Arsenal v Hull City
Saturday, 18 October 2014
3 PM BST/10 AM EDT/7 AM PDT
TV: NBC Live Extra (online)
5 months and a day ago, Arsenal played Hull City in the final of the FA Cup. Hull, of course, went 2-0 up inside 10 minutes, but goals from Santi Cazorla and Laurent Koscielny forced extra time before Aaron Ramsey won the Cup, ending Arsenal's 9-year trophy drought. Both clubs have had disappointing starts to the season, especially considering that both sets of supporters were well within their rights to expect improvement. Both have only won twice, and both have only scored 11 times in 7 games, though for Arsenal, this is a far bigger issue than it is for Hull. With the match at the Emirates, nothing but an Arsenal win will do, especially after a less than impressive home record in the Premier League, where Arsenal have not won since the first day of the season.
The task is made harder by Arsenal's long injury list: Olivier Giroud, Mathieu Debuchy and Mesut Özil are all long-term absentees, while Theo Walcott and Serge Gnabry will be unavailable after featuring for the U-21 side in an effort to step up their recovery. Aaron Ramsey, Laurent Koscielny and Calum Chambers are all unavailable through injury and suspension but may all return for Champions League action, while Mikel Arteta will likely only be fit for the bench. In the absence of Chambers and Koscielny, Hector Bellerín is expected to start at right back, while either Nacho Monreal or Isaac Hayden will line up alongside Per Mertesacker at centre back.
Hull's gameplan will be simple: set pieces will be a massive threat against a weaker Arsenal defence, as will any ball into the box, delivered by the two wing backs, Andrew Robertson and Ahmed Elmohamady. Hull will likely continue with their 5-3-2 system, that protects Michael Dawson with two quicker centre backs in Curtis Davies and James Chester, and allows Tom Huddlestone time to dictate play in midfield. Abel Hernandez, Hull's record signing from Palermo, and Nikicia Jelavic will start up front, looking to test Arsenal's centre halves with runs in behind.
In the absence of Özil, Arsenal will likely persist with the 4-1-4-1 formation. The question for Arsenal will be how high the two wide players play: if they push up, they will force Hull's wing backs further back, and suffocate their attack. Danny Welbeck's runs, too, should create gaps in Hull's back three, especially if he drags Michael Dawson into uncomfortable positions.
In an ideal world, Arsène Wenger would rotate before the Champions League fixture midweek. This, however, is not an ideal world, and Arsenal must both gain points in the Premier League and keep their remaining players fit. Hull are the type of team who have, in the past, frustrated Arsenal, and in the absence of three of their most important four players, Özil, Koscielny and Ramsey, Arsenal will find Saturday's match quite difficult. Hopefully they don't go 2-0 down this time, because there won't be an extra 30 minutes to win it.
Predicted lineup (4-1-4-1): Szczesny; Bellerin, Mertesacker, Monreal, Gibbs; Flamini; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Wilshere, Alexis; Welbeck
Subs: Martinez, Coquelin, Hayden, Arteta, Rosicky, Podolski, Campbell