By Rob Kelly at Emirates Stadium
Danny Welbeck scored a 91st-minute equaliser as Arsenal snatched a dramatic late draw with Hull City at Emirates Stadium.
It was a stirring end to an ultimately frustrating afternoon for the Gunners, who had dominated the early exchanges.
Within the space of 10 minutes they had gone close through Jack Wilshere, Welbeck, Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla.
Finally their pressure told in the 13th minute as Alexis beat Curtis Davies in the area and drilled the ball into the bottom left-hand corner.
Hull responded instantly though, and equalised in controversial circumstances when Mohamed Diame appeared to pull back Mathieu Flamini on his way through to level the scores.
Steve Bruce’s side continued to soak up the Arsenal pressure and took a shock lead within seconds of the second half starting as Abel Hernandez powered a header past Wojciech Szczesny.
Arsenal pushed on in search of an equaliser but found it tough to fashion clear-cut chances against a well-drilled Hull backline.
Alexis came close in the 87th minute with a firm header from 10 yards, but substitute goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic pushed it over the bar.
Finally the pressure told in injury time as Alexis fed Welbeck, and the England international slotted into the far corner to the relief of the home fans.
It could have been even better when, with just seconds remaining, Alexis found Kieran Gibbs in the area but Jakupovic tipped his shot around the post.
SETTING THE SCENE
Following an international break that had brought both good news and bad, Wenger made three changes to his side for the visit of last season’s vanquished FA Cup final opponents.
Much of the focus was on the backline, where the suspension of Calum Chambers and an Achilles injury to Laurent Koscielny caused some headaches. Hector Bellerin was brought in for his Premier League debut at right back, while Nacho Monreal was moved across to partner Per Mertesacker at centre back.
The only other change saw Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain replace the injured Mesut Ozil on the left flank, with Alexis on the right and Cazorla assuming the No 10 role behind Welbeck.
One notable name on the teamsheet was Semi Ajayi, whose form with the under-21s saw him rewarded with a place on the bench for the first time. He was joined by Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey, who had recovered sufficiently from respective calf and hamstring injuries to return to first-team duty. Lukas Podolski, however, missed out due to illness.
Wenger had pinpointed Hull striker Nikica Jelavic as a threat ahead of the game, but the Croatian striker sustained a hamstring injury in the warm-up and was replaced by the dangerous Hernandez.
With an inviting set of fixtures ahead of them, Wenger had spoken of the need for his side to build some momentum and they responded by making a fine start at an overcast Emirates Stadium.
Within five minutes, they had their first sight of goal as Alexis bought some space in the area and chipped across goal for the onrushing Wilshere, but his header was just off target.
Moments later, Welbeck was played in through the middle but Steve Harper was equal to his firm effort, before quickly getting in the way of Alexis’ shot on the rebound.
It was all Arsenal and just before the 10-minute mark Harper was once again called into action, this time to brilliantly push Cazorla’s goalbound effort around the post.
A goal only seemed a matter of time and within three minutes it arrived from an already familiar source: the irrepressible Alexis.
The Chile international has made a superb start to life at Arsenal and he claimed his sixth goal in his last nine games by skipping into the area past Curtis Davies, looking up and drilling the ball across Harper into the bottom corner.
It was absolutely clinical and absolutely typical of this most effervescent of forwards.
However, there would soon be a twist. Despite Arsenal’s almost overwhelming dominance, Hull pulled level - and there was real sense of controversy about it.
It came as Diame charged through to beat two men before losing control. The Senegalese international kept on running and appeared to pull back Flamini, who had forced his way in front of the midfielder.
Referee Roger East did not blow up though, and Diame barrelled through on goal and lifted the ball past Wojciech Szczesny. Despite the Gunners’ prolonged protests the officials, the goal would stand.
Maybe it was the nature of the equaliser, but it soon became a much more even affair as the hosts’ dominance faltered and Hull grew in confidence. Much as Wilshere and Cazorla pushed and probed in the visitors’ final third, they came up against a well-disciplined defensive wall that made chances hard to come by.
An arm injury to Harper just before half time saw Hull’s plans further disrupted as substitute keeper Jukupovic came on, but the Gunners’ could not test him before the interval.
Arsenal had it all to do as the second half kicked off, and their task became even greater as, within 25 seconds, they fell behind to a strike that momentarily silenced the home fans.
It came as Ahmed Elmohamady found space on the right and delivered an inviting cross into the middle. Hernandez had had a quiet afternoon up until that point, but forced his way in between Mertesacker and Monreal and directed a firm header beyond Szczesny.
The Gunners famously came from two goals down in May’s FA Cup final against the same opponents to record a dramatic win, but had been hoping for a less stressful afternoon this time around. But Hull were having none of it.
Bruce has fashioned a hard-working side and industrious side, supplemented with a real touch of flair and they were making life difficult for the increasingly frustrated home side.
Ramsey was introduced for Flamini just after the hour mark as Wenger sought to change the pattern of a game that had become increasingly scrappy as time ticked on.
But Wenger’s problems only increased as Wilshere sustained a leg injury after a challenge with Gaston Ramirez and was forced off, with Joel Campbell on to replace him for the final 20 minutes of a tense affair.
While the home side continued to press, they struggled to fashion any chances of note against Hull, who were happy to sit back and get men behind the ball.
When finally a half chance did arrive, with eight minutes remaining Michael Dawson threw himself in the way of Alexis’ goalbound shot to make the block.
Arsenal were growing ever more frantic as time wore on, but try as they might they could find no way past a resolute Hull backline. Alexis came closest when he directed a firm header at goal, but Jakupovic tipped it over the bar.
Finally, in the 91st minute, the Gunners found that all-important equaliser as Alexis dribbled his way past three men before slipping in Welbeck, who kept his cool to find the corner.
Gibbs went close right at the death after racing on to Alexis’ searching ball into the box, but Jakupovic pushed his stretching effort wide.
That proved to be the last chance of a frustrating afternoon for Arsenal, who now face a trip to Belgium to take on Anderlecht on Wednesday.
Referee: Roger East
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