Arsenal 1 Hull City 2: Hull blow out candles to leave Wenger fuming
Manager's anniversary is ruined by his counterpart's masterful selection and an effective half-time rant
Sunday 28 September 2008
Did you hear the one about the Brazilian and the Gabonese? No, Arsène Wenger didn't find it very funny either. Between them, Geovanni and Daniel Cousin scored the goals that inflicted Arsenal's first home League defeat since April last year and, even at this early stage of the season, possibly caused serious harm to their title ambitions. In the short term, they also have to worry about the effect on their morale ahead of their Champions' League tie at home to Porto on Tuesday. Happy 12th anniversary at the Arsenal, Arsène.
Not that the Gunners could say they hadn't been warned. West Bromwich, who like Hull were promoted from the Championship last season, caused them problems on the opening day at the Emirates. Since then Wenger's men have looked more at ease away from home. Showing they could make short shrift of teams in the North-west like Bolton and Blackburn, as they have done in the last fortnight, should have made games such as these relatively straightforward.
Yet it was never anything of the sort, even when the hosts had taken the lead through a combination of touches from Emmanuel Adebayor, Cesc Fabregas and Paul McShane. Armed with a game plan that looked watertight from the start, that goal after 50 minutes was the only leak in Hull's defence. Even though their threat at the other end had appeared negligible, Phil Brown, so often a thorn in Wenger's side when he was an assistant to Sam Allardyce at Bolton, had not set his men out to be unnecessarily negative.
When given a chance they took it, first through Geovanni, the former Brazil international discarded this summer by Manchester City, and then Cousin, who was signed from Rangers in August.
"People must have thought it was suicidal picking Geovanni to play here," said Brown, but it turned out to be his master-stroke. He shuffled him from playing just behind his two strikers over to the left flank and it was after coming in from that side that he struck a shot sweetly from 22 yards, finding Manuel Almunia's top corner.
Yet Brown's master plan was not to settle for a draw. "At half-time it was goalless and I was disappointed. I was harsh in my criticism," he said. Possibly fearing another verbal assault afterwards, the visitors went for, and found, a second goal three minutes later. Arsenal could not match it.
For Wenger, who was so traumatised he mentioned West Bromwich's name when he meant to say Hull, the difference between the teams was in his players' concentration levels, accusing them of letting complacency slip in. He said: "I thought we were not switched on for the whole game to the level we needed. We thought maybe subconsciously we would make it. At 1-0 up I thought we were a bit careless. Instead of pushing on we gave too much room to Hull."
After 13 goals from the last three domestic games, Arsenal's fans booed the blank on the scoresheet at the interval. Five minutes into the second half an apparent panacea arrived in the form of a goal whose ownership was uncertain but whose effect was liberating on the game.
Although the attempts to unleash Theo Walcott down the right in the first half had reached dead ends, he then made yet another break. Fed by Robin van Persie, Walcott reached the byline and Adebayor, Fabregas and McShane all had touches, in that order, before the ball rolled over the line.
Arsenal started the day top but had been replaced by Liverpool and then Chelsea, although a win would have put them back at the summit. Wenger's counterpart had other ideas. "I decided to pick a team to cause them one or two problems," said Brown, with masterful understatement, before citing his play-off final win at Wembley in May and victory at St James' Park earlier this month to remind everyone this was not a one-off day of glory for the Tigers.
Geovanni's goal was not isolated in its excellence either. Hull's second arrived soon after from a corner – where Arsenal possess a weakness, Wenger admitted. Andy Dawson delivered and Cousin, whom Fulham wanted last season, was first to the ball at the near post. His glancing effort glided in at the other post. Cue pandemonium on the Hull bench.
The panic in the visitors' penalty box was equally understandable in the last five minutes, William Gallas hitting the bar with a header and Boaz Myhill saving from Fabregas in injury time. "There is nothing to celebrate," Wenger said when reminded of the anniversary that comes around today. Those of a Hull hue might want to argue with that.
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