Danny Welbeck struck an injury-time equalizer but could not prevent Arsenal dropping more points in a 2-2 draw with Hull City at the Emirates. Already languishing in midtable following defeat to Chelsea last time out, Arsenal have now made it five draws in eight Premier League matches to fall 11 points behind Chelsea at the top of the table.
Such a scenario looked unlikely after 15 minutes. At that point Alexis Sanchez had just struck a fine goal to give the home side just rewards for a dominant start against lackluster opponents. But a makeshift defense that featured Nacho Monreal at center-back in the absence of Laurent Koscielny, Calum Chambers and Mathieu Debuchy, was soon crudely exposed. He may have got a strong benefit of the doubt for an apparent tug on Mathieu Flamini, but the way in which Mohamed Diame strode through the heart of the Arsenal team to equalize was alarming and yet far from unfamiliar.
When Abel Hernandez continued his fine introduction to the Premier League by taking advantage of Per Mertesacker’s doziness to head Hull in front in the first minute of the second half, Arsenal were staring at back-to-back defeats. It was only Sanchez who truly did anything to suggest the scoreline could be reversed, and it was no surprise that it was the Chilean who brilliantly set up Welbeck’s response. But by then it was too late to force a repeat of a 3-2 victory over the same opponents in the FA cup final, to leave Arsenal’s title ambitions looking ever more optimistic.
Injuries also meant there was no place in the starting lineup for Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta. The continued scale of their fitness problems are something that will surely have to be addressed if Arsenal are to build on the ending of their trophy drought at Wembley in May. Arsene Wenger’s lengthy list of absentees didn’t bother them in the early stages, however. In a reversal of the FA Cup final when Hull’s fast start saw them 2-0 up, this time it was Arsenal who were much quicker out the blocks. Jack Wilshere and Welbeck had already had chances before Sanchez opened the scoring 13 minutes in. Hull’s defending left much to be desired, as Sanchez got in down the side of their back three and then breezed past Curtis Davies before drilling a shot low into the far corner.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain soon had a sight of goal to put Arsenal 2-0 up, but his effort was well blocked. Within seconds the whole rhythm of the match was turned on its head. Hull had offered precious little in an attacking sense to that point, but Arsenal’s defense collapsed when presented with its first challenge. The powerful Diame, who has flourished against Arsenal before, strode past two midfielders and then through both center-backs before dinking a shot delightfully over Wojciech Szczesny. Arsenal’s players protested furiously, with some justification, that Flamini had been dragged back on the edge of the box, but it was they who had been the true culprits.
The flowing football of Arsenal now dried up. While it was still not a virtuoso performance from the visitors, they again took advantage of their opponents’ failings to go in front. With the minds of those in red apparently still in the dressing room, Tom Huddlestone crossed in from the right and, with Mertesacker slow to react, Uruguayan Hernandez, only in the side after much traveling in midweek because Nikica Jelavic suffered an injury in the warmup, headed into the net from eight yards.
Arsenal offered disappointingly little in response until late on when Sanchez saw a shot blocked and a header tipped over the crossbar. The drive and intensity of the former Barcelona man, from which his teammates could learn so much, eventually prevented a truly disastrous result. Having slalomed past three Hull players on the edge of the box, Sanchez found Welbeck and he finished into the far corner for his fifth goal in an Arsenal shirt. It could not, though, prevent Arsenal from remaining on just two wins from eight matches.