ON THE MARk: Alexis Sanchez (left) wheels away after his first goal against Hull
ARSENAL KEPT their Champions League ambitions alive after a 2-0 win against battling Hull City today (Feb 11). A brace by talisman Alexis Sanchez halted the Gunners’ mini slump and took some of the pressure off under fire manager Arsene Wenger.
There was a nervy feel around the Emirates pre-match and the annual ‘Wenger out’ sentiments have been rife since the recent lacklustre displays. After back-to-back losses against Watford and Chelsea the hosts were keen to get their season back on track.
Hull, fighting for their Premier League lives, were in improved form so Arsenal could take nothing for granted. There were several unfamiliar names on the Hull team sheet and it was just a case of whether they could truly make names for themselves and add to Arsenal’s chagrin; it was not a lack of effort that saw them leave the Emirates with nothing to show for their endeavour.
The much maligned Wenger was serving the last match of his touchline ban after shoving the fourth official during the closing stages of the last gasp win against Burnley. The Frenchman saw his team carve out most of the first half opportunities while Hull kept Arsenal honest.
Former Tottenham man Tom Huddlestone gave the ball way early but neither Mesut Ozil or Alex Iwobi could take advantage for Wenger’s troops.
Iwobi was central to the action again minutes later when he sloppily gave the ball away which led to the impressive Lazar Markovic leading a potent City break that saw the ball eventually fizz across the home goal mouth without any takers.
Hull's Oumar Niasse had a header from close range which was parried over by the alert Petr Cech for a corner.
Back came Arsenal but Hector Bellerin and Alexis Sanchez then both failed to take openings, while the impotent Ozil looked a man out of sorts or plotting his transfer out of north London.
But as is the way at the Emirates, after a goalmouth scramble, the influential Sanchez fired home – via his hand – to give the Gunners the lead in the 34th minute.
At the start of the second half Hull continued to be ambitious. Niasse was foiled by a flying Cech save as Markovic continued to prove instrumental when the Tigers roared forward.
The visitors had plenty of the ball but failed to hurt their hosts.
However, as long as the second goal did not arrive the home faithful, and players no doubt, must have wondered if there was a sting in the tail.
That elusive second came after a Arsenal raid on their opponents’ goal. A Sanchez cross into the City box saw late substitute Lucas Perez head the ball towards goal only for Sam Clucas to clear the ball off the line with his hand.
Referee Mark Clattenburg pointed to the penalty spot before showing the offender a red card. Up stepped Sanchez to fire home and the points, at last, belonged to Arsenal.
Wenger’s men were far from their fluent best today. But three points and a clean sheet can only rebuild their confidence.
Hull were well drilled all match but a lack of firepower may hurt them as they look to preserve their top flight status. They were at the wrong end of some decisions by the officials today most notably the opening goal and a possible red card for Kieran Gibbs who brought down the lively Markovic as he bore down on goal.
There is no lack of confidence in the Hull ranks but a touch of luck would not go amiss.