Well, that didn’t quite go according to plan, did it? However it also could have been worse: when Aluko took aim from what would be Hull’s only shot on target, I was prepared for the worst. It was a genuine heart-in-the-mouth moment, which would have felt like a cold shower had Aluko been a half-decent finisher. Mostly because we so utterly dominated the proceedings that it never occurred to me Arsenal could lose the game.
And here is one of the positives we can take from this game: we didn’t lose. Yes, it would have been unfair to go down as a result of Hull’s only good moment, but let’s face it: it wouldn’t have been the first time we did.
However I’m not inclined to dwell on the negative side for too long, so let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. I’ll try to be as concise as possible.
A real problem in that it’s not clear when it’ll take place. Due to us facing Swansea the midweek after next (the earliest possible date for a replay) and then Barcelona in the reverse fixture after that, I really don’t know when the replay will take place.
However it doesn’t really matter from a “we have a heavy schedule already” perspective. It’s not like Arsene is going to suddenly field his strongest team in the replay. If anything, I suspect we’ll see even more changes than we did today (meaning more than 9), as Gabriel and possibly even Cazorla and Wilshere can come back by then.
He wasn’t as bad as he could have been, to be honest. The ref didn’t send off Koscielny for the Frenchman’s late and unnecessary sliding tackle, he didn’t allow Hull’s players to bully ours and he even brandished a yellow to Maguire for a theatrical dive in our box. By the time Maguire hit the ground I was ready for Dean to point to the spot.
However neither was the ref’s performance impeccable. He failed to notice two clear handballs (one of these quite deliberate) in Hull’s box and his decision not to award a penalty after Chambers was hauled off his feet was as dubious as it gets. Dean had a clear view of the incident, Calum was obviously stopped with a foul, so it beats me why we never got a penalty.
What is it with Arsenal’s luck this season? It’s at least the 3rd time an opposition’s goalkeeper hit double digits in terms of saves made against the Gunners. First Butland made 10 (in September), then Forster repeated this feat in early February and now Jakupovic made a whooping 11. Insane.
Could we have finished our chances better? We certainly could have, it’s something Arsene pointed out too:
“The goalkeeper did well of course, but we had maybe 70 per cent possession and more than 20 shots on goal, and we didn’t score. We have to look at ourselves as well, even if you can give credit to their ‘keeper.”
Some of the saves Jakupovic made were simply jaw-dropping. The fingertip one from Campbell’s free-kick, the one with a deflection from Welbeck’s shot, a save from Danny at the near post, Alexis’ free-kick late on…
However some of our efforts were really weak considering the positions the shots were taken from. Alexis in particular didn’t look like his usual self at all.
And now the good moments.
Koscielny and Mertesacker will most likely be the only ones to start in three days from this side. As their positions require the least energy, I don’t expect either to suffer from exhaustion and let it affect their performance on Tuesday.
Of everyone else involved we may see Welbeck start (though I doubt it), Alexis, Giroud and Oxlade. The latter three have only played 30 minutes or less, so again, their standards shouldn’t slip vs Barca. As for Welbeck, the guy is fresh. Even if he does start this shouldn’t be a problem.
Besides, most of the stand-ins acquitted themselves well. I thought only Gibbs and Flamini looked underwhelming, while Ospina was mostly uninvolved, so it’s hard to pass judgement in his case. Others, though? Chambers, Elneny, Iwobi, Walcott and particularly Welbeck looked very bright, all filling in admirably and doing their respective jobs well.
We played some good football
We really did. Second-string players gave Hull a torrid time and can feel hard done by not to win. After all basically the same squad defeated Sunderland and Burnley earlier and there was little wrong with their performance on the day.
Amusingly though, they suffered from the same malaise the regulars seem to experiencing lately: finishing. Completely different personnel, but the problem persists. Arsene warned after the game, however, that such a profligate performance in front of goal will get us nowhere against Barca (think this was more of a message to the first team, though):
“We need to be more efficient in the final third, because today we had more than 70 per cent possession and we will not have that on Tuesday night. That means we’ll have to be more efficient with much less of the ball.”
Think this snippet also hints about how we are going to approach Barcelona on Tuesday, but I’ll cover that in my preview.
We kept a clean sheet, didn’t go out and didn’t dent our confidence
Some would say a clean sheet against Hull’s reserves will mean little on Tuesday night, but I disagree. This clean sheet continues a fine trend we started in January: a knack of keeping our goal under lock and key.
We have only conceded 3 goals in our last 7 games (all competitions), of which one was from a penalty and one after going down to 10 men. If we look a bit further, we have conceded 7 goals in the last 11 matches, 3 of these coming in a mad rollercoaster at Anfield. Scrap that game out and we have only 4 goals against in 10 games.
And this plays a part, let me tell you that. When you face the most daunting attack in Europe and go into the game with such a good record, the players feel more confident about their chances.
We are also still in the cup. The replay is a nuisance, but we are still in it and winning away at Hull is only slightly harder than winning at the Emirates. Not like we were held to a draw vs Chelsea or United and now have to go to Stamford Bridge or Old Trafford where our record is notoriously bad.
Finally, a draw of any kind is always preferable to a loss. Every little thing counts when you are about to face Barcelona, and I’d much rather we did it on the back of a draw than a loss, even if it were mostly the reserve players involved. A loss affects the confidence of the entire team, it spreads like toxic gas and hampers the belief in your own abilities. Ain’t nobody needs that.
“The nightmare would have been to go out. The frustration is that we didn’t score and it’s not what we wanted, to have a replay, but between that and going out, we choose the replay. I am happy for the replay [as opposed to going out].”
Which kind of returns me to my original point: a draw, with all the ensuing consequences, is hardly the end of the world and is infinitely more desirable to a loss. We are in these competitions to compete (I didn’t learn the difficult word “repetition” at school), not to purposefully lose to make our schedule lighter.
Now the players need to push that draw to the back of their minds and concentrate fully on the Tuesday night. They can deal with everything else when it comes.
Back with a preview of our Champions League clash.