10 February 2017

"It's all going according to plan", or "we are Hull's Bayern..."

Don't worry, lads; the master-plan is still coming together as originally drawn. The loss at home to Watford, followed by the capitulation at Stamford Bridge, are but gambits in larger chess-match. The Prem title is not only still up for grabs, we have it right where we want it. Trust me on this. It feels better than acknowledging reality. Reality, of course, has us trailing Chelsea by 12 points with just 14 matches left. While it might at first seem a relief to host Hull, stranded as it were in the relegation dog-fight, they've shown some fight of late and seem more than ready to upset a few apple carts.

In their last three outings, after alll, they've thrashed Liverpool 2-0, gotten a scoreless draw at Old Trafford, and done tolerably well in losing 0-2 at Stamford Bridge. These are results befitting a club in the throes of title contention, not desperately staving off relegation. New boss Marco Silva may nto be working miracles just yet, but he does seem to have reinvigorated the squad ever so slightly. As such, we can ill-afford to look at this one as the cakewalk it might have appeared to be just a weeks ago. After all, Watford's visit just two weeks ago should have been exactly that—a cakewalk—and I would rather not remind you of how that turned out.

At a risk of sounding pessimistic, it's not as if we've played well only to suffer unjustly. Since thrashing Southampton in the FA Cup, we've staggered through our last two and have looked more discombobulated than at any point in recent memory. And yet, if there's a silver lining to cling to, it's in the idea that we are and can be so much better.  Ordinarily, then, this might be a fixture in which we could see a bit of rotation in order to keep fresh legs for other, more-vital fixtures upcoming, such as the midweek trip to Allianz Arena to face Bayern. While it's too early to close the book on our Champions League aspirations, it's also premature to close the book on our Prem hopes. As such, we'll need a full-strength squad, at least to start the match, if we're to keep those waning hopes alive.

I'll call for Giroud to lead the attack with Alexis and Walcott either side and Özil orchestrating from the middle; that's a fearsome attack of the sort that should overwhelm Silva's side early if not often. At the other end, Coquelin and Oxlade-Chamberlain might at first seem like a risky pairing, but a back four of Gibbs, Koscielny, Mustafi, and Gabriel should be solid enough to withstand Hull's anemic attack (22 goals, second-lowest in the Prem). What's more, Coquelin, Koscielny, and Mustafi—not to mention Čech—have something to prove after shambolic outings against Watford and Chelsea.

LAST 3
Hull 1-4 Arsenal (17.09.2016)
Hull 0-4 Arsenal (08.03.2016)
Arsenal 0-0 Hull (20.02.2015)

FACTFILE
Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 13 matches against Hull.
Hull have only won once at Arsenal, back in 2008.
The first-ever League match between the two clubs occurred in September 1913, a scoreless draw at Arsenal's new stadium: Highbury.

INJURIES
Cazorla, Debuchy, Sanogo, and Ramsey have been ruled out. Bellerín is unlikely to be available after being concussed against Chelsea, and Elneny is unavailable after representing Egypt at AFCON.

POSSIBLE STARTING XI
Čech; Gibbs, Koscielny, Mustafi, Gabriel; Coquelin, Oxlade-Chamberlain;  Alexis, Özil, Walcott; Giroud.

This is a must-win against an overmatched opponent. Arsenal 3-0 Hull.