An Alexis Sanchez double and goals from Theo Walcott and Granit Xhaka (!!) gave Arsenal a 4-1 win over Hull at the KC Stadium.
Mike Phelan used the same lineup he has in all of Hull’s matches so far this season. Curtis Davies and Jake Livermore partnered at center back. Andrew Robertson was at left back and Ahmed Elmohamady was at right back. Sam Clucas played at the base of a center midfield three with Tom Huddlestone to his right and David Meyler to his left. Adama Dimonade played on the left wing, Robert Snodgrass was on the right wing. Abel Hernandez was the lone striker.
Arsene Wenger surprisingly went with an almost identical starting lineup to the side that was fortunate to get a draw at PSG in the Champions League Tuesday. The only change was that Walcott replaced Ox and Iwobi switched to the left flank.
Arsenal exploit right channel
At the outset I was concerned we’d have a lot of possession but would be unable to break down Hull’s defense. Phelan’s side defends in a 4-1-4-1 shape with Sam Clucas sitting just in front of the back four in the gap between the defensive and midfield banks of four. We’ll often play extremely narrow against teams defending deep and crowding the center of the pitch and at times will struggle to find a way to unlock them.
I initially thought Wenger’s lineup was a little puzzling. The Alexis at lone striker experiment hasn’t been all that effective and against a deeper defense I thought Giroud’s physicality in the box would be a better fit since there wasn’t going to be any space behind Hull’s back four for Alexis to run into. However Alexis ended up allowing us to completely control the middle of the pitch. He operated as more of a false 9, dropping off into midfield and giving us a numerical advantage in that part of the pitch. With the extra man we were able to circulate possession in dangerous areas in the attacking third and force Hull’s midfield three into an awful lot of defensive running.
With Alexis dropping off into midfield the key was always going to be whether we could get anyone making runs behind the Hull back four to stretch their defense. Our outlet ended up being down the right channel where Walcott and Bellerin were able to collect the ball in space and use their pace to drive towards the endline and cut back for midfield runners in the box. Hull’s fullbacks Robertson and Elmohamady played quite narrow to provide support for the two center backs which left space at the edges of the penalty box for Walcott and Bellerin to drive into. We’d ping the ball around the middle of the pitch, forcing Robertson and Elmohamdy to pinch in then pop it wide where there was space. Bellerin and Theo were able to use their substantial pace advantage over Robertson to drive past him and get the ball into the box.
Although Walcott’s final ball let him down a couple of times I thought he was really good overall and was way more involved than we typically see him. He completed 37 of 41 passes, 13 more than his previous high this season.
Our opener came when the ball was popped wide to him in space at the right edge of the box. He mishit a cross but it forced Jakupovic into parrying it into the path of Iwobi. Iwobi’s strike deflected off Sanchez and in.
The key moment of the game, Livermore’s red card, also came as a result of Walcott getting the ball in space outside of Robertson. Iwobi collected possession in between the lines and forced Robertson to tuck in. Iwobi slipped Walcott in and he cut back for Coquelin at the penalty spot. Livermore stuck a hand out to block Coquelin’s shot. The screen shot below shows the build up to the goal with Iwobi in possession and Walcott slotting just to the outside of Robertson.
Although Cazorla missed the resulting penalty the game was effectively over. With ten men Hull were forced to defend with two banks of four rather than the midfield bank of five they started the game with. Harry Maguire replaced Diomande and slid in alongside Davies at center back. They couldn’t compete in the middle of the pitch with just two midfielders patrolling that space. Their midfield four of Snodgrass, Clucas, Meyler and Huddlestone had to expend a tremendous amount of energy defensively so when they did win possession back they struggled to get forward to support Hernandez. With no other outlet forward they were forced to knock it long to an isolated Hernandez to try to hold up long enough to get runners forward.
Iwobi poor defending leads to Hull chances down right
Iwobi was a bit of a nightmare positionally in defense down the left. Before the red card Elmohamady was pushing high up the pitch to overlap Snodgrass in the channel. Iwobi switched off on three separate occasions and didn’t track the Egyptian right back. In the 25th Elmohamady played Snodgrass on the right touch line then made a bursting run forward. Iwobi started tracking his run then inexplicably left him and pulled wide to try to help Monreal double team Snodgrass. Snodgrass easily slipped a forward pass to Elmohamady all alone on the right channel. His driven ball across the face of goal was fortunately close enough to Cech that he could snuff it out.
In the 34th Iwobi lazily closed down Elmohamady in Hull’s own defensive third when we had a good opportunity to press and win the ball back. He allowed the fullback to easily ghost past him and forced Santi into a yellow card tackle. That could have come back to haunt us as Cazorla was close to picking up a second yellow on two occasions.
In the 36th Monreal was forced to tuck inside to pick up Hernandez after Diomande drew Koscielny in with a driving run towards the middle of the box. Iwobi wasn’t alert to the fact Monreal had to leave Snodgrass alone at the edge of the penalty area and he jogged back rather than sprinting towards the path of Snodgrass. Hernandez easily slipped Snodgrass through. Fortunately Monreal did well to close down the Hull winger and his effort at Cech was tame.
These events highlighted what we’re missing when Alexis isn’t playing wide on the left. Along with the fact he’s more threatening offensively in the channel than as a lone striker, he’s also a tireless runner and willing to put in a shift tracking the opposition fullback.
It was bizarre that with the only threat Hull were posing coming down their right Wenger opted to replace Iwobi with Elneny and move Ozil into the left channel. Ozil is another player who isn’t going to offer much defensive cover for the fullbacks when he’s playing wide. At times last season Wenger would sub Gibbs in for the left winger late in games to offer cover for Monreal. That would have been a more negative move than Wenger was ever likely to consider with a 2-0 lead and a man advantage. But Elneny replacing Iwobi was also a defensive change designed to solidify the middle of the pitch. The strange thing was Hull weren’t posing any threat through the middle. The wings were more in need of being solidified than the center of the park. It wasn’t Ozil’s fault but Hull’s penalty came almost immediately after the substitution and came from a move down their right channel. I’m sure I’m being overly harsh on Wenger here but it seemed obvious that if they were going to get back into the game it was going to come through a set piece or a move down the right.
An overall solid performance and Chelsea and Manchester United defeats make this a really positive weekend. The gap in talent meant we were always expected to win this but Hull beat champions Leicester at home and were seconds from getting a point from Manchester United so this could have been a tricky fixture. I’m sure we’ll rest plenty of players in the league cup midweek then it’s a massive on against Chelsea at the Emirates Saturday.