As the game entered stoppage time with the scoreline at Arsenal 1, Hull City 1, I had a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach.
A feeling that for all our good work this season, for all of our fighting and scrapping and regularly brilliant football, it would all come crashing down in the worst way possible.
As the fourth official held up his board to indicate six minutes it looked for all money as if a thuggish Hull City team lead by the awful, hypocritical man that is Phil Brown, would be the ones that derailed our title charge.
But rather fantastically, it wasn’t to be.
Nicklas Bendtner provided the vital contribution, scuffing home his effort after Hull’s goalkeeper could only parry Denilson’s long-range strike to spark passionate celebrations from the players. In an instant a disappointing draw became a thrilling victory and ensured we took three more vital points back to London.
There were huge similarities with the win at Stoke a fortnight ago – the late goal, the ability to overcome adversity in a hostile environment – but the crucial difference was that we did not play well here. Gifted the advantage of an extra man for the entirety of the second half after George Boateng’s tactless challenge on Bacary Sagna, we struggled to make it count. Until Bendtner’s late effort, that is.
The first half was a controversial and entertaining affair.
We took a deserved lead through a deceptively good goal by Andrey Arshavin (check out the build-up play) and looked likely to run away with the game.
But the referee and linesman combined to gift Hull an equaliser, first by missing an obvious offside and then by awarding a penalty after Sol Campbell’s innocuous challenge. The only Hull player worth his weight in salt, Jimmy Bullard, slammed home the kick to level things up.
The goal seemed to stunt our momentum and galvanise Hull’s team, however they should have been down to ten men shortly afterwards when their captain, Boateng, inexplicably poked Bendtner in the eye. The referee booked both players on the lineman’s advice but the replays showed once again that the men in black had got it wrong as Bendtner was blameless and Hull’s captain quite simply a disgrace.
Thankfully he got his just desserts just before the break when another horrible tackle, this time on Sagna, saw him dismissed. In my opinion the referee again got it wrong by only issuing a second yellow instead of a red but the important thing was that Boateng was forced to leave the pitch.
With an extra man and the advantage of some half-time advice from Arsene Wenger I expected our boys to take the game to Hull and potential tear them apart. It didn’t happen though as Hull rallied well and our midfield of Samir Nasri, Abou Diaby and Denilson struggled to play as a cohesive and quick-thinking unit.
The referee partially redeemed his earlier efforts by correctly waving play-on after Campbell’s hard but fair forced Kamil Zayatte off the field. There was some bleating after the game (mostly from that idiot Brown) that the English central defender’s challenge should have seen a yellow card but anyone who knows anything about football would know that this was a million miles away from Ryan Shawcross’ leg-breaker: a genuinely fair tackle made in a 50:50 situation by a defender with eyes only for the ball.
With our attack falling a little flat the manager did the sensible thing and brought on Theo Walcott for Emmanuel Eboue on the right and the winger’s pace and directness had an immediate impact. Given a full half-hour to show what he could do, Walcott made his mark with some terrific dribbling and perhaps most importantly, some genuinely threatening cutbacks into the area.
Walcott’s energy fashioned clear chances for Arshavin and Bendtner before the end but it all looked in vain as the game moved into added time with the scored locked at 1-1. However, Myhill’s mistake and Bendtner’s anticipation ensured we stole the win.
This was not a great team performance as Walcott’s cameo and Bendtner’s all-round persistance provided the only outstanding individual contributions.
At the back Sol Campbell had a tough night trying to contain Jozy Altidore while the rest of the defence was largely untested. Denilson had a decent enough game in the middle despite dwelling on the ball on occasion, while Diaby and Nasri were below-par after storming midweek performances.
Arshavin scored a delightful goal but was found wanting with some woeful efforts while Eboue’s decent efforts were upstaged by his younger, pacier replacement. Bendtner never stopped trying and was rewarded with a goal while Eduardo struggled to make any sort of contribution after being thrown on for Nasri.
But all that mattered was the result.
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