Post Match View – Hull A.F.C.

After what some call a good result away to Burnley on Wednesday, we returned home to face a Hull City team that provided many highlights last season. From an Arsenal point of view, those highlights were almost all for the wrong reasons. Whether it was the home defeat, the alleged Cesc spitting incident, or William Gallas’s controversial goal in the FA Cup, we seemed to always have problems with Phil Brown and his club. This recent fixture matched each of last season’s for talking points.

Last Sunday’s victory against Liverpool showed that we can respond when we need to. It also showed that we might possibly lack the intensity and focus required of a champion. I was very concerned with how little desire there seemed to be in an Arsenal side that claims it wants to win the Premiership. In the end, it would take Arsene Wenger’s wrath to inspire them to victory.

I was not impressed with that so-called good result at Turf Moor in midweek. Sure, one point is better than none. And yes, Manchester United lost up there this season. So what! Burnley should be three points when and where ever we play them. Champions beat the teams that they are clearly better than. I may be oversimplifying things with that kind of thinking but you just can’t accept dropping points to sides you should beat. The same lack of intensity as in the First Half against Liverpool last weekend made me question how badly this team wants to fight for the title.

Hull was a good test for what I needed to see from this team. Would they stand up and say that injuries will not deter them from their goal or would they show the required desire? Would they play to the opposition’s level and risk not capitalizing on United losing to Fulham or would they take the game to Hull?

Manuel Almunia’s form has been erratic at best. He was and remains under the microscope despite making a key penalty save against Geovanni. Steve Bennett was wrong to give a penalty. Silvestre did nothing to gain an unfair advantage. And I wonder why there were no red shirts reacting to clear the rebound? Only Hull’s ineptitude saved us from the embarrassment of seeing the rebound being put away.

Thankfully, Almunia did his job. Overall, he was far safer than he’s been lately. Which wasn’t hard to achieve to be honest.

Initially, it looked as though Hull’s approach would be to go at fourth choice left-back Mikael Silvestre as often as possible. On 6, a Stephen Hunt free kick from that side was dealt with at the near post by the Arsenal keeper. On 8, he left his line to reach a stray ball before Gallas. The half was more about Arsenal’s inability to create much of a threat to Hull’s goal despite having more possession. Diaby, Eduardo, and Arshavin efforts were either off the mark or easily dealt with by Boaz Myhill.

We had nearly twice as much possession as did Hull but nothing to show for it. Worse was that I still hadn’t seen the type of urgency I would like from an Arsenal that cannot afford to drop any more points. That and the mood of the game changed with a series of controversial moments. On 43 Geovanni brought Arshavin down from behind with a crude challenge. The infraction was about 25 yards outside of Myhill’s box, to the right of his goal.

During the usual period of protest and delay that happens after all fouls that close to the goal, Hull’s Richard Garcia went down abruptly. Replays showed him pushing Samir Nasri away as our No. 8 came to claim the ball for the free kick. Nasri then responded by squashing a cockroach on the Hull midfielder’s ankle. It must have killed the roach because it sure looked like it hurt Garcia. Rather than thanking Sam for his efforts to prevent the filthy bug from crawling into the guy’s boot, Garcia’s teammates became very angry.

Match commentator Craig Burley felt that it wasn’t a free kick, even after his partner (seated next to him) stated that Arshavin had been “clattered from behind”. Burley nor his partner made any mention about Nick Barmby raising his hands to shove Nasri in the back of the head. They also must have missed Myhill leaving his line to shove Song in the head. They chose to stress how stupid Nasri was and how Almunia had run 100 yards to essentially help keep the peace. Burley’s comments were nothing short of what I expect from an ex-Chelsea thug who looked and played more like he belonged on an NHL ice hockey rink than on a football pitch.

Several minutes later, Abou Diaby won a free kick in almost exactly the same position. That too was deemed a non-foul by the expert Burley. Replays showed that it was indeed a foul – Diaby would probably not have gone down if Boateng hadn’t reached his arm across the body of our No. 2 as he ran towards the Hull goal. Denilson stepped up to bury a perfectly taken free kick.

HT, 1-0 AFC.

The Second Half featured the urgency I’ve wanted to see. I accept that it was only Hull City. It was not Chelsea or United, but it was a needed improvement from recent displays.

On 48, Arshavin fed Eduardo who’s run and shot led to a poor finish. Soon after, Diaby shot Eduardo’s square pass straight into a defender. Our No. 9 moving to the middle was having good effect.

On 55, Steve Bennett proved again that he is an awful referee. He called a penalty that clearly was not. Up stepped Geovanni. Almunia saved it but questions remain about why there were no red shirts on the screen when the ball rebounded to the Stephen Hunt. If it weren’t for his ineptitude, Hull would have equalized.

At first, I thought maybe the Arsenal players were poorly positioned as the penalty was struck. Then I thought maybe Bennett had missed the amber shirts entering the penalty area before the ball was struck. I was wrong both times. Our boys were just being lazy ball-watchers. Shame!

The replay confirmed that Almunia moved forward a fraction of a second before Geovanni kicked the ball. Please correct me if I’m wrong but was the same angle shown when Sorensen saved Cesc’s penalty a few weeks ago? He moved forward illegally as well.

On 59, the excellent Abou Diaby worked a sweet one-two with Alex Song. Diaby penetrated the Hull back line as he received the return. His pass across the Hull goal was tapped in by Eduardo.

2-0 AFC

On 61, Eboue whacked Stephen Hunt. I enjoyed that as much as the fine effort the boys were putting in. The Second Half was an awakening in some ways. I hope it lasts.

On 61, Cousin was brought on for Garcia. I’d like to hear Phil Brown explain why he picked the shorter Fagan instead of the man who scored against us last season. And knowing that he had the towering Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink available adds to my point. Almunia’s poor form has been there for all to see. Challenging him with cross after cross to a tall center-forward might have caused us more problems than the chosen formation.

Hull’s lineup is not my issue. Phil Brown is Hull’s manager, not Arsenal’s. Thank goodness for that!

Credit to Zayate for good defending on 69. Silvestre had done well to put in AA23. Ramsey came on for Nasri on 69. It’s funny how early in the game, Burley had voiced his preference for Ramsey to Man of the Match Abou Diaby.

On 78, Bennett once again showed why he should not be an official at the top level. Denilson fouled George Boateng as clearly as Phil Brown is a f*&^#ng fraud. Bennett didn’t even attempt to go for his whistle.

On 80, I reflected on how well Diaby, Song, and Denilson had done. No sooner than my reflecting was done, Diaby exchanged successive one-twos with Song and Arshavin. His finish capped a fine display.

3-0 AFC

On 87, I saw a good sign. Vermaelen ran the length of the pitch to force a corner. The points were safe but the effort was no less notable.

On 88, Theo chipped toward an open net but failed to punish Gardner’s error. On 90, a good build up ended with a shot by Ramsey. The movement and passing brought a smiling and applauding Arsene Wenger to his feet. One of the many differences between our manager and Hull’s is the commitment Wenger has to playing the game the way it should be played. In the dying minutes Hull almost farcically chased a consolation goal by repeatedly looking for the head of Daniel Cousin. They finally connected but only for the 6’2” striker to head well high.

The Second Half offered a glimpse of the effort required to convince people that we really want to win the title. Controversy notwithstanding, we did the minimum I expected. Come on West Ham!

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