Hull had a very specific plan in place for us. It was a good plan, and it had worked against Liverpool, but we are (by some distance) a better side than Liverpool, and where the strengths of the plan paid off against Rogers side it’s weaknesses were mercilessly exploited by us. Another problem that Steve Bruce faced was that Wenger would have been watching Hull’s win and taken note of their tactics.
Overlap & overload
Their plan was to use their wing backs (at least that’s what they were supposed to be playing as) to overlap and overload our back line, and put dangerous crosses into the box. The plan simply didn’t work. For starters Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin are better full backs that Glen Johnson and Emre Can. They defended our flanks exceptionally well. Then there’s the fact that Aluko and N’Doye aren’t exactly prolific marksmen, so even when a cross did come their way, they did nothing with it.
Against Liverpool Hull put in 19 crosses and had seven corners. Against us they only managed 4 successful crosses and had no corners. As their main source of attack it was a horrendously ineffective tactic. I know that they did eventually get a consolation goal from a cross, but their plan of attack had left them horrifically exposed in defence, and against the likes of Özil, Alexis and Giroud, they were asking for trouble.
Watching the game I didn’t understand why Bruce chose to target Monreal specifically. Not only is he a very good player, but Alexis is famed for his work rate on that side of the pitch, so Nacho always had help. Practically every goal kick was aimed to their right. The vast majority of their play made its way down their right hand side. Nacho was having none of it, and aided by Alexis and the superb Coquelin Hull had absolutely no joy, but that’s where their troubles were just beginning.
They totally sacrificed their ability to defend a counter attack by committing so many men to each attack and leaving the remaining defenders on a high line. Also by focussing on their right their left side was practically empty.
I’m aware that our first goal didn’t come directly from a counter attack, but that’s where it originated. Looking at Rambo’s goal, he ran into a practically unguarded central position and found himself 1 on 1 with a defender because most of the Hull players were on the other side of the pitch. Alexis’s second goal came from a counter where Hull had left themselves exposed. (Alexis gets the plaudits for winning the ball back in the first place and scoring, but watch Giroud’s run. He made it to distract Dawson, which it did, and he was flat footed when Alexis went past him. Super play by the Frenchman
I understand that perhaps focussing so much on their right could (in theory) have nullified Alexis, but when it became obvious that it wasn’t working Bruce did nothing to change it. I’m not complaining, merely highlighting.
If the team continue to apply this focus and quality in finishing this season and take it into next season, we’ll give Chelsea a real fight for the title.
I found it interesting that Wilshere came on for Ramsey on our right hand side when Walcott was sitting on the bench. I know that Theo did eventually come on for Giroud, but the fact that Arsene preferred to play Wilshere out of position rather than Walcott adds weight to the rumours that he’s leaving in the summer.
Of course there is another possibility, which is that Arsene has now decided that it’s time to move Theo into the middle. Regardless, it’s great to have them both available, and I was pleasantly surprised by how sharp Jack looked.
Subomi wrote a very interesting blog here about who will be the captain next season. It really got me thinking about the issue, as a good captain can make a difference. Personally I think that Arteta will stay for one more year and remain the club captain. When he leaves I think it should be passed to Ramsey. He’s a great player, he leads by example and he’s always in the team, even if Wenger has to shunt him out wide to squeeze him in.
Swansea are up next on Monday night. They’re a good side and they tend to do well against us, but they have very little to play for and I’m hoping that mentally they’re already on their summer holidays. We’re still showing great focus so I expect us to put them to the sword, but with the win on Monday confirming St Totteringham’s day (forever in our shadow) and all but confirming a top four place as well, our focus may drift to Wembley…