Where does one start after yet another performance in which Arsenal frustrated more than they delighted? The day started well enough, a fabulous lunch in equally fabulous company. Asked outside how confident I was I had to respond with “Don’t tell anyone, but not very.”
That said we made a bright and confident start with Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck, and Alexis all having opportunities before Santi Cazorla drew a fantastic save from Harper. An opening goal was surely coming, and duly arrived, an Alexis special, and not the only reason he was Arsenal’s man of the match.
When we are in such cavalier mode we are a joy to watch, but as so many sides have now shown, easy to counter-attack. Diame’s rampaging run appeared to have been ended by Mathieu Flamini’s intervention, but the Frenchman was manhandled out of the way and the Hull man went on to finish with Arsenal players berating the hapless referee, Roger East. Arsene wasn’t slow in letting the fourth official and the assistant referee know his take on the incident.
One of many breaks in play
Let’s make it clear that the referee was dreadful throughout, worse even than Anthony Taylor against Villa last season, and his non-decision here did affect the result, but let’s not allow that to blind us to the fact that Arsenal should still have had enough talent on the pitch yesterday to beat a mid-table team. For all that Hull did what the lesser clubs have frequently found fruitful against us, the unchecked time-wasting, the rarely punished rotational fouling. You can call out the official for a woefully sub-standard performance without it being the main reason why we took one point instead of three. The main reason was us.
We didn’t pick up from where we had started after that equaliser. When we experienced similar performances at the back end of last season we used our lack of pace and creativity due to the absences of Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, and Theo Walcott. That isn’t the case now. We have bought pace aplenty. Alexis has it, Welbeck has it (and both of those players put in a full shift yesterday), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has it, although this was an off day for the Ox.
That we fell behind at the start of the second-half was all of our own making. Jack allowed Huddlestone unfettered passage down the right flank and his cross was headed home by Hernandez who caught the BFG on his heels. We awaited a response. Hull had their third choice goalkeeper on as a substitute. Surely we would pepper the goal now, but no. He wasn’t required to make a save until the final five minutes as we continually sought to weave our way through the backline with one pass too many time and again.
That tactic may have been understandable. Although the excellent premier League debutant, Hector Bellerin, and Kieran Gibbs ruled the flanks, crosses into the box were meat and drink for Hull’s battallion of big men. There has to come a point, however, when someone takes responsibility and gets the shot away at the end of these intricate exchanges.
In the six minutes added on, although most thought it should have been more, we got the equaliser when finally Alexis threaded the ball through for Danny Welbeck to apply a clever finish. We nearly snatched the points at the death but the chance fell to Gibbs, not Sanchez or Welbeck, and the ‘keeper saved.
So to another inquest in the pub of choice. Good people lifted each other. I’d like to say that this was just one of those days and in the words of D:Ream ‘Things can only get better’, and doubtless they will, but there have been too many of these careless draws already this season. Five in eight starts should be something of a wake up call. Yes, we may point at the ludicrously long injury list, but that eleven that started yesterday should have had too much quality and technical ability for a workmanlike Hull. The supposed weak links, Bellerin and Monreal, had excellent games I thought. Jack and Santi, dominant in the opening spell, lost their control of the midfield a little too easily thereafter.
The manager and his staff need to lift and inspire their troops for a batch of winnable fixtures, but yesterday was the first of those and we came up short again. It’s true that the title is won after Christmas, but equally true that it can be lost beforehand. The gap between Chelsea and us looks worryingly large right now.