Hull City v Arsenal | Tuesday 8 March | KC Stadium | 21:00
This is becoming somewhat of an FA Cup staple fixture. Hull and Arsenal have squared off in the last three editions of the world’s oldest cup competition. The Gunners have won two of the prior FA Cup meetings, while the draw in the most recent of the fixtures is the reason for the sides meeting for a replay this Tuesday evening.
Can Steve Bruce and his merry band of Championship charges spring a coup or will Arsene Wenger and his faltering superstars continue their march towards a third successive FA Cup trophy?
To Win (90 Mins)
Hull 32/10 | Draw 5/2 | Arsenal 17/20
Steve Bruce’s side have been playing some terrific football this term. They currently occupy third spot on the Championship standings and are looking good for a return to the pinnacle of the English game. They have endured a recent dip in form however, winning only one of their last six fixtures. But when you look at the teams they’ve come up against – they played Championship leaders Burnley, as well as Arsenal during this period – you would expect a small slump in form.
While their recent results may not be causing Steve Bruce too many restless nights, their lack of goals may well be a cause for concern for the former Manchester United centre-half. The Tigers have only managed to find the back of the net once in their last seven games. Their defense has been miserly, though. The Tigers have only conceded two goals in their last seven outings and have managed to keep four clean sheets.
This impressive defensive record has a lot to do with how Steve Bruce sets up his side. Bruce has often opted to go with a back three against the big name teams in the cup competitions. His son Alex Bruce usually sits in the middle of the back three with Curtis Davies and former Spurs man, Michael Dawson, lining up either side of Bruce. In front of them, Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore often provide a defensive screen. Steve Bruce also has the option of dropping Mohamed Diame into the midfield and playing former Crewe Alexandra and Manchester United prodigy, Nick Powell, alongside Adel Hernadez.
I suspect he may opt for the latter option and play Huddlestone and Livermore in the midfield for this one. The duo offers that extra bit of security that’s needed when playing against a side who are likely to dominate the possession stakes. If the former Spurs men can cut off the supply line to Danny Welbeck and his fellow forwards, then Hull may have a chance of grabbing an upset win or at least, taking the game to extra time or penalties.
Arsenal’s dream start to the season has turned into a nightmarish finish. While most Gunners fans usually expect a mid-season slump – which is generally sparked by a Champions League exit at the hands of Barcelona or Bayern Munich – this was meant to be the year that Arsene Wenger’s side got rid of their chokers moniker and once again became a force in both England and Europe. It seems old habits die hard for those in red shirts, however.
The Gunners are coming into this one off the back of a hard-fought draw against North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur. While their efforts to get back into the game after losing Francois Coquelin to a red card and conceding two goals should be filed in the commendable draw cabinet, things could have been so different for Wenger’s side who had bossed the game until Coquelin’s speculative challenge found Harry Kane’s already falling frame. While Kane did milk the foul, Coquelin still should have known better than to have gone in with such a reckless challenge. All centre forwards worth their salt are looking for contact from opposing players whether it be outside or inside the box. Having already been carded, the Arsenal holding midfielder should have stayed on his feet.
The draw has left the Gunners on the brink of yet another unsuccessful tilt at the Premier League title. They are also all but out of the Champions League as they are two goals down heading into their second leg against Barcelona. So it looks like the Gunner only shot at silverware will once again be the FA Cup.
The cup has been their saving grace in recent years but it seems as though the Arsenal faithful are no longer satisfied with cup success with a lot of fans calling for Arsene Wenger to end his tenure at the helm of the club. Le Prof has heard it all before though, and is unlikely to be rattled by the dissenting voices emanating from the North Bank and other parts of the Emirates Stadium.
The long-serving Arsenal mentor is likely to rotate his side for this one. Danny Welbeck will in all likelihood, continue in the striking role. The former Manchester United man has added a freshness to the side since his return from injury. He’s more than likely to be accompanied in the front three by a misfiring Theo Walcott and prodigious youngster Alex Iwobi. The Nigerian starlet has been one of the few shinning lights for the Gunners since the turn of the year. While the youngster possess buckets of pace and trick or two, it’s his vision and passing range that have caught the eye. The Gunners are going to need their youngster to fire this Tuesday as their creator in chief, Mesut Ozil, will sit this one out.
Other possible changes to the Gunners starting eleven could see Callum Chambers come in for either Per Mertesacker or Gabriel Paulista. While Mathieu Flamini is likely to come in for the suspended Coquelin.
Verdict: Arsenal 17/20 (90 mins)
Their season is in need of revival and what better way to resuscitate it, than by advancing to the quarter-finals of a competition they have performed so admirably in over the last three years. Back the Gunners to get the job done at the KC Stadium at a decent price of 17/20.