Back in this blog’s first year Arsenal faced a team called Hull which featured an orange-faced charlatan named Phil Brown as their manager. Brown’s Hull once did a smash and grab job on Arsenal, sending the Gunners to their second ever defeat at the Emirates through a 25 yard wonder strike and a header. It was a tough match in which Hull used brute force to kill the game off and to grab the winner off a corner and after the match the manager uttered the words that all Arsenal supporters love to hear “they don’t like it up ’em” and “we got up their noses”.
Since that fateful day Phil Brown has been fired, Hull have been relegated and re-promoted, Hull have a new owner who wants to change the name of the club or something, Arsenal beat Hull in the FA Cup final, and Hull have a new manager having fired Steve the Bruce after a string of terrible results.
Hull’s new manager is Marco Silva and up until this summer he was the manager of Olympiacos. Marco Silva beat Arsenal just last year in the Champions League 2-3 at the Emirates. Olympiacos took the lead off a 20 yard strike from a corner, Walcott scored to drag one back, then Olympiacos scored directly off a corner when Arsenal keeper David Ospina dropped the ball, Alexis got Arsenal even, and Arsenal allowed a third seconds after the restart when Finnbogason scored at the near post on a broken and disorganized defensive play.
After the match Marco Silva did not talk about how Arsenal like it up em.
Fast forward to this last weekend. Hull beat Liverpool 2-0 scoring one goal off a corner and a second off a fast break.
All of these matches have a few things in common: Hull (Oly) play without the ball, they always score off a corner, and the so-called big club loses the game because they can’t find space. Arsenal will have to deal with this exact threat tomorrow as Hull travel to the Emirates for the 4:30am kickoff of the Premier League weekend.
Arsenal have a bit of turmoil at the moment. There are some noises that David Ospina might start this match over the normal #1 Petr Cech. This could be a huge mistake. Cech did have a howler at the weekend, passing the ball out to Fabregas who then chipped him for Chelsea’s third goal, but Ospina is not as big and commanding as Cech is on corners. In addition, Arsenal have new guy Mustafi at center back. Mustafi is also not a commanding presence on corners and tends to duck out of aerial duels. The combination of Mustafi and Ospina would be a shaky one to say the least.
Meanwhile at right back, Arsenal have another weird problem. Wenger has been playing center back Gabriel at right back exactly because Mustafi is weak in aerial challenges. Having Gabriel in there adds some strength and fearlessness to Arsenal’s aerial defenses. But Gabriel is awful going forward and in support of the midfield. He’s also slow, so if he does get forward to support the attack, Arsenal are vulnerable to the counter attack.
The other option is for Arsene to play Hector Bellerin at right back. Bellerin is great in support of the midfield, he’s skillful with the ball at feet, and he’s the fastest player in the League so he can cover counter attacks. But Bellerin was knocked out in the match against Chelsea last weekend. This happened because, despite bravely challenging for two aerial duels, his opponents were bigger and Alonso was allowed to smash him in the head with a leading elbow. Whether it would be smart to play Bellerin in a match which is sure to feature a ton of aerial duels, and especially one where the opposition manager is going to test his mettle, is a big question.
Looking at the tackles and interceptions chart against Liverpool, Silva’s Hull are going too play almost exactly like Brown’s Hull. They will sit deep and soak up pressure, invite Arsenal to play in crosses where their well drilled and rather large center backs can head the ball away time and again. There is no reason to start Giroud. His service will just be gobbled up. Best to bring him on late in the game if we need a battering ram.
The trick for Arsenal is to draw Hull out and get them to chase passes/players in Arsenal’s half. Then hit them with a ball over the top. If that doesn’t work, Arsenal should look to press Hull’s players whenever Arsenal lose the ball. This “gegenpress” will take advantage of the chaos that ensues after a turnover as each team tries to regain shape. Also, Arsenal need to press the Hull defenders whenever they have the ball and force them into clearances. This is another quick way to recover possession.
This is a tricky fixture for Arsenal but one which Arsenal should win. One which Arsenal need to win if they want to keep their title hopes alive.