Highway To Hull
My day began in ominous fashion, a few too many light whiskies on Friday night sawme fall asleep on the train and end up in Lancing (apparently it's near Brighton), after shelling out a monstrous amount for a cab home I arrived home a mite late and consequently overslept by some 45 minutes on Saturday morning. But not even a troublesome hangover would prevent me reaching a few personal milestones (or millstones probably), my first visit to Hull's KC Stadium which is drab and characterless on the outside, in fact, there's nothing to suggest that it is a football stadium from the outside, it looks like a massive warehouse. Having hauled myself through the turnstiles I managed to reach the magic seven year mark since missing a domestic match (January 20th 2002, a 1-1 draw at Elland Road).
The stadium on the inside was a great deal more impressive than it appeared from the exterior, despite an obnoxious stadium announcer whose vocal chords must be shredded into something resembling bacon rinds this morning, a reading of William Blake's 'Tyger, Tyger' as the teams emerged fromthe tunnel whipped the home crowd into a frenzy. Having heard Villa's seemingly never ending serendipity continue at Sunderland it was a case of win or bust for Arsenal. Hull welcomed two new signings into the fray whilst Arsenal's parsimony meant an unchanged side was fielded. The home side began brightly earning two corners inside the opening seconds, the second one saw Mendy easily shake off Diaby but miss the ball unmarked in the six yard box. If this is Diaby's big chance to impress himself on the central midfield position, he is blowing it big time. Gradually, Hull's early animation gradually faded and the visitors began to gain a foot hold courtesy of comfortably the best player on the pitch.
Diaby was bought down 25 yards from goal and Robin van Persie wound up for a free kick which deflected off Michael Turner and flew just wide of the upright. It was van Persie again galvanising the attack after some good skill from Eboue on the right saw him bought down and van Persie's ensuing free kick was brilliantly tipped onto the underside of the bar by Boaz Myhill. The fourteenth time the Dutchman has troubled the woodwork this season. Perhaps Robin should start wearing claret and blue. The pair of exorset free kicks visibly lifted Arsenal and they were able to exert the pressure until it told. van Persie swung in an inviting corner which Emmanuel Adebayor climbed brilliantly to loop a header into the far corner. 12 goals and eight assists this season compared to 15 goals and six assists at this stage last year, his contribution is far in excess of what Arsenal fans are prepared to give him credit for this season.
The home fans' response was the bizarre chant of 'you're not English anymore.' Was that supposed to be an insult? I'm not sure, what it did leave me asking was which part of England Messrs Mendy, Geovanni, Cousin, Ricketts, Kilbane, Halmosi, Stelios and Manucho were from. (A point audibly made by the away fans when Manucho came off the bench). The Gunners briefly adopted the Wengerball of old, though the passing was still frustratingly and needlessly slow, but Arsenal carved Hull open when Nasri slotted the ball into Adebayor in the left channel, the Togonator swivelled those elastic hips, fooling Turner before pulling a cross back to the backpost which Eboue horrendusly scuffed wide when he really should have scored. Butat half time Arsenal were in the ascendancy and deservedly so.
Arsenalbegan the second half in ernest and should have had a second but for the finicky referee. Kilbane attempted to shepherd the ball back to his goalkeeper, using his body to obstruct van Persie, but the Dutchman was smarter and stronger, completely legally getting himself around Kilbane and through on goal, but Wiley gave a foul for reasons only he himself will know. van Persie had only repaid Kilbane's compliment by using his body to outsmart the Hull debutant. I watched Arsenal and Hull players perform exactly the same action on countless occasions thereafter unpunished. It was a poor decision. Though Hull can probably feel aggrieved not to have had a penalty when Djourou mistimed his jump and clattered into Mendy. Had the challenge happened outside the area you can bet a free kick would have been given. Wiley was having a poor game. Adebayor wasn't however, and when he received Nasri's pass in the area, he once again twisted and turned his way past Turner but his ensuing shot was beaten away from his near post by Myhill.
Once again, Arsenal's defensive frailties came to the fore once again. Ashbee turned a ball out to Hull's right, Clichy made the wrong choice by backing off of Mendy and subsequently delflected Mendy's cross sumptuously into the path of the onrushing Daniel Cousin who headed past Almunia just as he had done in September. Due to Arsenal's caprice, I truly felt we would lose the game at this point, it's tribute to our resolution that we didn't. Hull fans implored their manager to 'give us a wave' and he did with an ostentatious salute. It was onehe would later regret. Wenger's response was to throw Bendtner on on the right hand side. Just as it had been last Saturday, it would prove to be the tactical move that changed the match. Bendtner started a move on the right hand side, feeding the ball in field to the peerless van Persie, he showed the awareness to shift the ball left to Samir Nasri, who provided a deft finish across the goalkeeper with his left foot. In the autumn, I'm certain van Persie would have eschewed Nasri's run and shot for himself. The improvement in attitude from him since the two goal salvo at Stamford Bridge has been astronomical. Once again, a crucial goal scored in the last eight minutes and once again it was Bendtner who made the difference from the bench with his attacking impetus and the consequential shift in style which the opposition found it difficult to adjust to.
Once again, Bendtner began the move from the right, cutting in with intent. van Persie again took up a position in the channel, a move he has repeated to devastating effect several times already in 2009, Bendtner lifted the ball into his path. Bendtner continued his run into the area, van Persie once again demonstrated the altruistic streak he has previously lacked by putting the ball into the Dane's path for a well deserved goal. 'Browny give us a wave, Browny, Browny give us a wave' came the mocking retort from the away fans. To Browny's credit, he did acknowledge us.
Bendtner nearly helped himself to another goal when Clichy's left wing cross was headed onto the inside of the post by a man who clearly has some of his confidence back-even if fortnue was slightly against him with that effort. In the end it was a satisfying result and an adequate performance, we still clealry miss Cesc as the ehartbeat of the side, largely because Diaby is no kind of replacement with his dithering and general idleness and proclivity towards holding onto the ball for an ice age longer than is necessary. But the positive thing is that the side's two remaining creative outlets, van Persie and Nasri, have shown enough self awareness and analysed the team sufficiently to take on the responsibility. van Persie in particular is in outstanding form and 5 assists and 2 goals garnered this calendar year is testamant to that. The defence still does not instill one with the utmost confidence but it's nice to see we have the mental and physical resources to win games late on and that the manager has had the tactical nous to change the match from the bench. A little more incision will be necessary in our attacking play, but with Villa due a run of incredibly bad fortune, the hunt for the Champions' League spot is most definitely on.LD.