giroud and a misfiring Sanchez all came on for the last 20 minutes or so.

2. Arsenal Youngsters Acquit Themselves Well: Alex Iwobi has been showing his talent in sporadic patches this season, with his starts, of course, limited. In this game, his slaloming runs, pinpoint passing and a couple of excellent shots that went just wide of the far post, all show the talent the youngster possesses and how excited Arsenal fans should be for his future, particularly as we prepare to let three midfielders – Arteta, Flamini and Rosicky – go this summer. Another player who impressed in the midfield was Elneny who we’ve seen only once, in the previous round victory over Burnley 2-1, since his move from Basel in January. It is clear that he has a better range of pass than Flamini, and maybe a better finish, as his early shot was clearly blocked by Hull defender Bruce with his hand and should have elicited a penalty. Gibbs, on the other hand, failed to inspire much faith that he can displace Monreal in the starting lineup anytime soon, largely anonymous throughout. And Chambers was decent on the right wing without being excellent, confirming Wenger’s belief that his future lies either in the center of defense or further forward in a defensive midfield position.

3. Dean Continues Streak of Anti-Arsenal Bias: Mike Dean has a history of poor refereeing, particularly when Arsenal are involved. And he was at it again today, ignoring a clear hand ball for a penalty early and then an even clearer foul in the box on Chambers within seven minutes of the restart. The handball call is always a tough one, as one has to assess in real-time whether the player moved his arm into an “unnatural position,” and whether it was intentional. In this case, both were the case and Dean should have pointed to the spot. The second call was more obvious, but may have suffered as Chambers fell awkwardly after the foul and the ball found its way to Elneny, who got off a shot. Nonetheless, it is little surprise to Gooners that Dean gave neither, as we have been watching him make poor calls in our games for years (though maybe less so in the past couple). And without going “Mourinho” on you, one is starting to notice the old troubling trend of refereeing going against the Gunners and costing them points (and now another game in an already congested period for the club). We had the terrible penalty call by Atkinson last week (though we were able to win that won), the horrific refereeing of Moss in the 4-0 loss to Southampton where every goal should have been disallowed and the disallowed Aaron Ramsey goal against Liverpool that cost us two points, as well as a host of others along the way. If I had to chose one referee never to do an Arsenal game again it would certainly be Atkinson (even as his double-yellow last Sunday helped us along the way to the comeback), but Dean would be second on the list – particularly when one takes into account his emoting antics on the pitch.

It may be that neither team is terribly happy with the replay as Hull currently sit in first in the Championship with a strong chance to avoid the four-team playoff and return to the Premier League just in time for the financial windfall that next season offers the 20 teams in the top flight. For Arsenal, this replay will have to fit in with the two-leg tie against Barcelona and key road matchups against struggling United and a seemingly indomitable Tottenham.

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