By Richard Clarke
Arsenal pulled off another late, late show at the KC Stadium on Saturday.
Goals from Samir Nasri and Nicklas Bendtner in the last eight minutes secured a vital victory at Hull after Daniel Cousin’s second-half equaliser had suggested the home side might just reprise their shock win at Emirates Stadium in September.
Half-an-hour before this 5.30pm kick-off, it appeared that Arsène Wenger’s could make up serious ground on their title rivals. In the end, Chelsea, Manchester United and Aston Villa all came back to win so the pressure was on Arsenal to continue their seven game unbeaten run in the Premier League.
Emmanuel Adebayor’s header on the half-hour seemed set to ensure that transpired but they lost their way when Hull switched to 4-4-2 on the hour.
However recent games have proved Arsenal’s character. The victories against Portsmouth, Bolton and now Hull have been secured with goals in the last 10 minutes.
Better late than never and Wenger's men are still in touch at the top.
This was Arsenal’s first League fixture at Hull since April 2, 1915. In fact it was only the fifth time the sides had faced each other outside of cup competition.
Of course, Hull announced their candidacy as the campaign’s surprise package with a famous 2-1 win at Emirates Stadium in September. That proved to be no flash in the pan but they had fallen away steadily in the last two months to such an extent that this week Brown had brought in Kevin Kilbane from Wigan and Manucho on loan from Manchester United. Both were involved this evening though the latter started on the bench.
The Hull defeat had cost Arsenal a large part of their early-season confidence. They had been clawing it back in recent weeks with narrow home wins and creditable draws against fellow title contenders. It was hardly football baring the hallmark of Arsène Wenger but it had been enough.
Injuries had not helped. William Gallas (hamstring), Mikael Silvestre (thigh), Theo Walcott (shoulder), Cesc Fabregas (knee) and Tomas Rosicky (hamstring tendon) were still on the list going in to this game. Alex Song did return this evening but only made the bench as Wenger stuck with the side that had squeezed past Bolton last weekend.
Perhaps the spectre of that September victory helped Hull in the early stages. The home side dominated the opening minutes in terms of territory but did little with it.
Apart from the odd flashing cross, their only real chance came after seven minutes when Denilson’s pass strayed to Nathan Doyle, who strode forward but his low shot was easily gathered by Almunia.
Arsenal were struggling to find their feet. However they nearly grabbed an unlikely lead in the 12th minute when Adebayor was hauled down 25 yards out. Van Persie’s low free-kick deflected a matter of inches past the post with Boaz Myhill beaten.
Gradually the visitors discovered some of their fluency and just before the half-hour they would take the lead. In the 28th minute, Emmanuel Eboue’s skills saw him brought down on the right. Van Persie’s whipped-in free-kick looked destined for the top corner but Myhill’s fingertips touched the ball onto the bar and Djourou could not turn in his shot from close range.
It was a massive chance but Hull could not clear the ball and it would cost them. A couple of quick corners later, Van Persie floated the ball to the far post and Adebayor steered home the simplest of headers. It was the Togolese targetman’s 12th goal of the season and lifted him level with Van Persie at the top of Arsenal’s scoring charts.
A lead was a luxury. In recent games, Arsenal had been forced to roll up their sleeves and graft their way to late victories. The goal seemed to make a massive difference.
Suddenly there was a spring in the visitors’ step while Hull’s body language betrayed their lack of confidence.
Nine minutes before the break Arsenal should have doubled their lead. Adebayor crossed from the left and an unmarked Eboue sliced the ball wide at the far post.
The striker was clearly in the mood today. Five minutes into the second half he ended a fine Arsenal move by blasting a stinging shot at Myhill.
Wenger’s men were starting to look comfortable. But the introduction of Manucho unsteadied them and the home fans claimed penalty when the Angolan clashed with Djourou in the area on the hour.
Six minutes later, Hull would grab their equaliser. Bernard Mendy had ample time to fire in a cross from the right flank but his effort was aided by a deflection off Clichy’s foot. It was a crucial touch because it meant the ball floated nicely into the path of Cousin who had a simple job to nod into the top corner from close range.
Wenger changed formation immediately. Eboue was brought off and Bendtner came on as Arsenal went 4-3-3.
Van Persie dribbled a free-kick wide and Diaby slashed a shot equally adrift but Arsenal were searching for ideas.
They found one with eight minutes left. Bendtner tucked a ball inside to Van Persie just outside the area. The Dutchman showed elusive skills to immediately fed Nasri on the left. The Frenchman buried a low shot beyond Myhill and just inside the far post.
Four minutes later Bendtner killed the game by sweeping home a third.
The Dane could have snaffled a fourth in injury time but his close-range header bounced back off the post.
Yet, but that time, Arsenal had what they wanted.
- Clichy Yellow Card
- Nasri Goal!
- Eboue 67
- Adebayor 87 Goal!
- Song 87
- Bendtner 67 Goal!
- France 83
- Ashbee Yellow Card
- Halmosi 53
- Geovanni 87
- Cousin Goal!
- Fagan 83
- Garcia 87
- Manucho 53