Arsenal cruised into the fourth round of the FA Cup after beating Hull City 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium in a rematch of last season’s final. Unlike the occasion at Wembley back in May, this was a contest low on thrills and pleasantly without drama for the victors.. Needing to come back form 2-0 down to end their trophy drought against Steve Bruce’s men in the final, on this occasion they progressed with a degree of comfort that belied the fact that Per Mertesacker’s first-half header was all they had to show for their dominance until Alexis Sanchez sealed the win late on.
From the moment Mertesacker broke the deadlock by rising to meet Sanchez’s corner in the 20th minute, it appeared that only a heavy dose of complacency could cost Arsenal the chance to bounce back from the disappointment of their New Year’s Day loss to Southampton. Arsenal made five changes from that 2-0 reversal, with David Ospina taking over in goal from one of the central culprits for the defeat, Wojciech Szczesny. Meanwhile, there was a first start in exactly a year for Theo Walcott. Hull, though, made a full 10 changes from their win to kick off 2015. It was a team selection that suggested Bruce viewed anything his side could take away from the Emirates as a bonus. And, in truth, that’s largely how his team performed.
Given time and space to pick passes by a Hull side happy to sit back, Arsenal could and perhaps should have had the result sealed early on. As it was, missed chances and a sluggishness that crept in early in the second half meant the result remained theoretically in doubt until Sanchez turned and finished exquisitely with eight minutes remaining.
At times, Arsenal played with real style. For the first 30 minutes, in particular, they threatened to steamroll the visitors. Supported ably by Tomas Rosicky, Santi Cazorla was pulling the strings in midfield and combining with the again exceptional Sanchez. But the two players joining Sanchez in attack, Walcott and Joel Campbell perhaps showed signs of their rustiness and failed to capitalize on the chances sent their way. Despite a couple of lively touches, the Costa Rican lacked the poise to break his duck in an Arsenal shirt. His first opening arrived after just four minutes, when, after a swift one-two with Sanchez, his shot was blocked by the right leg of Hull’s veteran stopper Steve Harper. Sanchez, himself, came close to opening the scoring 10 minutes later, but found the roof of the net rather than the back of it with a delicate chip.
Soon the Chilean’s delivery did have Arsenal on the score sheet. His corner was whipped deep into the six-yard box, but Harper stayed on his line and was beaten when Mertesacker rose above Curtis Davies to head down into the net. Over the next few minutes, Arsenal had chances to run away with it. Sanchez rounded the goalkeeper but was denied by a fine goal-line clearance by Paul McShane, while Harper had to react well to prevent a corner being turned past him by one of his own players. Meanwhile, given a return pass by Cazorla, Walcott, in the inside left channel from which his role model Thierry Henry scored so often, shot tamely into the hands of the goalkeeper.
At the other end, Ospina had almost nothing to do as he attempts to convince Wenger of his merits for a regular starting role. An unthreatening header from a corner by Harry Maguire was the sum total of Hull’s first-half efforts.
Arsenal seemingly fell into the trap of believing the game was already won early in the second half and lost the temp to their game. But a toothless Hull never appeared capable of taking advantage. And when Arsenal regained their mojo, they could have made the result far more emphatic. Campbell and twice Walcott again failed to show the killer instinct in front of goal, before Sanchez displayed the clinical touch he has shown throughout his debut season in England to get his 16h goal of the campaign. Fittingly, it was set up by Cazorla, who fed him with a perfectly deceived pass inside and the former Barcelona man calmly but brilliantly did the rest.