Arsenal secured a top-four finish in the Premier League by defeating Hull 3-1 on Monday. Now the next goal is to make sure we qualify directly for the group stage of the Champions League instead of going through the playoffs. The Gunners are five points clear of Manchester United and have a game in hand, which means that a victory over Swansea next Monday and a draw at Old Trafford in 11 days would be enough to clinch a top-three finish. In the meantime, Arsenal kept pace with Manchester City in the race for second place as both teams are level on points but the Citizens have played a game more.
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Do you believe in karma? The Tigers started making a lot of cynical fouls when Arsenal took control of the match after 20 minutes. Livermore received a yellow card for a cynical foul on Sanchez in the 23rd and could have earned a second booking for tripping the Chile forward in the 27th. The referee only gave a free kick but Sanchez punished Hull with a curling shot that took a deflection off the wall to loop over Harper for the opening goal.
Huddlestone was lucky to escape a booking for a reckless challenge on Ramsey in the 24th. In fact, the referee did not even spot the foul. Ramsey wobbled off the pitch to receive treatment as Wilshere warmed up along the touchline. Somehow, Ramsey managed to recover from that nasty tackle and replied by doubling the lead in the 33rd. The Wales midfielder controlled a long ball from Cazorla and spun for an effort that Brady diverted into his own net. Two lucky goals indeed, but the Tigers were also lucky not to have Livermore sent off and Huddlestone booked.
When bad karma hits back
Let’s be honest: the officiating was terrible. The referee missed a couple of dirty tackles, including one that led to Hull’s goal in the 56th. His failure to spot Meyler’s stamp on Koscielny’s ankle allowed Elmohamady to cross the ball for Quinn, who ghosted past Mertesacker to head in. It was at least a yellow card but Arsenal should have played to the whistle instead of switching off defensively on that play. There was a bit of uncertainty as McShane headed another cross from Elmohamady above the bar in the 60th. However, the Tigers’ threat faded quickly after Robertson replaced Aluko in the 65th.
Bad karma hit back at the Tigers with Coquelin’s unintentional stamp on Quinn’s leg in the 59th and Koscielny inadvertently kicking Meyler in the head in the 70th when the Hull substitute fell to the ground. Again, the referee showed his incompetence by refusing to stop play despite an obvious head injury.
In his first Premier League season, Sanchez has become the star of his team with 16 goals. It’s no surprise to see him named in the PFA team of the year. Sanchez made it 3-0 on the stroke of halftime by forcing a turnover in midfield. The ball fell to Ozil, who found Ramsey. Full of energy, Sanchez was both at the start and the end of that play as he collected Ramsey’s through ball to round Harper and slot into an empty net.
Wilshere’s return from injury
Sanchez’s scoring resurgence comes at the right time with Giroud suffering a dip in form. It’s too bad that Welbeck is sidelined by a knee inflammation because I think the manager would have considered starting him up front against Swansea.
Ramsey is not our most gifted player but what I like about him is the energy and drive he shows on the pitch. He had three turnovers in the first 15 minutes before suffering a dirty tackle from Huddlestone. A lot of players would feel down after such an ugly start but not Ramsey. He proved mentally strong and reacted well with a goal and an assist. The best part of his game is when he makes those deep runs that are not tracked by our opponents. Coquelin led a counterattack in the 19th but his limited passing skills prevented the Frenchman from slipping the ball to Ramsey, unmarked at the far post.
In his return from an ankle injury, Wilshere came off the bench to replace Ramsey in the 68th. Wilshere looked sharp, especially with a mazy run in the 70th stopped by a foul from Dawson. He also combined with Ozil in the 75th as the Germany playmaker fed Cazorla, whose first-time effort went straight into Harper’s arms. I definitely believe Wilshere should play as an attacking midfielder or as an all-rounder because he can make a big difference in the final third. Hodgson is wasting Wilshere’s talent by using him as a holding midfielder. There are English players who can do a better job than Wilshere in that position while I don’t think the same is true in the playmaking role.
Cazorla’s master stroke
Cazorla’s change of role this season has been positive for the club. The Spaniard started his Arsenal career as a false winger before turning into an all-around midfielder a few months ago. His reading of the game, his technique and his unselfishness have definitely helped Coquelin settle in front of the back four. To a certain extent, Cazorla has taken on the role of Xavi in his prime at Barcelona.
Cazorla has become instrumental in preserving the balance of the team, acting like the keeper of Arsenal’s football identity with his great vision and passing skills. He led the team with 106 passes. That tells you how important he is for his teammates. His long ball for Ramsey in the 33rd was a master stroke. Cazorla delivered another magical through ball in the 45th to send Sanchez clean through on goal but Harper saved the Chilean’s chip attempt. The Spaniard could have scored but had an angled strike turned around the post by Harper in the 37th and a low drive acrobatically stopped by the Hull goalkeeper in the 83rd. Defensively, Cazorla showed his generosity with two interceptions, two blocks and a tackle won.
Ozil also had a good game, making quite a few runs to create space. His understanding with Sanchez split the Hull defense apart a couple of times. Sanchez played a one-two with Ozil in the 13th to fire a low drive that Harper parried. Ozil then combined with Sanchez in the 44th for an angled strike. I guess their best move came in the 63rd when Ozil released Sanchez down the left flank with a backheel flick. Sanchez tried to feed Ozil but Harper intercepted the cross. Ozil had one thing in common with Cazorla: Cazorla in the first half and Ozil in the second half poorly took corners, failing to beat the first man.
Bellerin’s attacking verve
The manager replaced Giroud with Walcott in the closing minutes. Walcott has become so peripheral to the team that his lack of understanding with Sanchez showed in stoppage time. Sanchez led a counterattack with Walcott by his side against two Hull defenders. The Chilean had no clue about Walcott’s favored runs and ended up dragging a low diagonal shot wide.
Wenger made no change to the side that drew 0-0 with Chelsea last month. The Tigers troubled the visitors by pressing high up the pitch in the opening minutes, leading Coquelin and Koscielny to express their impatience with long balls going nowhere. I thought Arsenal’s defensive performance in the first half was outstanding. Mertesacker killed two half-chances by clearing a pass from Aluko in the 23rd and cutting a cross from N’Doye in the 41st. The only scare came from Bellerin’s naivety in the 38th. The Spanish rightback underestimated N’Doye’s speed and missed his interception. However, N’Doye’s final ball was poor with his cross sailing straight into Ospina’s arms.
Bellerin displayed his attacking verve in the 61st with a cross for Sanchez, who could only muster a tame header. The Spaniard then took his chance in the 85th with a powerful strike that Harper palmed into the path of Wilshere. The England international pounced on the rebound for a goalbound effort but Chester blocked the shot with his arm. The referee did not award any penalty. To be fair, Chester seemed to pull away his arm. But in that kind of situation, especially with the goalkeeper stranded on the ground, I believe a penalty and no booking should be the correct call. It’s quite different from a cross that is not a clear-cut chance. In injury time, Walcott connected with another cross from Bellerin but missed the target from 12 yards.
Preparing next season
While the Gunners dominated the first half with six shots on target to none for Hull, they mostly sought to protect their lead after the break. Mertesacker prevented the Tigers from capitalizing on a Coquelin turnover in the 77th by clearing a cross from Meyler.
By winning 10 of their last 11 games in all competitions, the Gunners are doing the opposite of last season. The manager must find a way to make his squad perform consistently over an entire season. The summer transfer window officially opens on July 1, but it’s now that the staff must make choices that will prove crucial for the club next season.