It’s been a torrid few weeks for Arsenal and Arsene Wenger, and once again they’ve lived up to the tag of ‘bottlers’ in the title race. Incredibly, Arsene Wenger’s future also appears to be in doubt with a growing number of Arsenal fans calling for the Frenchman’s head after a winless run of five games.
To fans of other clubs that seems ridiculously harsh considering the North London club are sitting third in the Premier League, just eight points off the top, and as things stand are still involved in both Champions League and FA Cup. However, with a 2-0 deficit to make up against Barcelona at the Nou Camp it is not a huge stretch to suggest that Arsenal’s Champions League campaign is over for yet another season, and having been within touching distance of Leicester at the top of the table, they’ve dropped away with a whimper. While the FA Cup may never be the highest on Wenger’s agenda, all of a sudden this game has taken on extra importance, and a defeat could see him staring the sack in the face.
For Hull this repeat of last year’s final may not be at the forefront of their priorities either, with promotion from the Championship back to the Premier League this season’s ultimate aim. Steve Bruce has the Tigers positioned in 3rd place in the table but the 1-0 defeat at Birmingham last time out has left them with a three point gap to make up on Middlesbrough in 2nd, and Bruce will probably have eyes on the upcoming double-header against MK Dons and Nottingham Forest at home.
Arsenal v Hull
The abuse Arsene Wenger will receive if his side fail to win here doesn’t bear thinking about for the Arsenal faithful, and realistically this is their best chance of silverware and salvaging something from the season. The likes of Joel Campbell, Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud were all left on the bench for the 2-2 North London derby with Spurs, and if those three line up they should have more than enough quality for Hull. Alexis Sanchez was back among the goals at White Hart Lane, with his strike securing a point for the 10-man Gunners, and there is a possibility Wenger will give him a start in order to boost the confidence and build a goal-scoring run, but one would think it’s more likely that the Chilean star will be kept in reserve for the rest of the Premier League season as Arsenal try to make up the gap on Leicester and Spurs.
Steve Bruce has a fully fit squad to choose from but the decision he has to make is whether to play his big guns in search of revenge for the Wembley defeat of two years ago, or whether to turn to his back-up players and keep his powder dry for the promotion push. It’s a tough call to make, but the prize of Premier League football is so much greater than a quarter final against Watford on Sunday – which is what awaits the winner of this replay.
In terms of form it’s a surprise that the two clubs have managed just one win between them in the last ten games combined. Hull have had three 0-0 draws in their last five against Brighton, Sheffield Wednesday and Arsenal in the first tie of this cup clash, and they’ve interspersed those with a 1-0 win at Ipswich and a 1-0 loss at Birmingham. Meanwhile the Gunners have drawn against Hull and Spurs, with damaging defeats to Barcelona in the Champions League and Swansea and Manchester United in the Premier League. At least Arsenal can say they’ve found the net five times in their last three games, whereas Hull have only managed a single goal in the last five matches.
The big Frenchman has lost his form of late, going ten games without a goal and has recently been replaced in the starting line up with the returning Danny Welbeck. However, he came on against Spurs and had a big impact, looking threatening and contributing to Arsenal getting back into the game despite being down to ten men. He’s got a point to prove and assuming he gets the nod to start this one, he will be dangerous from the outset. Even if Steve Bruce opts to field his strongest line-up, we’d still expect Arsenal to dominate the ball and Giroud should get chances to get back amongst the goals.
Arsenal to beat Hull
Tuesday 8th March, 19:00 GMT
Olivier Giroud to score the first goal