Arsenal must negotiate a rematch of their victorious FA Cup final in the midst of a most predictable defensive crisis. Hull City visit the Emirates Stadium on Saturday five months after Arsenal triumphed at Wembley to finally put an end to the ever-growing burden of a nine-year trophy drought. It was hoped it would be a springboard for a return to Arsène Wenger’s early trophy-laden years, especially when significant money was spent over the summer on the likes of Chile star Alexis Sanchez.
It may still prove to be that way, but currently Arsenal find themselves entangled in an all-too familiar story of injuries exposing Wenger’s decision to leave a key area of his squad undermanned. While last season Olivier Giroud was left to toil alone up front until burning out, this time around it is the defense where the deficiencies lie.
Having started the season with a paltry six senior defenders, Arsenal will welcome Hull with just three available. Laurent Koscielny suffered a degradation in a long-term Achilles problem while on international duty with France, ruling him out on Saturday. It leaves Wenger in need of creative solutions with reserve right-back and reserve center-back Calum Chambers suspended and Mathieu Debuchy still out with an ankle injury. Teenager Héctor Bellerin is set to deputize at right-back, and left-back Nacho Monreal could well be shifted into an unfamiliar role in the heart of the back four.
Arsenal’s injuries are not limited to their defense, though. Mesut Özil was sent home almost immediately from international duty after it emerged he suffered a knee ligament injury in Arsenal’s defeat to Chelsea. The German playmaker has been ruled out for up to 12 weeks, while fellow midfielder Aaron Ramsey will remain out until at least Wednesday’s Champions League clash with Anderlecht. There is better news, though, regarding Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky. Both are now fit enough to feature as Arsenal go in search of a much-needed to win to move up from their current eighth place in the Premier League and bounce back from the loss to Chelsea.
It is an occasion that will surely be seen by Hull manager Steve Bruce as an opportunity to gain a measure of revenge for what happened at Wembley. Hull led 2-0 after just eight minutes in the FA Cup final and looked on course to complete a sensational upset and lift the first major trophy in the club’s 110 year history. It was not to be, but Bruce has spent significant money over the summer in an attempt to capitalize on what was an impressive first season back in the Premier League.
Biggest signing Abel Hernandez has made a strong start to his Hull career with the Uruguayan striker netting twice in four games. Midfielder Mohamed Diame has gone one better, with three goals in his last four outings, although the former West Ham man is a doubt to start at the Emirates after playing for Senegal on Wednesday. The new arrivals mean Wenger is expecting an even tougher challenge than in Arsenal’s 3-2 win in May.
“They could not use [Nikica] Jelavic in the cup last season, and since then they have bought Diame, Hernandez - they have bought some good players. When you look at their team sheet now, they look like they can beat anybody so I expect a tough game. Look at the quality of players they got in, you can say they bought top quality.”
Prediction: Hull have added a much greater forward threat this season and, providing everyone has recovered from the international break, they should cause ample problems to a makeshift Arsenal defense. Yet Hull have also been defensively vulnerable at the start of the campaign and Arsenal should be able to continue their impressive record of putting away the teams below the Premier League’s upper-echelons.
Arsenal 2-1 Hull
Kickoff time: 10 a.m. EDT
TV channel: NBC Premier League Extra Time
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra