Arsenal: Ospina, Chambers, Mertesacker, Gabriel, Gibbs, Flamini, Elneny, Campbell, Iwobi, Walcott, Giroud
Subs: Macey, Monreal, Ramsey, Reine-Adelaide, Willock, Ozil, Alexis
A brace apiece from Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott helped Arsenal to a 4-0 win as they secured safe passage to the FA Cup quarter-finals at the second time of asking against Hull City.
The result, which sets up a clash with Watford on Sunday, wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops for Arsene Wenger as Per Mertesacker, Gabriel and Aaron Ramsey all limped off with injuries.
As expected Arsene Wenger made six changes to the lineup that started at White Hart Lane on Saturday. At the back Calum Chambers replaced Hector Bellerin, who stayed at home, in midfield Mathieu Flamini came in for the suspended Francis Coquelin and Alex Iwobi stepped up in place of Aaron Ramsey. It was all change in the front three with Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud and Joel Campbell taking over from Mesut Ozil, Alexis and Danny Welbeck. The latter wasn’t in the squad. Youngsters Matt Macey, #TheJeff and Chris Willock took places on the bench.
In contrast to the cauldron atmosphere at White Hart Lane, the KC Stadium seemed half empty and half asleep as the game kicked-off at the unusual time of 7pm. The lifelessness in the stands was reflected on the pitch as both sides contentedly retained possession in the opening stages without testing either goalkeeper.
Walcott, captain for the evening, did put the ball in the net after three minutes, only to be correctly ruled offside, and Campbell curled a shot wide after failing to get the necessary whip with his left foot.
A clash of heads between Mertesacker and Nick Powell saw both men floored, bloodied and requiring treatment. The German’s cut, above his left eye, required a dollop of Vaseline and a big plaster. The swelling didn’t abate and eventually Nacho Monreal replaced him.
In the meantime, Hull came closest to breaking the deadlock. On 29 minutes David Meyler shot low through a crowd of players from the edge of the box forcing Ospina into a fine reflex save. Replays evidenced how good it was by revealing a nasty deflection off Gabriel that forced the ball away from the Colombian.
Arsenal, who had Elneny and Giroud booked in quick succession, really didn’t look like scoring, so it was just as well that Hull gave them a huge helping hand.
Five minutes before half time Meyler attempted a ridiculous blind pass with the outside of his left foot across his own six-yard box. Giroud, whose son was born last night, was quick to pounce and swiped a right foot finish between the keeper’s legs. He celebrated his first goal in 11 games with the traditional thumb suck and Bebeto arm cradle. (1-0)
As is often the case with Arsenal, one goal nearly became two in the blink of an eye. A half-cleared corner fell to Gibbs thirty yards out and the left-backs’ controlled curling effort clipped off Eldin Jakupovic’s crossbar.
There was a scare in stoppage time as Alex Bruce’s header from Powell’s free-kick flicked past Ospina’s post, although he was soon after flagged offside.
Both sides continued to flirt with attacking football at the outset of the second half. Mohamed Diame, booked for a bad challenge from behind on Monreal, headed wide and Elneny drew a decent save from Jakupovic as he looped in a volley with fine technique from the right edge of the area.
Another injury took the sting out of the game. Having lost Mertesacker in the first half, Gabriel hobbled off with a muscular problem on 53 minutes. A reshuffle was needed in defence with Chambers moving into the middle, Flamini taking over at right-back and Aaron Ramsey coming on in midfield.
The Welshman’s first involvement of note was to head just wide of Ospina’s post as Hull decided to have a go at the Gunners patchwork back four.
With 19 minutes to go Olivier Giroud’s smart volley doubled Arsenal’s lead.
Kieran Gibbs did fine work bringing down a Hull clearance and springing Walcott on the left wing. The England international looked up and curled a fine pass, that with the aid of a little nick off Maguire’s head, fell into Giroud’s path. The Frenchman did the rest with aplomb from close range. (2-0)
As his teammates celebrated Aaron Ramsey, who’d been on for less than 15 minutes, trudged to the touchline to report he too had a problem. Wenger turned to Jeff Reine-Adelaide as the midfielder made his way down the tunnel.
Having looked out of sorts all evening Walcott added to his assist with a goal of his own on 77 minutes. A penetrating run and diagonal pass by Campbell found the attacker in his favourite position between the right-sided defenders and he calmly slotted home with Thierry Henry levels of guile. (3-0)
As the travelling Gooners greeted every successful pass with ‘olé’, Alex Iwobi stung Jakupovic’s palms before Walcott, thanks to more good work by the Nigerian teen, helped himself to a late second with a low shot at the near post. (4-0)
So a good win, confidence boosting goals for two players who’ve been woefully out of form and the continuation of our defence of the world’s most prestigious cup competition. Obviously, an apt moment to display a banner calling for the manager to leave.
You can’t please everyone.