19 April 2014

Match Preview: Arsenal's flank versus Hull's

Now, I know that Arsène is not renowned for close studies of his opposition and prefers, for better or worse, to let his players play the game and make decisions for themselves. Whether this reflects a noble commitment to principle or muleheaded resistance to change is up to you to decide. For my sake, if not yours or that of the squad's, I like to know what we're in for. With that in mind, we should at least take a look at what Hull will throw at us—or, as you'll see, where it's coming from. For as much as is made of Sunday's match being a dress-rehearsal for the FA Cup final, each club needs this match on its own. Hull are fighting to stay up, and we're fighting to stay up as well. A little higher up. My point is that neither side can afford to take Sunday's match lightly.

Hull seems to alternate formations, choosing between a 3-5-2 and 4-4-2, but with no apparent pattern to whom they're facing or where they're playing. For what it's worth, they've enjoyed far-more success lately in the 4-4-2, winning three of the last five they've played using that formation. More important than their formation is their attacking tendency. I'm less concerned with whether Giroud will be tangling with three center-backs or two and more concerned with where their attacks will come, especially as recent matches suggest they'll be coming most often down our left side, an area perhaps more prone to weakness than our right for various reasons.

According to whoscored.com, in Hull's last six matches, 42.3% of their attack has come down their right side (which, of course, would be our left). The lowest figure was 37% against Sheffield United; the highest was 51% against Swansea. With Ahmed Elmohamady and Shane Long on the right, and Tom Huddlestone at the right center-mid, most of their action ends up coming down the right side. Sneer if you will at the mention of Huddlestone (not quite cutting the mustard for Spurs is a bit feeble, I'll agree), he partners well with Long and Elmohamady, and Hull on the whole have shown that they can score goals in bunches. If nothing else, the sheer frequency with which Hull move down that right side of theirs should be an issue to focus on for whoever takes to the pitch on our left side, and there's the rub: who'll be there?

Speaking at the pre-match press-conference, Arsène said that he thinks "Gibbs will be out for the weekend, but Monreal is possibly available," adding that he "will see about that Friday or Saturday." Going in without Gibbs is a bit of a blow, but adding in that Monreal is only "possibly available" makes the selection a bit trickier. Flamini will be back from his two-game suspension, and it's possible that he could be shifted over to left-back, but it might be better to keep him in the defensive midfield. This leaves us to consider a not-quite-fit Monreal or an out-of-position Vermaelen. Monreal looked out of sorts at times against Wigan, coming off after 63 minutes but not before letting McManaman get past him (and punch him in the groin) on his way into the penalty area, leading to Wigan's goal last weekend. To be honest, I don't quite trust Monreal either for his defensive steel or his offensive contributions, and that leads us to Vermaelen. He's done quite well in his two appearances at left-back, well enough to convince me that he should get the nod. There's something to be said for having one's captain actually on the pitch, among other factors. Playing him there rather than at center-back actually plays to his tendency to get up the pitch, a factor not to be underestimated. Having said that, though, he stayed closer to home against West Ham and Bayern than Sagna did, showing a conservatism and discipline that are to be applauded.

It's who plays in front of him that causes a bit more concern. It's likely to be Podolski, he of the defiant brace against West Ham. For as thunderous as he can be with Mjölnir, he doesn't track back with the urgency or intent that we sometimes need, and this tendency, coupled with the relatively unsettled status of the left-back situation, might be akin to laying out a welcome-mat to Hull, who—in case you forgot the paragraph before the last one—like to come down on this side of the field anyway. The last time an opponent looked to exploit us on the left as a matter of strategy, it was Everton sending Lukaku down our left, and I don't think we need any reminders of how that turned out. If Podolski does get the nod, I do hope his captain (that would be Vermaelen) insists on him pitching in a bit on defense.

A quick look towards the defensive midfield reminds us that we might have Arteta, Ramsey, or Källström there to shut down attacks before they can get too far forward;  Källström, though, just played a full 90' on Tuesday against West Ham, and Ramsey is still working his way back to full-fitness. Between the two of them, Arteta, and perhaps Flamini, they should be alert to Hull's tendencies in order to shut them before they pose too much of a threat. Heck, it might be nice to go out and score first this time out, rather than letting our opponents grab the early lead as both Wigan and West Ham did. Knowing where Hull's attacks come from, for the most part, could help us do just that.

Thanks, as always, for your visit. If you haven't done so already, I hope you'll take a quick minute or two to complete the reader's survey. It won't take long, but it will give me some insights into what you expect, get out of, and hope to see more (or less) of. Thanks!