Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Wednesday March 18 2009
When Hull came to the Grove in September, the sense of expectation was palpable amongst players and supporters, this time the sense of expectation amongst the fans was erred with caution. The visitors are not the side they were back in the autumn and Arsenal all of a sudden look twice the team that surrendered so tamely to the Tigers. Large swathes of empty seats were once again visible inside the stadium, presumably vacated by the same supporters who deride the club for not taking the competition seriously enough? Nevertheless it was not an unwelcome atmosphere, whereas whingeing, booing and berating have become features of our home this season, the atmosphere inside the stadium last night was positive; geared towards being encouraging when we were a goal down, urging the team on and making it hostile for the opposition; Brown`s churlish complaints about the crowd post match were proof in the pudding that this kind of support is effective for the team. Bendtner was cheered onto the pitch with notable gusto, the opposition manager raging like a whiny little girl about "local pressure", something for the stay aways and ne`er do wells to consider perhaps?
The game began slowly and deliberately until the 12th minute, Andy Dawson clipped a ball into the right hand channel of the Arsenal defence and Nick Barmby hit a speculative volley which looped off of Johan Djourou`s leg and into the top corner. Lightning was preparing to strike twice. Hull nearly scored twice too, an awful decision from Riley to penalise a perfectly fair Gallas challenge (and then book him for it to boot!) on the edge of the Gunners area saw Geovanni send a wicked free kick towards the top corner which Fabianski showed ability and poise to tip over. Brown, of course, would have been suitably contrite had such a decision allowed Hull to race into a two goal lead and win them the game. The resulting corner was pulled back to Andy Dawson, he dragged his low shot but serendipitously found Barmby on the back post for a tap in, but he was correctly flagged offside. The Tigers had their hosts in a state of contemplation and again nearly punished Arsenal`s entropy, Fabianski came for and missed a Hull corner and Kamil Zayatte`s header drifted heart renderingly onto the roof of the net. It was enough to sufficiently stir Arsenal into life. Van Persie began to drop deep, despite the presence of Diaby, Walcott, Vela and Arshavin, all of whom can operate in 'the hole`, whilst Vela and Walcott struggled to get into the game, it was left with Arshavin to lead the charge.
Firstly he cut in from the left hand side and saw his goalbound shot deflected wide by Anthony Gardner. Shortly after Walcott`s deflected cross found him on the back post, but his shot was heroically blocked by Sam Ricketts. Arshavin then hit a sumptuous volley which flew just wide as Hull held on for half time. The 45 seconds or so it took to complete throw ins and goal kicks was immediately jumped on by the crowd and rightly so, paying punters have the absolute right to voice their displeasure at illegal tactics such as these. Perhaps if Hull had been more subtle in their clock strangling antics, they would not have picked up four bookings for poor sportsmanship. It was notable at the beginning of that Myhill was slightly less obtuse with his time draining, the instruction must have come from Brown to save it for the latter stages of the game when Hull would really need it. As soon as the clock hit 60, Myhill became more obvious, he was clearly acting under instruction from the manager, so Brown`s complaints, whilst childish and whiney, also reveal a huge amount of hypocrisy. Arsene Wenger did not get Boaz Myhill booked; Boaz Myhill got Boaz Myhill booked. Time wasting contravenes both the codified laws and the spirit of the game, Arsene Wenger was well within his rights to complain about it as were the 55,000 who had paid their money to watch football. For Brown to negate his own responsibility in that is immature and irresponsible. Hopefully, the F.A. will act appropriately and send him to bed without his dinner and unhook his television and x-box for a month. I repeat, Hull picked up four bookings last night for varying degrees of unsporting behaviour- but I guess that tells you what that football club are all about, eh Phil? Once you`ve let the steam drown out of your ears Mr. Brown, you might like to look at the goal Hull City scored to knock Sheffield United out of the last round, a goal the referee retrospectively apologised for awarding. Funny how your rage was slightly more muted on that occasion.
