5 Ways Hull Can Stop Arsenal
With Arsenal trading as short as 2/7 to lift the FA Cup this Saturday with William Hill, few believe Hull City have a realistic chance of recording a famous giant killing.
But last year’s victory for Wigan Athletic over Manchester City demonstrated what an underdog can do with a three-man defence, and Arsenal stumbled in their last cup final appearance, against Birmingham in 2010. Here are five ways Steve Bruce’s side might be able to surprise the Gunners…
Shut down the game
Hull City won’t triumph over Arsenal by outplaying them in a good, entertaining, open game of football. Arsenal simply have too much midfield quality – the patience of Mikel Arteta, the drive of Aaron Ramsey, the through-balls of Santi Cazorla, the intelligent movement of Mesut Ozil. Allow Arsenal space, and they’ll kill you.
Instead, Hull must make this a scrappy, defensive, attritional contest. They should slow the play whenever necessary, timewaste from the outset, and try to make it physical without being frantic. Arsenal always need to get into their passing rhythm to play their best football, and if their natural game is disrupted, they sometimes struggle to adjust.
The last ten FA Cup finals have been won by a one goal margin – and Hull should pray there are as few goals as possible to maximise their chance of winning.
Bruce could deploy either a 3-5-1-1 or a 4-4-2ish system, but either way it’s vital that Hull get plenty of bodies into the centre of midfield.
In the former system, this happens naturally – one player covers either flank, and the rest are fielded in central positions where they should be able to crowd Arsenal’s central midfielders. The 4-4-2 is a slightly different situation, and if Bruce uses a back four, he must ensure his midfield plays close together, preventing easy passes penetrating that link. Birmingham’s 2010 victory over Arsenal is a fine template here – the Blues effectively played four central midfielders and allowed Arsenal the flanks.
This will encourage Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna to skip forward, and both can cross the ball – but Hull’s centre-backs are comfortable challenging in the air, and would be happy for an aerial bombardment.
Get midfield runners forward
In the league, Hull boast a fine strike partnership. Nikica Jelavic prowls the penalty box and makes excellent runs towards the near post, while Shane Long is a more mobile partner, running the channels and taking up clever positions. Sadly, however, both these players are cup-tied.
Instead, Bruce will probably deploy a lone striker. He’s used no fewer than six forwards in this completion so far, but it should be either Yannick Sagbo (four goals these season) or Sone Aluko upfront alone instead. These players are unlikely to trouble Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny.
Runners from deep could cause more problems, however. The return of Ramsey gives Arsenal more attacking options, but his forward charges can leave Mikel Arteta exposed in front of the defence. If the likes of George Boyd, Jake Livermore, Robert Koren and Ahmen Elmohamady can motor forward from midfield, Arsenal could encounter difficulties.
Maximise set-piece chances
It was a late set-piece which handed Wigan victory in last year’s FA Cup final, and Bruce will be hopeful Hull can nick a goal in a similar scenario.
The statistics look promising for the Tigers – although they scored 30 fewer goals than Arsenal in the Premier League this season, they actually scored two more (10 to 8) from set-pieces. Tom Huddlestone can deliver fine balls from wide areas, and Hull might field three centre-backs all capable of reaching high balls. If the battle in open play is slow, and it comes down to dead ball situations, Hull will be delighted.
Get Huddlestone on the ball
Hull are likely to be overrun in midfield, but their best chance of competing in that zone is by involving Huddlestone as often as possible. Capable of spraying balls to the flanks of hitting direct passes into attack, Huddlestone gets Livermore to do his running and defensive work, and concentrates on finding space to create.
Mesut Ozil is likely to start as Arsenal’s number ten, and isn’t the type of player to drop deep and concentrate on tracking Huddlestone – unlike, for example, if Tomas Rosicky was fielded in that position. Huddlestone might find himself with time and space, and while he might look up to discover few players located in the final third, if he retains possession Hull will have greater opportunities to push forward and gradually put the Arsenal backline under pressure.
May 14th, 2014 by Michael Cox
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