Friday, March 12, 2010
Soccernet Preview: Hull v Arsenal
• Live on ESPN UK on Saturday at 17.30 GMT
Arsenal will go into their game with Hull knowing that a win would keep up the pressure on their title rivals. With Manchester United not in action until Sunday, the Gunners could leapfrog the current champions; while down at the bottom, Hull are looking to get themselves out of the relegation zone and capitalise on any dropped points by West Ham (who face Chelsea).
• Off Mic: Jon Champion blog
The Gunners are in a rich vein of form, showing some mental strength after the broken leg suffered by young midfielder Aaron Ramsey, and they have been particularly good on the road, where they have lost only one of their past seven games.
Hull have their own impressive stats though, as they have picked up points at home - 17 in their last 10 games - and held the likes of Chelsea to a draw. Confidence won't be especially high after a 5-1 beating at the hands of Everton though, and Arsenal will certainly fancy picking up a result after their demolition of Porto.
Hull player in focus: Jimmy Bullard. Making his return in the drubbing against Everton, Bullard is the player to whom the Tigers look for creativity. A long-term injury has hindered his participation in the team since his £5 million arrival in January 2009, but he has shown glimpses of his talent. His match fitness may be an issue, but Bullard's contribution will be the difference between Hull competing, or being turned over.
Arsenal player in focus: Samir Nasri. In Cesc Fabregas' absence, the mantle of attacking playmaker has fallen onto the shoulders of Nasri. Used many on the wings during his time at the Emirates, Nasri has been tasked with filling the central midfield role and has performed brilliantly in his past few matches - the crowning moment being his incredible solo effort to seal a win against Porto in the Champions League.
Key Battle: Kamil Zayatte v Nicklas Bendtner. Zayatte has been one of the better performers in a Hull defence that has conceded 59 goals already this season. Playing in 22 of the Tigers' 28 games, the Guinea international has strength and agility about his game and will need both if he is to keep Bendtner quiet. The Danish striker was lambasted for a poor showing at Burnley, but his hat-trick against Porto silenced the critics and ensured that his supreme confidence levels remained high.
Tactics: Arsenal won't change their system, despite the absence of playmaker Fabregas and, instead, will see Nasri control the ball in midfield. Denilson should play the holding role with Diaby ahead of him, while the two wide men will feed Bendtner up front on his own. Hull should play a containing game and will look to flood the midfield in a bid to keep the Gunners off their stride. Bullard may be given freedom to roam if he can find space, but Brown's men will most likely keep as many men behind the ball as possible and look to counter attack when they can.
Quotes: Arsene Wenger on Bendtner's change in form: "It shows you how football can change very quickly. He came back with good focus and the same belief - that is one of his strengths as well. Nicklas had not lost the confidence, it remains relatively stable.''
Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink on the relegation battle: ''We have enough quality to stay in the league. I love the saying, 'every game is a cup final' and it's true for Hull just now.''
In the news: There is a bit of needle in this game, as both clubs were fined by the Football Association for failing to control their players during the match at the Emirates just before Christmas. Nasri appeared to tread on Richard Garcia's foot which sparked a confrontation and the season before, Fabregas had to deal with allegations that he spat at Hull assistant boss Brian Horton, but Wenger has played down talk of a problem. "We do not focus on bad blood. We just focus on our game and try to play well,'' he said. "In fact, if you look at what happened - there was not a lot.''
Hull team news: Brown must choose between the strikers at his disposal with Jozy Altidore, Amr Zaki and Jan Venegoor of Hesselink all vying to start. Hull hope to welcome back Craig Fagan following suspension, as well as Andy Dawson and Stephen Hunt, but the game may come too soon for Seyi Olofinjana (ankle) and Dean Marney (calf).
Arsenal team news: Cesc Fabregas is the big miss for Arsenal, as his hamstring strain will keep him out of action. Alex Song is still suspended domestically and there are late tests for Tomas Rosicky, Bacary Sagna and Sol Campbell after their exertions against Porto. William Gallas will miss at least another month with a calf injury.
Probable Hull team (4-5-1): Myhill, Dawson, Zayatte, Mouyokolo, McShane, Boateng, Cairney, Bullard, Hunt, Fagan, Zaki.
Probable Arsenal team (4-3-3): Almunia, Clichy, Campbell, Vermaelen, Eboue, Denilson, Diaby, Nasri, Rosicky, Walcott, Bendtner.
Soccernet prediction: The form book suggests that the Gunners will have too much for Hull and it would be a stunning result if the Tigers could just get a point.