Arsenal paid a hefty price to qualify for the quarterfinals of the FA Cup as Mertesacker, Paulista and Ramsey picked up injuries in the 4-0 victory over Hull on Tuesday. On the positive side, the Gunners snapped a five-game winless streak in all competitions while Giroud scored his first goal since mid-January.
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Mertesacker got injured in a clash of heads with Powell after 16 minutes. The German centerback tried to soldier on but eventually had to throw in the towel in the 32nd. Monreal came off the bench to team up with Paulista in the heart of the Arsenal defense. Then Paulista pulled his hamstring in the 53rd, leading Wenger to send on Ramsey for the Brazilian defender. Flamini shifted to rightback while Chambers took over the centerback position. The manager was forced to make his last substitution in the 73rd when Ramsey suffered a thigh strain.
We are now depleted in midfield since Cazorla, Wilshere, Rosicky and Oxlade-Chamberlain are still on the disabled list. At the back, Mertesacker should be able to recover from what looks like a swollen eye, but Koscielny is still doubtful for this weekend and we don’t know yet how serious is Paulista’s hamstring injury. At least the manager rested Bellerin, Welbeck, Sanchez and Ozil while Coquelin was serving a one-game suspension.
Wenger made six changes to the side that drew 2-2 with Tottenham on Saturday with Chambers, Flamini, Iwobi, Walcott, Campbell and Giroud replacing Bellerin, Coquelin, Ozil, Sanchez, Ramsey and Welbeck in the starting lineup. The Tigers made it difficult for Arsenal to build play from the back by pressing high up the pitch. The absence of an organizer in midfield led to a lot of back passes in the opening minutes.
Giroud’s movement inside the box
I thought the tactical setup was a bit weird with Walcott on the left wing and Campbell on the right wing. Playing with inverted wingers does not really favor crosses since they tend to cut inside and shoot with their stronger foot. Giroud has been struggling with confidence lately, so it made more sense to feed him with crosses like when he had Podolski on the left flank and Walcott on the right one a couple of years ago.
Deprived of decent service, Giroud initially drifted to the wings where he made some crosses for Walcott. That didn’t work. So Giroud moved back into the box, where he pounced on Meyler’s blind back pass in the 41st to slip the ball through Jakupovic’s legs for the opening goal. The Gunners could have doubled the lead two minutes later when Gibbs struck the bar with a curling shot from 30 yards.
Gibbs initiated the second goal with a run from midfield in the 71st to connect with Walcott, whose cross was volleyed home by Giroud. The France striker finished the game with 3 of 4 shots on target, reminding everybody that he is still our most accurate forward. His lack of pace does not allow him to make lethal runs in behind the defense, but his movement inside the area is excellent and his power helps him hold the ball up and win aerial duels.
Those two goals should definitely boost Giroud’s confidence. He last scored against Liverpool on Jan. 13. However, let’s remember that Hull is just a Championship side. In his return from a hamstring injury, Sanchez found the net against second-tier Burnley on Jan. 30, but he waited for more than a month before scoring his next goal against Tottenham. Hopefully, it won’t take that long for Giroud to rediscover his form in the league.
Walcott also had a poor run of form as his previous goal came against Leicester on Feb. 14. The England international did not really impress in the first half with two corner kicks poorly taken and a low drive off target. But Walcott is an unusual and frustrating player. He can be invisible for 89 minutes and still show up to make the difference in the final third for one minute. That’s what happened in the 77th. Leading a counterattack, Campbell slipped a through ball to an unmarked Walcott, who took a perfect first touch to beat Jakupovic with a low effort. In the closing minutes, Walcott sealed the win by taking a pass from Iwobi to fire an angled strike that took a deflection off a defender to beat a wrongfooted Jakupovic.
Campbell displayed again his fantastic work-rate by winning 4 of 5 tackles, the most for any player. He lacked accuracy in the first half with a curling shot wide of the far post in the 10th and an overhit return pass for Giroud in the 44th. But the Costa Rica forward made amends in the second half with an assist for the third goal.
Elneny as the new Song
Tuesday’s match at the KC stadium confirmed what most fans know about Iwobi. His technique and reading of the game are outstanding for a teenager, but he really needs to toughen up if he wants to become a Premier League player. Iwobi was a bit too eager in the opening minutes with a couple of inaccurate through balls. Somehow, he settled down in the second half, testing Jakupovic with a long-range strike in the 87th before delivering the assist for the fourth goal. Iwobi finished the game with 3 shot assists, the most for any player, but also just 38% of his duels won, tied with Elneny for the lowest percentage among the midfielders.
Elneny made the midfield more balanced against Tottenham by adding some fluency in Arsenal’s passing game. He’s not a ballwinner like Coquelin, or an organizer like Cazorla or Wilshere or a goal threat like Ramsey. The Egypt midfielder’s role is simply to make the defense connect with the attack. His passing accuracy against Hull reached 94%, the highest percentage among the midfielders. He’s also improving the physical side of his game, winning 3 of 5 tackles.
I tend to see Elneny as a more mature version of Song when he arrived at the club, that is, a player whose development could produce a solid Premier League midfielder. But right now, Elneny is mostly a back-up for Wilshere and Cazorla. He still needs to work on his ball retention skills as Aluko dispossessed him in the 70th to hit Arsenal on the fast break. To his credit, Elneny hit a looping volley from 25 yards that Jakupovic tipped over the bar in the 51st.
Getting the priorities right
Chambers’ slow first steps were again exposed on the right flank. He gave away a free kick in the 30th by tripping Meyler and failed to cut Odubajo’s cross for Diame in the 53rd. Chambers felt more comfortable when Paulista’s injury led him to move to centerback.
The Tigers only had two clear-cut chances. Ospina preventing them from taking the lead in the 30th by stopping Meyler’s low strike from the edge of the box following a goalmouth scramble. Hull’s best opportunity to level came in the 64th when Diomande fed Powell on a counterattack. The Manchester United loanee ignored an unmarked Odubajo to his left and dragged a low shot wide. Ospina had very little to do in the second half, claiming a cross from Aluko in the 63rd and saving a long-range effort from Huddlestone in the 90th.
Arsenal will play Watford in the quarterfinals on Sunday, which means that the Premier League match against West Brom scheduled for this weekend is postponed to April or May. Let’s be honest, the FA Cup is our only chance of winning some silverware this season. So I would definitely field the strongest team against Watford. Then comes the Champions League game against Barcelona next Wednesday. Our chances of advancing in that competition are zero after losing 2-0 in the first leg at home. So I would rest some key players for the Premier League game against Everton on March 19, which is much more important because a poor result at Goodison Park could jeopardize our chances of finishing in the Top 4.