Arsenal rotate but roll on past Hull

Posted by James McNicholas



It is a sign of Arsenal's growing strength that they were able to make five changes to the side that defeated Cardiff and yet dispatch Hull 2-0 with a minimum of fuss.

That is the benefit of having a manager at the helm who has installed a coherent football philosophy throughout the club. Arsene Wenger can afford to tinker, as every player who comes in to the side seems to instinctively understand the type of football the Gunners aspire to play. The personnel may be different, but the style and the conviction remain absolutely the same.

Carl Jenkinson and Nacho Monreal came in at full-back, while the energetic pair of Tomas Rosicky and Mathieu Flamini were selected to revitalise the midfield. Perhaps the most surprising change was the decision to pick Nicklas Bendtner upfront.

- Gunners' fine form continues

It was no great shock to see Olivier Giroud rested. The Frenchman's exertions this season have been well-publicised, and Arsenal are eager to avoid risking injury to their lynch-pin striker.

However, few expected Bendtner to be called upon as his replacement. The last time Bendtner started a match for Arsenal, he was booed off after a listless display in the Capital One Cup against Chelsea. The last time he started a Premier League match was in 2011, some 1005 days ago.

Nevertheless, any anxiety in the crowd was assuaged when Bendtner nodded Arsenal in to an early lead, rising well to meet a pinpoint cross from Jenkinson.

It was Bendtner's first goal for Arsenal since returning from loan spells with Sunderland and Juventus, and his delight was obvious. It could prove to be an important strike for Arsenal too: like it or not, the Gunners may come to rely on the Dane at some point later in this season. This goal could be a crucial turning point in his rehabilitation.

Bendtner's goal helped get the fans onside early. When he missed a presentable opportunity shortly afterwards, the Arsenal supporters serenaded him with a chorus of, "Nicklas Bendtner: he scores when he wants!" -- the inference being that, on that occasion, he simply hadn't wanted to.

The game provided a timely reminder of Bendtner's strengths and weaknesses. His goal showed that he will always be a powerful penalty box threat. However, he lacks Giroud's intelligent movement and deft link-up play. Bendtner can replicate Giroud's physical presence, but not his subtlety.

Nevertheless, his goal sparked a furious passage of play in which Arsenal might have blown Hull away. The sparkling interplay between Mesut Ozil, Rosicky, Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey was a wonder to behold.

Watching Hull's Tom Huddlestone attempt to keep pace with this dazzling quartet was dizzying even for the observer. Hull's hulking midfielder managed to appear both his team's best player and yet simultaneously out of his depth. It's a footballing cliché to talk about a gap in class between the sides, but in this instance the gap was more of a yawning chasm. As Steve Bruce confessed afterwards: "We couldn't get near them."

Nevertheless, the score remained 1-0 at half-time. The game threatened to become too easy for Arsenal, and morphed into a test of concentration more than anything else.

Fortunately, the Gunners grabbed a second goal after half-time that effectively killed the tie. Some swift passing between the pair of Ramsey and Ozil ended with the Welshman playing a perfect reverse ball into the German's path. Without breaking his stride, Ozil side-footed in at the goalkeeper's near post. It'd be true to say he passed it in to the net -- however, being Ozil, this particular pass was hit with pace and unerring precision.

For the watching Arsenal horde, the most pleasing thing about the game will be the sheer amount of control the Gunners exerted over their opposition.

Arsenal also kept their fourth consecutive clean sheet -- their sixth in their last seven games. It's telling that although Wenger sought to freshen up his team, he didn't dare remove either one of his centre-backs. Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny were superb yet again, and made sure their teammates kept their focus on their defensive duties until the final whistle blew.

On a night when Manchester United were defeated, victories for Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City feel like the beginning of a three-horse race for the title. Arsenal's evident squad depth will be a useful weapon in the battle to raise the Premier League trophy.

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