Arsenal strengthened their grip on fourth place and scored a psychological boost over their FA Cup final opponents with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Hull City at the KC Stadium.
Lukas Podolski got two of the goals to take make it four in his last two matches for the German, but it was Aaron Ramsey who was the key to an impressive win for Arsene Wenger’s side. Making his first Premier League start since Boxing Day, Ramsey’s runs from deep consistently provided Arsenal with the vital extra attacking option they have so sorely been missing in his absence. Ramsey got the first goal just past the half-hour mark with a composed finish after a trademark Arsenal move for his ninth Premier League goal of the season but first since November. It was a similar scenario for the second and third goals either side of half-time as Ramsey, on both occasions somewhat inadvertently, set up Podolski to again showcase his prowess in front of goal.
With Ramsey joined in the starting lineup by Mesut Ozil, making his first appearance in six weeks, there is reason for cautious optimism again around Arsenal. Any chance of the title may have been blown in spectacularly disappointing fashion, but the season could well end on something of a high. Everton manager Roberto Martinez predicted after his side relinquished their grip on fourth place in midweek that Arsenal would drop points before the end of the season. Yet, on this evidence and with a favorable remaining three fixtures, there is every reason to believe that that won’t be the case.
And, while a Hull side still not safe from the drop presented a few problems early on, the visitors ultimately had far too much quality for a team who now present the only hurdle to Arsenal ending their nine-year trophy drought in a month’s time.
Arsenal’s afternoon could have been made more comfortable had Ozil been awarded a penalty for a clumsy challenge by Ahmed Elmohamady early on. As it was, Hull’s two strikers, both of whom will be ineligible for the FA Cup final, posed an attacking Arsenal side some initial difficulties. Arsenal’s center-back duo were left exposed first from a run by Nikica Jelavic that resulted in a shot across goal being turned wide by Wojciech Szczesny and then by Shane Long getting in behind. But the former West Brom striker’s good movement was undone by a rash, sliced finish wide of the near post.
Hull hit the post, too, when Jake Livermore’s controlled strike angled away from Szczesny but against the foot of the upright. By that point, though, Steve Bruce’s men were already a goal behind from the type of strike that was commonplace in the joyful early months of Arsenal’s season. Ozil played the ball inside from the left, Santi Cazorla intelligently bided his time and waited for the run of Ramsey, who took the Spaniard’s through ball in his stride and finished coolly past Steve Harper.
And right on the stroke of half-time Arsenal got the crucial second goal. It originated from a challenge by Mikel Arteta on Jelavic inside the Arsenal half that appeared to make little contact but still had Hull appealing for a free-kick seconds later by which time the ball was in the back of their own net. Arsenal broke quickly, culminating with Olivier Giroud, relishing the movement now around him, crossing into Ramsey. The midfielder’s chest down appeared to be intended for him to shoot himself, but there was enough purchase on it to leave Podolski needing no second invitation to lash an unstoppable volley past Harper.
Bruce brought on Matty Fryatt for Long at the break and the forward had an early opportunity to reduce his side’s arrears. A ball over the top from Tom Huddlestone led to Fryatt getting inside Sagna, but he could only head harmlessly across the box. That was to be the last threat Hull provided to the Arsenal goal.
The match was completely ended as a contest in the 54th minute. Ramsey’s well-timed forward run again made the goal, this time as he met a pull-back from Cazorla with a low shot that Harper repelled, but only to the feet of Podolski who made no mistake from pointblank range. The winning margin could have been even more emphatic with Giroud hitting the bar following some sloppy play from Harper, while substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain might have had a penalty. It mattered little, though, with Arsenal heading into their vital final four matches of the season with renewed confidence.