Arsenal’s FA Cup fixture against Hull will bring back memories of the memorable 2014 final at Wembley but for the squad and the manager, it is the start of another of those mini blocks of games that could be season defining. Playing Hull, Barcelona and Manchester United in the space of eight days in three different competitions will be a test of the team’s strength in depth and mental toughness.
Last weekend’s win over Leicester City brought us within two points of the top of the table and according to many, brought us back into the title race. I can get the fact that a loss to Leicester and being behind by 8 points would have been tough to overhaul but how in the world we were out of the race is beyond me, despite us having the same points as Spurs for the past three weeks who apparently are in the title race.
Our results have been patchy but looking back, the performances haven’t been that bad. The only game where I can fault the team was the loss the Chelsea but apart from that, the performance and desire has been there, just not the finishing or the results. I still maintain that our chances in the Premier League will depend on our away form, especially the big games and the majority of them are yet to come.
But the weekend is all about our bid to take home a third consecutive FA Cup and playing Hull presents the manager with a chance to make some changes. Ozil, Sanchez, Giroud, Ramsey and Monreal will all surely be given a rest though the injury to Gabriel means the manager doesn’t have too many options in defence.
Whatever team the manager picks, they’ll have a tough game on their hands as Hull are no pushovers. I never thought they’d get relegated last season given the quality they had and if not for the late surge from Leicester and Sunderland, they’d still be here. Being top of the Championship shows that they are good enough to be in the top flight so anything other than 100% focus and effort from Arsenal could be disastrous. I got in touch with Rick Skelton of From Boothferry to Wembley to discuss this game and apart from his blog, Rick has written about Hull for the Guardian, Observer and Metro, hosted talk shows, is a member of the Hull City Supporters Trust and a season ticket holder since 2000.
Take a read below to see what he has to say about playing Arsenal for the third season in a row, Arsenal’s title chances and his verdict on which of the two Arsenal lads on loan at Hull have it in them to make the grade at the Emirates.
- How have Hull handled relegation? Being top of the Championship shows they’re motivated to come straight back up.
There was a great effort made to retain the majority of the squad. Losing some players was inevitable so it was a blow to see James Chester, Robbie Brady and Dame N’Doye go particularly but we received big money for them, reinvested a small amount wisely and held on to some really key players – Michael Dawson especially.
- There seems to be a lot of appreciation for Hull and Burnley for sticking with their managers despite relegation. What’s the fans opinion on Steve Bruce?
Bruce is still well liked. He’s an honest guy who seems to share fans’ opinions on our deficiencies which has always endeared him and despite relegation, he still has credit in the bank from promotion, survival and the FA Cup Final. He gets questioned more in defeats now as you’d probably expect but on balance, I think he’s still more popular than Wenger!
- What’s your verdict on the two Arsenal lads at the KC Stadium? Do they have the quality to make it at Arsenal?
Chuba Akpom has the talent to make it but after a hot start he’s fallen away a little bit. His decision making is erratic and his attitude when things get tough is questionable. He seems like a good kid and he’s talking about how much he’s learned from the experience so Arsenal can hope to benefit from that. With his size and pace – he should be a hell of a player someday.
Isaac Hayden is a tremendous midfielder. He’s a bit lightweight but he’s dynamic, strong in the tackle and has “Arsenal” written all over him when it comes to possession. I don’t think he’s good enough to be an Arsenal player but I can see him having a good career in the Premier League. Hopefully we’ll be at the front of the queue when you let him go.
- Who has been Hull’s player of the season so far?
Abel Hernandez has received all the headlines for his goals but it’s either Dawson or Jake Livermore. Jake’s return has been a massive bonus (unfortunately for Hayden) and with the weight of the world off his shoulders, he’s looking like the player we spent a fortune on.
- What kind of team should Arsenal be expecting? Will it be the first choice XI or will some of the squad players get a run out? Any players to keep an eye out for?
Steve Bruce always makes changes for cup ties so this will be no different. I think his hopes of winning the cup ended when the draw was made so he’ll just use it to get other players games. For a Championship side, our second eleven is ridiculous really although it will be hampered by the fact Hayden and Akpom can’t play. Now that would have been fun!
- How have the fans viewed a third consecutive year of having to play Arsenal in the FA Cup?
With a collective sigh! I think if the draw had gone our way, like 2014, we could have progressed this season but without being too defeatist, this feels like the end of the line.
- What have you made of Arsenal this season?
I think the strongest eleven is probably the best in the country and seems better balanced than ever with Coquelin protecting and the back four much improved by the additions of Cech and Bellerin. Ozil has had a great season too and when he and Sanchez are at it, they’re unplayable. The squad doesn’t have great depth though and I’m not sure it’s cut out for challenging on four fronts. If you’d prioritised the Premier League, I think you’d win it.
- The Arsenal player who has impressed you the most.
I’d say Ozil this season. He was really poor in the World Cup and seemed a bit peripheral last season but he’s contributed massively this season. Perhaps the expectation on Sanchez rather than him has helped but he’s really contributing where it matters.
- How will Steve Bruce set up tactically? Where will the game be won and lost?
We’ll probably go with the 4-4-1-1 we’ve used most of the season. The key for Hull City will be getting on top in midfield and stopping the ball getting into the feet of the forward players who’ll hurt you between the lines of defence and midfield if given free reign.
- Predictions for the game and the season.
2-0 Arsenal on Saturday. Hull City to be promoted. Arsenal to win the cup again but miss out on the Premier League!