By Richard Clarke
Arsène Wenger has hailed Hull City as the surprise package of the Premier League season so far.
Phil Brown’s side came up via the play-offs last season and were seen as near certainties to return to the Championship straight away. However they have lost only one of their first five games and have been as high as fourth in the table.
The Tigers arrive at Emirates Stadium to face the leaders on Saturday having slipped to seventh. However Wenger’s fulsome praise will be surely still ringing in their ears.
“You must take your hat off to Hull,” he said at Friday’s press conference. “What they have done up to now is fantastic. They are the surprise package.
“They beat Fulham and were 2-0 up at Everton - those are both good sides. These results will be a good warning for us. We know this Arsenal side will have to be at their best to beat them.”
This is Hull’s first ever season in top-flight football. They finished third in the second tier of the English game last season; a feat that equalled their previous best season back in 1910. In fact Hull’s greatest achievement thus far was reaching the FA Cup Semi-Final in 1930 where they were beaten by Herbert Chapman’s Arsenal.
Still, in the space of a season, Hull have gone from footballing backwater to one of the Premier League’s big fish. Wenger is not surprised to see new names in the top flight.
“It has not been like a classical Premier League competition for the last 10 years,” said the Frenchman. “The Championship is always so close. And with the play-offs even if you finish sixth you still have a chance to come up. That is why you always have different teams promoted.”
Having sent out a teenage team against Sheffield United on Tuesday in the Carling Cup, Wenger will revert to familiar faces on Saturday.
Gael Clichy is fit despite that nasty shin injury at Bolton last weekend. In addition Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott have shaken off niggles.
Mikael Silvestre counts as a ‘familiar face’ but only from his games against Arsenal for Manchester United. The 31-year-old has shaken off a muscular problem and will be named in the squad for the first time.
Silvestre was Wenger’s only signing ahead of transfer deadline day. The manager admitted he wanted another central midfielder but was not able to land his man. Since then Arsenal have gone to the top of the table and won a myriad of plaudits for the way their teenage tyros dismantled Sheffield United in midweek.
Of course Wenger wants to win the title but, ever the purist, he argues that to be champions this way this season would demonstrate that three of his core principles – stability, patience and prudence – were still applicable in modern football.
“[To win it this season] would be a reward for a long-term job,” he said. “And a long-term job in this career becomes more and more unusual and difficult now.
“Nobody has time to work and produce and nobody has patience.
“But I believe deeply that there are different ways to be successful in the job. And it is not only necessarily linked with the investment. Of course it’s better you have money but it’s not the only way. You can have a longer term plan and it can work.”
And, thus far, this season that plan has been working just fine for Arsenal. Meanwhile Tuesday showed the future was looking bright too.
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