Arsenal vs. Hull: Tinkering pays off as Ramsey shows off passing skills

   The Gunners earned a fourth straight win and a fourth straight clean sheet in all competitions by defeating Hull 2-0 Wednesday to keep their four-point lead at the top of the Premier League. Wenger made five changes from the side that beat Cardiff 3-0 last weekend, resting Gibbs, Sagna, Arteta, Wilshere and Giroud to start Monreal, Jenkinson, Flamini, Rosicky and Bendtner. That tinkering did not affect the team’s slick passing game, which shows that the whole squad has adopted the manager’s demanding brand of football.

   Last season, Ramsey would take a couple of unnecessary touches before releasing the ball. He has become more efficient in his passing this season. You can see the maturation of Ramsey’s passing skills in both goals. Ramsey released Jenkinson down the right flank with a first-time pass in the third minute. The Arsenal fullback made a pinpoint cross for Bendtner, who headed into the bottom corner for the opener. Then Ozil connected with Ramsey on the left wing in the 48th. The Wales midfielder cut inside to feed Ozil, who scored at the near post with a side-footed effort. Ramsey’s reverse pass eliminated two defenders on that play. Now he has a much better understanding of timing and space.

   The Tigers were very lucky to reach halftime down by a goal. Arsenal pretty much occupied Hull’s territory in the first 30 minutes and should have scored more goals with better finishing. Mertesacker redirected a corner toward Koscielny in the 10th. McGregor spilled the France defender’s header before stopping Ramsey’s point-blank effort from the rebound. The Hull goalkeeper again spilled a low shot from Ozil in the 14th but Bendtner was betrayed by a poor first touch while pouncing on the rebound. The Denmark striker could have attempted a first-time chip but he preferred to round McGregor and the ball ran out for a goal kick.

   Bendtner has made clear he wants to leave the club. Wenger will either sell him in January or let him go on a free transfer next summer. Bendtner is a decent back-up, better than Chamakh, but not as good as Giroud because of his average first touch and link-up play. There’s no way Bendtner could have swapped passes with Wilshere for the opening goal against Norwich. Somehow, Bendtner and Wenger have the same short-term interests. The manager needs a competitive centerforward to give Giroud some rest, while Bendtner needs good performances to market himself. The Dane nearly scored a second goal in the 54th but his header from a corner was cleared off the line by Brady. Bendtner also made a good cross for Ozil in the 45th but the Germany playmaker headed wide from six yards.

   Ramsey is so hot in front of goal right now that his teammates don’t hesitate to give him the ball. Rosicky could have taken his chance in the 27th when the Tigers poorly cleared a corner, but he preferred to slip the ball to Ramsey, who fired over from 16 yards. Rosicky again set up the Wales midfielder in the 29th but Ramsey’s low spinning shot lacked power to beat McGregor. Ramsey’s best effort came in the 32nd with a swerving drive that McGregor palmed away. The Hull goalkeeper also denied Ramsey in the 53rd when Ozil led a counterattack and played him in.

   Arsenal conceded very few chances. In the first half, the Tigers made two good crosses from Jenkinson’s flank, but nobody could connect with the ball. The visitors’ first half-chance came from a corner in the 40th that Chester headed wide. A short lapse of concentration gave Hull better chances in the second half, but Livermore shot straight at Szczesny in the 68th while Boyd headed wide a cross from Sagbo in the 70th. 

   It’s no surprise the Gunners have the tightest defense in the Premier League, allowing only 10 goals from 14 matches. They’re on pace to finish the season with just 27 goals conceded, which would be the club’s lowest total since the 2003-04 season, when the Invincibles let only 26 goals in. What is more important, however, is that Arsenal has found the right balance between defense and offense. Last season, the team sometimes played too defensively and struggled to score against Stoke and Sunderland, for instance. Sometimes it would be the opposite with a too offensive-minded team like in the large victories against Reading and Newcastle.

   The Gunners have been very consistent this season with 11 wins, 1 draw and 2 losses. With 34 points from 14 games, they’re on pace to finish the season with 92 points. Wenger said he would not rule out the Red Devils, but with just 22 points now they are on pace to finish with 60 points. Sure, the title race is quite open this season. But if we assume that at least 75 points will be needed to win the title, that would mean an extraordinary second half of the season for Manchester United to get back in the race.

   The 3-1 loss to Aston Villa on opening day has been the only blip in Arsenal’s season so far. Losing 1-0 at Old Trafford was acceptable while the 1-1 draw with West Bromwich in October was mostly the result of fatigue as the manager fielded his best lineup that day. That’s why competition within the squad and rotation could play a key role in Arsenal’s title run. 

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Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com

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