Diaby steers Arsenal to third after Tiger shoot

Arsenal 3 Hull City 0

Arsène Wenger has always been a lover not a fighter as far as the beautiful game is concerned but the Frenchman conceded that a little dash of bad temper has pepped up a previously faltering title challenge.

Arsenal moved to within two points of second-placed Manchester United courtesy of goals from Denilson, Eduardo and man-of-the-match Abou Diaby. A penalty save with the score at 1-0 by goalkeeper and captain-for-the-day Manuel Almunia helped too but Wenger, whose uncharacteristic half-time loss of temper propelled his side to victory at Liverpool last Sunday, admitted a mass brawl just before half-time was also significant.

Up to that point Arsenal had been far too pedestrian but after the referee, Steve Bennett, had dealt with a melee whose origins he had completely missed, Denilson fired them ahead soon afterwards.

Had the bust-up been a catalyst? "Maybe a little bit," conceded Wenger, which translates as a yes in anyone else's language. "But I believe the point where we scored just before half-time was the turning point. We had to fight because they were well-organised."

The flare-up, which involved plenty of bodies from both sides, was started by an Arsenal man, with Sami Nasri, the forward, making what appeared to be nothing less than a deliberate stamp on the foot of Richard Garcia, the Hull right-midfielder.

Garcia went down and Nicky Barmby went for Nasri's throat as Bennett belatedly realised something was occurring behind him. After seeking advice from his linesmen, Bennett booked Nasri and Stephen Hunt, the Hull midfielder. Barmby was booked after the half-time whistle as the unrest transferred itself to the tunnel although Wenger insisted nothing untoward had happened there. "Look at my eyes," he said. "Nothing happened." Phil Brown, the Hull manager, was convinced Nasri should have been shown a red card. "If it's an off-the-ball incident I can't understand why it's a yellow," he said. "It astounded me. It amazed me. You hope the referee gets decisions right in big games and that hasn't happened to us today."

Brown was adamant the next major decision went Arsenal's way too, when George Boateng was adjudged to have fouled Diaby and Denilson scored directly from the free-kick, a moment that surprised Wenger more than anyone as he expected Nasri to take it.

Eduardo missed a clear chance to double Arsenal's lead shortly after the restart and fortune seemed to favour Hull when Bennett gave them a soft penalty award, ruling Mikaël Silvestre had pulled Craig Fagan back by the shirt.

Up stepped Giovanni, the Brazilian who had scored in Hull's 2-1 win here last season when they were top-flight novices and enjoying every moment. This time he hit it with little conviction and Almunia was able to parry. The rebound fell perfectly for the taker but, as home defenders stood and watched, the eagerness of Hunt cost his side an equaliser. The Irishman rushed in to meet the loose ball but succeeded only in getting in Giovanni's way and heading wide.

Within four minutes Diaby had set up Eduardo for a tap-in and Arsenal were on their way to a victory that moves them to within over-taking distance of United and with a game in hand. Diaby made it 3-0 with 10 minutes remaining with a thumping finish from inside the box and there was still time for substitute Theo Walcott to come close twice.

Attendance: 60,006

Referee: Steve Bennett

Man of the match: Diaby

Match rating: 6/10

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