It was the goal that said it all. The game was done, Arsenal having already sealed a crushing victory, and play had slowed to its lowest ebb. Arsene Wenger’s men were content to pass the ball around in midfield, letting the clock run out. It was against this backdrop that Granit Xhaka finished off a masterful performance in style. He received the ball deep in Hull’s half from Mohamed Elneny, and he dribbled towards goal looking for an option. No-one presented themselves, so he shot. The ball found the top corner from thirty yards, but there was little acknowledgement of the stunning goal. Instead, Xhaka merely raised his hand to the crowd, with a few teammates coming together to join him in celebration. This goal, and the reaction, summed up Arsenal’s night in a nutshell: minimum effort, minimum fuss.
The game had started fairly evenly, with both teams controlling the ball well and neither side looking like making any errors. Even still, Arsenal soon established their superiority, creating some dangerous chances and throwing plenty of bodies forward at every opportunity. They had the first goal within twenty minutes, with Francis Coquelin proving the catalyst. The Frenchman collected the rebound from his own blocked shot before playing a nice pass to Santi Cazorla, who in turn found Theo Walcott. Eldin Jakupovic dived well to parry the resultant cross, but the ball fell to Alex Iwobi, whose shot deflected off Alexis Sanchez on its way into the back of the net. Minimum effort, minimum fuss.
Teamwork: Theo Walcott (left) celebrates Arsenal’s second goal with Alex Iwobi.
The goal breathed new life into Arsenal, and soon Hull had no answer to the dynamic passing of the Gunners. They cut through their opponents like a breadknife slicing through butter, with minimum effort and minimum fuss. Andrew Robertson made a costly mistake when he accidentally provided Sanchez with a perfect through ball, and Hull were lucky to escape as the left-back slid in to save the goal. Minutes later, Mesut Ozil should have scored after Jakupovic saved brilliantly to deny Iwobi, but the German proceeded to miss an open goal. Hull should have been conclusively out of the contest minutes before half time when Jake Livermore was given his marching orders for a handball inside the box, and the Tigers were left to face a penalty. Sanchez stepped up to take it with confidence, but he could not add a second as Jakupovic dived well to make an excellent save.
Hull were lucky to only concede once in the first half, but it did not end there. Arsenal were brimming with confidence, and they continued to play the ball around in their forward half easily, seemingly oblivious to the presence of their opposition. There was always someone there, someone ready to receive the next ball in the chain, and it was only a matter of time before they added a second. It was Walcott who delivered, playing the ball to Iwobi before running through to receive a beautiful back-heeled pass. Walcott was one-on-one with Jakupovic, and there wasn’t much the keeper could do as the ball was chipped past him into the back of the net. Minimum effort, minimum fuss.
Take cover: Andrew Robertson (in orange) ducks as Alexis Sanchez blasts the ball past him for Arsenal’s third goal.
There was no contest as the second half progressed. Hull weren’t just out for the count; the hosts had been knocked out for a long time. Occasionally they would look dangerous on the break, but Arsenal would stop their attack and hit back savagely, running wild before meeting resistance on the last line of defence. Anything Hull could do, Arsenal could do better. Then Hull scored, and it looked as if the game was about to change dramatically. Petr Cech was the culprit, the keeper taking out Dieumerci Mbokani in the box after an incisive pass from Ryan Mason. The penalty was belatedly awarded, and Robert Snodgrass was all class as he clinically drilled the ball into the back of the net. It was 2-1 with ten minutes to go, and it looked as if Hull had somehow manufactured a contest.
They hadn’t. Sanchez scored again less than five minutes later after collecting the rebound from another Jakupovic save, and he had no trouble blasting the ball past the defenders standing on the line, who were there more in hope than anything else. Arsenal were content to slow the pace of the game down to that of a Sunday walk, and Xhaka’s stunning strike was merely icing on the cake after a scintillating performance. Minimum effort, minimum fuss.
Hull – KCOM Stadium
Hull City 1 (Snodgrass 79 pen)
Arsenal 4 (Sanchez 17, 83, Walcott 55, Xhaka 90+2)
Referee: Roger East
Hull City (4-1-4-1): Jakupovic – Elmohamady, Livermore, Davies, Robertson; Clucas; Snodgrass, Huddlestone (Mason 58), Meyler, Diomande (Maguire 42); Hernandez (Mbokani 77).
Sent-off: Livermore 40.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Cech – Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Coquelin, Cazorla (Xhaka 66); Walcott (Perez 88), Ozil, Iwobi (Elneny 77); Sanchez.
1. Eldin Jakupovic (Hull City)
Jakupovic was in top form despite conceding four goals, rebuffing Arsenal time and time again and making them work for everything. He saved a penalty and made multiple top-drawer saves as he looked to keep Hull in the match, and if he had not been there the scoreline would have looked much worse. He played brilliantly, and can take confidence from his performance.
2. Francis Coquelin (Arsenal)
Coquelin was at the heart of everything for the Gunners, making incisive runs into the box and distributing the ball wherever he saw fit. He was in excellent touch, and he caused plenty of problems for Hull with his control and ability to pick holes in the defence.
3. Alex Iwobi (Arsenal)
Iwobi finished the game with two assists, and he was unlucky not to score himself on a number of occasions. His back-heel to set up Walcott for Arsenal’s second goal was pure class, and he created plenty of problems for Hull with his skill and ability to find the ball in dangerous positions. He played very well, and should continue to hold his place in the team.
4. Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)
Sanchez netted twice, and while he did miss a penalty he probably shouldn’t have been taking he was exceptionally dangerous and was a nightmare for the Hull defence. He dropped back and pushed forward wherever necessary, and whenever he touched the ball he looked as if he was going to do something. A class performance.
5. Sam Clucas (Hull City)
Clucas was one of the hardest working players on the pitch, rebuffing Arsenal on a number of occasions with his ability to go in and win the ball in tough spots. He didn’t have much of an influence when Hull went forward, but his defensive play was top rate and he can hold his head high after a strong performance.