20th February 2016: No Hull breach but at least we’re rested for Barcelona

Well, that was all a little familiar. Arsenal probed, probed and probed some more in the search for a winner against Steve Bruce’s defensively dogged Hull City side in the FA Cup at Emirates stadium today, but couldn’t find a goal and will now travel to the home of the Tigers for a fifth round replay.

Arsene Wenger’s team selection wasn’t far off what I guessed it would be in yesterday’s post, as he made nine changes from the Leicester game, retaining only Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker. A bit surprisingly, he chose to deploy Danny Welbeck on the left in Alexis Sanchez’s usual position and went with Theo Walcot to lead the line with Joel Campbell coming back into the side to play from the right.

The midfield three was as I envisaged; Mohamed Elneny was handed a second start in Arsenal colours and was joined by Mathieu Flamini and this season’s permanent fixture in our FA Cup starting line-ups, Alex Iwobi.

It was a game we dominated possession-wise, and did get shots off on and just wide of goal, but found ourselves facing yet another ‘keeper in inspired form and an opposition side intent on defending first-and-foremost and attacking as an afterthought. It’s nothing new as a tactic, we can’t complain at all, and with Barcelona up next on Tuesday, we’re very likely to be adopting a similar game-plan ourselves in a few days’ time.

Another fixture in an already crowded list is far from ideal but it could be worse, we could be out. As it is we remain in with a shout of winning our third Cup in as many years and considering we can play, barring injuries of course, the same side in the replay and rest the vast majority of our usual first-choice players, the extra game shouldn’t be a cause for concern.

What is a little alarming however, is our lack of goals and after the stalemate earlier, Arsene discussed the game and why we didn’t win, as well as stating Arsenal need to be ‘more efficient’ in our attacking. He said:

Because Hull defended well, because their ‘keeper played well, because our final ball was maybe not good enough and because when we could give the ball in the final third, we decided [to go for] an individual solution. The goalkeeper did well of course, but we had maybe 70 per cent possession and more than 20 shots on goal, and we didn’t score. We have to look at ourselves as well, even if you can give credit to their ‘keeper. The nightmare would have been to go out. The frustration is that we didn’t score and it’s not what we wanted, to have a replay, but between that and going out, we choose the replay. I am happy for the replay [as opposed to going out]. We need to be more efficient in the final third, because today we had more than 70 per cent possession and we will not have that on Tuesday night. That means we’ll have to be more efficient with much less of the ball.

All very true and as is often the case as far as Arsenal are concerned, it’s the finest of lines between frustration at a draw and a comprehensive victory. Walcott’s fierce strike in the first half, and Welbeck’s for that matter from a similar position on the right, might easily have found the gap between the keeper’s legs on another day. Iwobi’s left footed curler wasn’t far from caressing the far corner and there were countless other attempts at goal that were a split-second or a fraction wide away from providing us with a breakthrough.

You also have to credit Hull for great defending, throwing themselves at shots with reckless abandon as they did, much like I wish Per and Laurent had done at times earlier this season if I’m honest (Bayern Munich and Liverpool away for example). And of course, Mike Dickhead Dean officiating always meant we would be up against it, so when we were duly denied two big penalty shouts today, it was as surprising as seeing the sun rise.

After a disappointing day, we can at least console ourselves with the fact we’re still in the Cup, and we should have a fresh line-up ready to battle the footballing freaks that are Barcelona in midweek.

See you on Sunday.

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