Arsenal's display of true grit gives Wenger growing belief
Arsenal 3 Hull City 0
Monday 21 December 2009
Arsene Wenger has uncovered a trait in his Arsenal side that could yet turn them into title contenders. This latest success was not achieved on the back of pretty passing or neat interplay in the fashion the French manager has drilled into his men, but it came through hard work, determination and grit.
The encounter was somewhat overshadowed by a 21-man brawl towards the end of the first half following an incident between Samir Nasri and Richard Garcia, as the Arsenal player stamped on the ankle of his Hull counterpart. Nasri was lucky to escape a red card, and an FA inquiry could follow to decide whether further action should be taken.
But Arsenal's fighting spirit eventually shone through as goals from Denilson, Eduardo and Abou Diaby secured a victory that moved them within two points of second-placed Manchester United.
Diaby, the midfield player, was outstanding and his display was all the more necessary given Cesc Fabregas's absence as a result of a hamstring problem. I am touching wood that Diaby can stay fit now because sometimes he gets strange injuries and is out for three or four weeks," Wenger said. "We will be patient with him, he looks to be a promising player.
"He is an offensive player, not a defence-minded one. He goes from box to box like it is no distance, and can dribble. You need good solidarity. We do not need to fight and have players sent off, but it is good that we respond."
Comparisons have been made between Diaby and the former Arsenal midfield maestro Patrick Vieira, but Wenger is not wholly convinced. "I believe Vieira was more a passer of the ball than Diaby, he is more penetrating with the ball. They are not completely comparable."
After a slow start to this game, it was the incident involving Nasri that brought the game to life. Arsenal had won a free-kick, yet the Frenchman felt the need to stamp on Garcia's ankle. It was a cowardly act that led to almost every player on the pitch running to the scene, and Nick Barmby of Hull and his midfield partner Stephen Hunt were fortunate their reactions did not earn them red cards too.
On the stroke of half-time, Arsenal's Denilson curled home a stunning free-kick from 25 yards, though the referee Steve Bennett's decision to award the set piece seemed incorrect as Diaby had appeared to slip rather than fall from a trip by George Boateng.
Geovanni was presented with an opportunity to level the scores on 55 minutes after a tug on the shirt of Craig Fagan by Mikaël Silvestre led to a penalty. The spot-kick was weak, though, and as Manuel Almunia palmed the ball away, Hunt headed the rebound wide. Four minutes later Eduardo made it 2-0 with a simple close-range tap-in following good work by Diaby, who in turn found the net with 10 minutes left as he sent a rocket of a shot beyond Boaz Myhill.
Wenger is particularly satisfied with his side's recent run of form as it has eased the memories of a devastating defeat against Chelsea at the end of last month, when they lost 3-0 at home and Wenger was one of the only men in the country who seemed to retain a genuine belief that Arsenal's ambitions to win the league could still be achieved.
"It certainly hurt the players when people said it was men against boys when we lost to Chelsea," Wenger said. "You never want to hear that as a professional footballer.
"But it looks like every team can have little blips this season. Any team that keeps going and keeps believing has a chance. The pride I have from the Chelsea game is that we didn't give up. And since then we have responded with results. We have kept fighting."
Hull are still searching for a first away success of the season, but their manager, Phil Brown, was proud of his side as their display left home supporters frustrated for long periods.
"I used to have great battles with Arsenal when I was at Bolton as assistant manager," Brown said. "To get under people's skins means you are doing something right.
"Wenger is trying to establish a winning team and you can't always just play beautiful football. I've seen winning football in this game, they did everything necessary to win the game."
Arsenal (4-3-3): Almunia; Eboué, Vermaelen, Gallas, Silvestre; Diaby, Song, Denilson; Nasri (Ramsey, 68), Eduardo (Walcott, 75), Arshavin (Vela, 82). Substitutes not used: Sagna, Walcott, Wilshere, Fabianski (gk), Emmanuel-Thomas.
Hull City (4-5-1): Myhill; McShane, Gardner, Zayatte, Dawson; Hunt, Geovanni (Mendy, 68), Barmby (Olofinjana, 46), Boateng, Garcia (Cousin, 60); Fagan. Substitutes not used: Duke (gk), Mendy, Kilbane, Ghilas, Vennegoor of Hesselink.
Referee: S Bennett (Kent).
Booked: Arsenal Nasri; Hull Zayatte, Barmby, Olofinjana, Hunt, Boateng.
Man of the match: Diaby.
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