Arsenal, still very Arsenalish: Making the easy look difficult and the difficult seem simple

Richard Jolly writes Arsenal's Saturday win over Hull City was something of a trademark affair, as 'beneath the sound and fury, Arsenal remain eminently watchable'.
Alexis Sanchez and Arsenal are now on 10 points in the Premier League after five matches. Tony Marshall / Getty Images / September 17, 2016
Alexis Sanchez and Arsenal are now on 10 points in the Premier League after five matches. Tony Marshall / Getty Images / September 17, 2016

Hull City 1-4 Arsenal

Man of the Match: Theo Walcott (Arsenal)

Goals: Sanchez (ARS) 17’; Sanchez (ARS) pen miss 41’; Walcott (ARS) 55’; Snodgrass (HUL) 79’; Sanchez (ARS) 83’; Xhaka (ARS) 90+2’

Alexis Sanchez is not everyone’s idea of a striker. Indeed, he is not every Arsenal fan’s preferred choice to lead the line, not least because he is arguably the Premier League’s most potent winger.

Theo Walcott is not everyone’s idea of an Arsenal player. He still divides opinion after a decade. For some he is an indictment of Arsene Wenger, a perennial man-child, brimming with perennial potential.

This was not everyone’s idea of an Arsenal team. Wenger spent £34 million (Dh162m) on Granit Xhaka and, for the third game in a row, left the Swiss international on the bench.

See more

• In pictures: Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott and Granit Xhaka on target as Arsenal flatten Hull

But this was a very Arsenal occasion, initial outrage subsiding when the team the fans would not have picked prevailed. There were two goals for Sanchez and one for Walcott, the 100th of his career. There was one for Xhaka in a sparking cameo as his gradual introduction to life in England continues. There was vindication for Wenger in a week where his obstinacy has been apparent, and an illustration of the ability in his camp.

There were the trademark hints of frailty from Arsenal, but also illustrations of why they are so beguiling.

There was much a heaviest defeat of the season for Hull, with early-season surprise packages thrashed for the first time under Mike Phelan, who is nonetheless set to sign a contract to become manager this week, but a typical result for a club who invariably lose to Arsenal. The last time they beat the Londoners at home was during First World War. A century on, the Gunners have their own internecine squabbles but Wenger was justified in selecting David Ospina against Paris Saint-Germain and in his choices at Hull.

Beneath the sound and fury, Arsenal remain eminently watchable. They pass the ball with rare assurance. Their movement can be magnificent. Wenger has a fondness for technically gifted footballers, but there are worse weaknesses to have.

They delivered a game of five goals, two penalties and a red card. The opener was fortunate, but forced, as Arsenal’s incessant pressure told. Eldin Jakupovic pushed Walcott’s cross-shot into Alex Iwobi’s path. His effort deflected in off Sanchez. If Sanchez is scarcely a conventional striker, this was an unorthodox way of scoring.

He spurned what qualified as a more normal chance. Jakupovic did superbly to save Sanchez’s penalty although, with Santi Cazorla on the pitch, it invited questions why he took it.

“Santi was at the head of the list,” confirmed a bemused Wenger. “I want to know what happened and for it not to happen again.”

Damage was applied to Hull anyway: Jake Livermore was sent off for handling Francis Coquelin’s shot, leading to its award.

Mesut Ozil had missed something of a sitter but Arsenal have the ability to make the easy look difficult and the difficult seem simple. Their second goal was a case in point. Iwobi backheeled an incisive ball, half of a one-two to Walcott. He had the composure to chip his shot past Jakupovic.

“With the quality of his runs, he is very dangerous,” said Wenger. “We need players who go behind [defences].”

Hull had one, too. Dieumerci Mbokani, one substitute, raced on to a pass from another, Ryan Mason, and was upended by Petr Cech. Robert Snodgrass scored the penalty. Arsenal were pegged back to 2-1.

They responded, emphatically. Walcott showed that ability to sprint behind the Hull back four. Jakupovic blocked his shot, but Sanchez kept his cool, finishing with his third touch.

“We won the game in a convincing way,” said Wenger.

A newcomer ensured as much. A reluctant spender has proved reluctant to use his recent recruits. Wenger’s preference for the comparatively old firm of Cazorla and Coquelin meant Xhaka was confined to 25 minutes. He scored a wonderful long-range shot.

The opening-day defeat to Liverpool now feels more distant. “We had a big shock in our first game and I think we responded well,” said Wenger.

Praising his players’ character: it was all very Arsenalish.

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Published: September 17, 2016 04:00 AM


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