Arsene must have taken a break from getting Hull`s poor lambs booked at half time; he certainly wasn`t busy shaking non existent hands anyway, as someone lit the fire under Arsenal`s arse at half time. Walcott began to get involved in the game and the Gunners tore at Hull. Firstly, Diaby arrived unmarked in the box to head Arshavin`s corner just wide. Another set piece from the right saw van Persie`s header smuggled off the line by Dawson, Song turned and hooked the rebound just wide from close range. Wenger took another break from brandishing yellow cards to send for reinforcements from the bench, Bendtner came on to add presence to the penalty area. Hull looked like they might contain Arsenal; van Persie`s low free kick was beaten wide by Myhill, before the Dutchman continued his love affair with the woodwork by heading Nasri`s corner onto the upper appendage of the crossbar. I make that sixteen times this season Robin has made sweet love to bar or post. But the breakthrough arrived with seventeen minutes left, Bendtner found some space in the area and received the ball from Walcott, he miscued his original shot wildly, before collecting the stray ball and having the presence of mind to square to Arshavin, he tucked the ball back to van Persie who had some extra marital with the back of the net. Mrs. Crossbar will not be pleased. Whilst Arshavin showed a cool head in the area, he also showed an older, wiser head when he reminded Arsenal`s cavorting minnies to stop celebrating and get back to the centre circle, there was still a game to be won.
However, whilst the red and white clad amongst us bayed like wilderbeast for a winner, the zebra nearly ate the lion whole. Manucho`s flick on found its way around the back of Djourou and Geovanni hit a volley into the side netting. Arsenal continued to push, Bendtner`s flick felt the full force of van Persie`s left boot, catching the ball on the full toss only for Myhill`s positioning to be exemplary. With seven minutes left, Arsenal won a free kick half way inside Hull`s half, the Gunners temporarily had ten forward of Nasri until Gallas roared at Gibbs and Sagna to sit back. Myhill`s judgement was flawed as he came to meet Nasri`s free kick, the ball flicked Djourou`s head, then Myhill`s glove before finding William Gallas inside the six yard area to nod home a late winner. Billy`s prevailing reaction was to look at the linesman before storming off for an emotive celebration adjacent to Block 6. The screens in the stadium took the unprecedented step of showing a slowed down replay which appeared to suggest that Gallas was in an offside position, causing the Hull players to rage and gesticulate wildly at the officials to look at the screens. I guess that`s why F.A rules forbid stadium screens to replay controversial incidents; it certainly contributed to Brown`s dummy spitting and any on pitch scrum towards the officials at the final whistle. Bendtner`s shot was beaten out by Myhill in the box before Eboue hit a shot into the side netting. Riley added five minutes injury time, despite there being no injuries, which tells you everything about how much time Hull actually wasted.
The final whistle was met with rage by Phil Brown; whilst the press will tell you Mr. Wenger refused to shake hands with Phil Brown, I sit directly opposite the dugout and I can tell you what you probably already know, Brown was on the pitch fuming at the referee. Whilst Brown`s objective to mask his own side`s failings has largely succeeded in the post match coverage, it does not remove the fact that we were there for the taking for Hull in the first half. Their victory over us in September was borne of their attacking intent and our defensive stupor. Had Hull been a little more positive, they might just have repeated the trick. While Brown`s managerial limitations are beginning to be exposed, Arsenal`s mental strength is beginning to redouble. Whereas I had resigned myself to goalless draws with Fulham, West Ham and Sunderland after about 60 minutes, I always felt we would score last night. Our attacks looked menacing and meaningful, the build up play quicker and more incisive. This despite the fact that Walcott and Vela struggled to get into the game, van Persie chose to occupy an already congested area of the pitch and that Diaby could not pass wind for the first hour. Arshavin again knitted the attack together and looked the most likely to produce, be it with his dribbling, his instant first time passing or his shooting. It was he who pulled us out of our first half slumber with three moments of consternation for the Hull defence. Bendtner also added some presence to our play in the penalty area and overall it was pleasing to see the guts and mental strength we showed to fight back. Almost exactly a year ago, Arsenal were denied a legitimate goal against Middlesbrough which cost them two precious points in the title race; if indeed Arsenal`s winning goal was a refereeing blunder, it`s better to get those decisions at this stage of the season than at the beginning. We`re at the business end of matters now and Arsenal appear to be finding form at exactly the right time, hopefully enough to carry us through to another Wembley appearance in May.LD.
Date:Wednesday March 18 2009
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