By Chris Harris at KC Stadium
Lukas Podolski scored a second consecutive brace as a clinical Arsenal performance saw off Hull City at KC Stadium.
Arsène Wenger's side were put under significant pressure in the first half but they weathered the storm and broke with devastating effect, taking the lead through the impressive Aaron Ramsey.
Podolski rounded off a sweeping counter-attack on the stroke of half-time and he was at it again early in the second half, calmly slotting home after Ramsey's deflected shot was saved.
You wouldn't have predicted such an emphatic scoreline on the evidence of the first half-hour but, while Hull looked threatening, Arsenal were ruthless. And they were cruising by the end.
These teams meet again at Wembley on May 17 and this result arguably gives Arsenal a psychological edge ahead of the FA Cup final. But right now Premier League points are all-important and this was a big boost for the Gunners' top-four aspirations.
With Ramsey and Mesut Ozil back, and a freshness and fluency about their play, Arsenal look a different prospect to the side that struggled in recent weeks.
They appear to have turned the corner - and four more wins will guarantee a happy ending to the season.
SETTING THE SCENE
Arsenal went into the game knowing that a victory would open up a four-point lead on Everton, with their main rivals for a top-four finish hosting Manchester United shortly after the final whistle blew at KC Stadium.
Wenger's major selection decision centred around Ozil. The Germany star was back from a hamstring injury but would he start on the pitch or the bench? Wenger went for the former and made two further changes, drafting in Ramsey and Nacho Monreal. A minor hamstring problem ruled out Thomas Vermaelen while Kim Kallstrom and Tomas Rosicky dropped to the bench. Mathieu Flamini was among the substitutes after a two-match suspension.
KC Stadium fell silent before kick-off in memory of Andy Davidson, Hull's record appearance maker, who died earlier this month. And when the first whistle did blow, Davidson's old club made the early running.
Hull have fielded three centre backs against the top sides this season but Steve Bruce opted for an attack-minded 4-4-2 and it worked as Arsenal were harried and hurried throughout the early stages.
After a brief stoppage while a gust of wind blew advertising hoardings onto the pitch, Hull whipped up a storm.
Tom Huddlestone's quick-thinking from a free-kick allowed Jelavic to spin and fire in a first-time shot that Wojciech Szczesny tipped wide. Shane Long fired wastefully over after going through on goal. And with both Hull strikers snapping at the heels of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker, Arsenal were knocked out of their stride.
Ahmed Elmohamady's reliable crosses into the box gave the visitors another problem, but Szczesny's handling was assured. And as the half unfolded, Arsenal began to piece together their passing game.
Podolski tested Stephen Harper on 18 minutes after Mikel Arteta picked out Ramsey's forward run. And the Welshman's willingness to burst forward from midfield earned Arsenal the lead just after the half-hour mark. Ozil found Santi Cazorla and he picked out Ramsey for a clinical finish into the bottom corner.
Hull were briefly muted but with a bit more luck they would have been level a few minutes later, Jake Livermore's 20-yard effort beating Szczesny but bouncing off the inside of the post.
The hosts felt even more hard done by when the Gunners struck again just as the first half headed into stoppage time.
The referee ignored Hull claims for a foul inside Arsenal territory and the visitors swept downfield. A raking diagonal pass from Giroud picked out Ramsey and his chest down was slammed into the net by Podolski.
Hull started the second half brightly and Sagna had to step in when half-time substitute Matty Fryatt got the wrong side of the Arsenal defence.
But for all the home side's endeavour, they lacked Arsenal's ruthlessness, and the point was hammered home nine minutes after the restart.
This time Cazorla got down the left and cut the ball back for Ramsey - one of a number of Arsenal bodies inside the box. His shot took a deflection and was well kept out by Harper, but Podolski kept his head to slot home the rebound.
Jelavic saw a shot deflected over as Hull tried to find a way back into the match but the visitors looked comfortable - and they could have extended their lead.
Harper's dithering allowed Giroud to block his clearance in the 64th minute, and the Frenchman was unfortunate to see his follow-up crash off the underside of the crossbar. Then Mertesacker's flicked header from Cazorla's free-kick flew just over the crossbar.
Ozil was replaced after an encouraging hour and Oxlade-Chamberlain was given a run-out before the end. The latter looked lively and had claims for a penalty waved away before the final whistle.
But three was comfortably enough. And on this evidence, Arsenal have their swagger back.
- Mertesacker Yellow Card
- Ramsey Goal!
- Ozil 61
- Podolski 84 Goal! Goal!
- Giroud 73
- Flamini 61
- Oxlade-Chamberlain 73
- Sanogo 84
- Meyler Yellow Card
- Boyd 84
- Long 45
- Jelavic 69
- Koren 84
- Quinn 69
- Fryatt 45