We knocked and we knocked. We huffed and we puffed (and maybe even spat). And we blew Hull’s house down.
Despite falling behind to Nicky Barmby’s deflected opener, Arsenal were able to put in a second-half performance of real quality to snatch a thrilling 2-1 FA Cup win over Hull through two late goals from Robin van Persie and William Gallas. And while the second was clearly offside and should have been disallowed, I don’t think anyone deny that we were the better side and completely deserved to win.
Arsene Wenger went with a starting side very similar to the one I predicted yesterday. Kolo Toure, Denilson, Gael Clichy, Nicklas Bendtner and Samir Nasri were all given a rest with William Gallas, Abou Diaby, Kieran Gibbs, Robin van Persie and Carlos Vela restored in their place. Meanwhile Andrey Arshavin got the start he was craving despite playing with 8 stitches in his foot as he and Theo Walcott provided the support for van Persie and Vela. It was undoubtedly a strong team.
Despite the freshness of most of the team, Arsenal looked lethargic in the opening 30 minutes, conceding the goal and going dangerously close to falling two behind on a few occasions. Barmby had a second correctly ruled offside, Kamil Zayatte missed a close-range header while Lukasz Fabianski produced a save of real quality to deny a Geovanni free-kick.
From that point on it was all Arsenal. Arshavin and Vela began to involve themselves more as the game moved towards the break with the Russian having the best Arsenal chance of the half blocked by Anthony Gardiner. A disappointing first half, but better things would come.
Hull did absolutely nothing in the second half while we created a huge amount of chances before pulling level. Off the top of my head I can remember a Diaby header and a hooked shot by Song going wide, a free-kick from van Persie saved and another header by the Dutchman crashing the bar before he finally bulged the net, slamming home a clever Arshavin pass after good work by Bendtner.
I should say at this point that I feel that the substitutions of Bendtner and Nasri for Song and Vela changed the game. We lacked a physical presence up front until the Dane’s introduction, while Nasri’s neat give-and-go passing suited our game better than the dribbling provided by Vela. It’s no coincidence that Bendtner’s 6’5 frame was a key component of both goals while Nasri’s accurate passing allowed Arshavin and Walcott to flourish as the Hull legs tired.
The comeback was completed when Gallas headed home a fortunate, if deserved, winner. Nasri floated a free-kick in from the left, Djourou and Bendtner clashed with goalkeeper Boaz Myhill and the best defender-cum-striker in England nodded home from an offside position. Without going into the specifics of the offside too much, Djourou’s faint touch before Myhill made contact meant that Gallas was offside. I can see how the linesman missed it, I probably would have too, so with that in mind you can understand him letting the goal stand.
Unfortunately the controversial goal and the positive result for Arsenal prompted some ugly scenes at the final whistle, with Phil Brown accusing Cesc Fabregas, who went on the field to congratulate his team, of spitting at the feet of his assistant manager. Fabregas has denied the accusations but it’s very much a matter of which club you support as to who you believe. As such, I believe our captain.
The furore surrounding the spitting accusation and offside goal is likely to carry on during the week but at the end of the day we’re in the semi-finals of the FA Cup and have a delicious game against Chelsea at Wembley to look forward to. Our boys have shown another example of the determination and skill that flows through the squad and despite a flat first-half performance were more than deserved winners.
Special mention again has to go to Arshavin for a beautifully classy and inspirational performance to play through pain as well as Bendtner and Nasri for changing the game late on. Last but not least is William Gallas, who not for the first time this season was in the right place at the right time to score a crucial goal.
We’re two wins away from our first trophy since 2005 and that’s nothing to be laughed at. Well done Arsenal and bring on Chelsea!
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