It was a cold, snowy day all around the country but that wasn’t the only reason for the Arsenal fans shivering up in the stands. A nervous Arsenal just about got over the line against a decent Hull side. We played with a damaged confidence in front of a bipolar crowd that flittered between getting behind the team and groaning whenever a pass was misplaced. All the ingredients were there for another disaster.
We were livelier in the opening exchanges than we were against Watford, though that’s not saying much. Hull didn’t get as tight as Watford did and allowed us to progress up the pitch. We made encouraging inroads down the sides of Hull’s defence but the service from Gibbs and Bellerin wasn’t up to standard. Hull were menacing on the counter through Kamil Grosicki and Lazar Markovic. The two wingers each created a big scoring opportunities for Oumar Niasse that would have turned the atmosphere toxic.
Arsenal had chances of their own and should have been on the scoresheet before the big controversy. Bellerin got in behind after a clever one-two with Oxlade-Chamberlain but sliced his shot wide. Alexis showed why he refuses to use his left foot by putting a great chance wide. Ozil volleyed one over from around the penalty spot. Walcott had a shot blocked. The tension in the ground increased with every missed chance. I was just waiting for Hull to punish us for us our profligacy.
Then, some luck went our way. A scramble in the Hull penalty area saw Alexis stretch for the ball and prod it against Jakupovic. It bounced up against Alexis’ hand and went in. Hull were adamant it was a handball but Clattenburg either didn’t see it or thought otherwise.
Now, the rule for handball states that it has to be an intentional handling of the ball for a foul to be given. As dodgy as it looked, Alexis can’t have deliberately handled the ball in that situation. He simply couldn’t move his hand out of the way before the ball hit it. Hull can feel hard done by but it was ball to hand. After the game, Clattenburg admitted that, upon seeing the incident at half-time, had he seen it he wouldn’t have given it. Then he apologised to Hull. This is incredible, because I can’t imagine how anyone could see that incident as intentional handball. Had video replays been available, Clattenburg would have used the tech to incorrectly rule a goal out.
It certainly shows that interpreting the handball rule is difficult for everyone. The rule should be on the lengthy list of things for FIFA to address.
Arsenal had the lead at half-time and a decent platform to go on and kill the game. Yet, their second half performance suggested that fear of dropping more points was beating out any confidence gained from having the lead. Kieran Gibbs got away with just a yellow for denying a blatant goal scoring chance. Markovic continued to be a threat for Hull. As the second half progressed, we dropped deeper and failed to break on Hull with any accuracy or conviction. Hull weren’t peppering Cech’s goal but were pressing for an equaliser and making Arsenal nervous.
It took until the 90th minute for us to make the game safe. Alexis scurried away from Hull’s last defender and Jakupovic charged out of his goal. Alexis kept his composure and picked out Lucas at the back post. The Spaniard’s head was blocked on the line by Clucas’ hand. A penalty was awarded and Clucas sent off. Alexis, never the most convincing from the penalty spot, stepped out and just about got it past the Hull keeper.
‘Just about’ sums the game up. Alexis may have scored two crucial goals, but his performance was under par. Ozil had a poor game with several misplaced passes and poorly timed runs in behind. Iwobi and Walcott struggled to make an impact. Oxlade-Chamberlain, at least, looked comfortable once more in central midfield and is surely due a run in that position.
So it was far from a convincing victory. Hull were good value for a goal and can claim that big decisions didn’t fall their way. What Silva has done to them in such a short space of time is very impressive. In that sense, a scruffy 2-0 victory could be seen as good enough. Nonetheless, concerns will remain about our level of performance and few will be confident heading into a big game against Bayern Munich. We may be able to get away with a flat and sloppy performance against Hull, but surely not in the Champions League.