By Richard Clarke
Arsenal suffered only their second defeat in 60 games at Emirates Stadium when Hull came from behind to record an incredible victory on Saturday evening.
After a slow start, the Premier League leaders dominated the opening half. They had created constant pressure and saw Emmanuel Adebayor’s far-post header ruled out for climbing.
The floodgates appeared to have opened six minutes after the restart when a combination of Cesc Fabregas and Hull defender Paul McShane scuffed the ball over the line after a melee.
The visitors had a mountain to climb but this afternoon Hull seemed to have ropes, oxygen, crampons, tents plus the workload of your average Sherpa troop.
Geovanni got them level just past the hour with a stunning strike from distance. Four minutes later, Daniel Cousin turned in an exquisite header.
Arsenal responded as you might expect. They poured forward and, eight minutes from time, William Gallas planted a header against the bar. Despite close, close, efforts from Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie in injury time, it was as near as they would come to equalising.
At full time, Hull celebrated long and hard. The Emirates atmosphere was in stark contrast to Tuesday when a young Arsenal side had played with freedom and little pressure to record a memorable victory.
This game will stick in the mind for some time too – but for all the wrong reasons.
It was Arsenal’s second defeat of the season and, as a result, they have been knocked off top spot.
Wenger returned to his more established stars for this early evening kick-off. In comparison to last Saturday’s win at Bolton there were two changes.
Theo Walcott and Van Persie replaced Alex Song and Nicklas Bendtner respectively. The ousted duo were joined on the bench by a couple of young heroes from midweek – Carlos Vela and Aaron Ramsey.
This was the first League meeting between these sides for 93 years. Hull may be Premier League new-boys but they were faring much better than some had predicted. A win this afternoon would give them 11 points; a tally equal to the one previous play-off winners Derby County amassed throughout the whole of last season.
England’s late September sunshine has been as enjoyable as Arsenal’s football this season and, once again, Emirates Stadium was a picture for this 5.30pm kick-off. It would be perhaps the last chance for short-sleeve spectating until April.
In keeping with the overall feeling, the home side started like a lazy summer afternoon.
Hull had all the energy you would expect. Geovanni was their brightest attacking spark and George Boateng’s crunching tackle on Denilson demonstrated the fighting desire manager Phil Brown had been talking about in his pre-match press conference. But Arsenal were lacking urgency.
Just before the quarter-hour the game suddenly sparked into life, with Arsène Wenger’s side creating the chances. First Fabregas stroked an effort wide and then Emmanuel Adebayor’s towering far-post header was chalked off as referee Alan Wiley ruled he had climbed on Paul McShane to reach the ball.
However the clearest chance came in the 16th minute when Denilson sent Walcott running on the right. He outpaced Michael Dawson and skipped in front of the Hull defender. However the former Charlton player stuck to his task well and, when Walcott shaped to shoot on the edge of the area, his tackle was well-executed.
However Arsenal now had their tails up. A couple of minutes later Fabregas conjured up some space on the right-hand byline, Gallas helped the ball on and Adebayor’s close-range effort was blocked.
The home side were now in control, only a finish was missing. This was perfectly illustrated midway through the half when an unmarked Walcott failed to control Emmanuel Eboue’s surprise cross when a simple trap and finish was all that was needed.
The pattern continued until the break. Arsenal dominant and pressing, Hull defending yet determined.
Five minutes from the break, Fabregas’ cut-back found the onrushing Walcott but Boateng nipped the ball off his foot at the crucial moment. After that, Eboue fired an angled drive into the sidenetting.
The second half began with Hull creating their best chance of the game. A corner was deflected out to Boateng just outside the area. The Dutchman drove his shot low into the area and it deflected high over the bar with Almunia beaten.
Normal service seemed to be resumed a couple of minutes later when Walcott forced a sprawling half-save from Boaz Myhill.
The goal would come almost immediately and, for once, it was an ugly affair.
Walcott reached the byline, Adebayor helped on his cut-back and Fabregas forced the ball over the line with McShane in close attendance. It was debatable who got the last touch but the Spaniard will surely claim it.
Suddenly Arsenal were rampant again. Van Persie flashed a shot wide and Adebayor pounced on a defensive mistake to send a deflected drive over the bar.
Inbetween those efforts, Dean Marney troubled Almunia momentarily with an overhead kick.
Hull had stuck to their task all afternoon but, having fallen behind, you sensed they would struggle to prise open the Arsenal defence. They had shown little sign of it during the previous hour.
So you can guess what happened next.
In the 61st minute, Geovanni collected the ball just outside the Arsenal area, looked up and then sent an Exocet of an effort arching over Almunia before flying into the top corner. Stunning.
Adebayor nearly provided the perfect reply but his effort flew past the far post.
In fact it would be Hull who replied. In the 66th minute, Cousin saw an effort deflected wide. From the corner, the Gabon international steered a pin-pointed header just inside the far post.
The Hull bench had leapt sky-high when their team equalised. Their efforts when that goal went in were Olympic standard.
Arsenal were rocked but they had time to recover.
Wenger threw on Bendtner immediately and the home side forced a couple of corners. This was going to be the pattern now - Arsenal were going to attack in every area, Hull were going keep with their dogged, organised plan.
Wenger added Vela with 14 minutes left. At this point, the manager would have surely swapped the Mexican’s midweek hat-trick for a single strike today.
Fabregas stung Myhill’s hands from distance but King went clear at the other end only to produce a lame shot from range.
Arsenal’s determination was turning into desperation. However, crucially, they were creating chances.
Van Persie went clear on the right but dragged his shot wide then William Gallas met a corner with a thumping header. The ball smacked down off the bar and was cleared.
As the seconds ticked away, Arsenal got even more urgent – if that were possible.
Keeper Myhill certainly earnt his money. He came and claimed any number of high-balls he also acrobatically turned over a drive from Fabregas.
Toure blazed wide when well-placed and, with almost the last kick of the game, Van Persie skimmed a shot against the top of the bar. But the game was up. Due credit must be given to Hull and to the Arsenal fans who stayed behind to applaud them off the pitch.
That’s because this defeat hurt.
Referee: Alan Wiley
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