Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hull 1-2 Arsenal: Lucky Boys

I don't know who it was who first said, "I'd rather be lucky than good", but it seems an apt quote for Saturday's game. For long stretches Arsenal looked rubbish, a team that does not deserve to be mentioned in the title reckoning. But after another scrambled goal from Bendtner in stoppage time, that sense of destiny that was present at the end of the Stoke game helped Arsenal through again, and hope remains.

There was little to get excited about in the performance. After Arshavin bundled his way through to plunder an early goal, it had the look of an easy afternoon. But as so often, that situation had a negative effect on the players, who began to go through the motions instead of putting Hull to the sword. Campbell duly gave away a penalty. Venegoor was well offside from Marney's flick through, but the linesman missed it, and a clumsy coming-together yielded the inevitable point to the spot from the referee. When Wenger re-signed the sturdy but slow Campbell, we all knew there would be times when he'd get embarrassed, and this was unfortunately one, although as I said the flag should have been up for offside. Bullard stuck the penalty away and it was level at half-time, but not before George Boateng got himself dismissed, twice over. His petulant poke in the eye of Bendtner should, by the letter of the law, have earned him a straight red; he got booked. Then, right before the break, a reckless, high lunge on the marauding Sagna finally got him what he deserved. At this point, I started to relax. Surely we'd make hay against a depleted Hull in the second period? Not so.

I thought the players looked lethargic right from the off in the second half. You could put it down to tiredness after the Porto game, as I suppose there was not much room for the usual rotation. But I hate to give the players that excuse. I think their attitude was poor, Hull's was the opposite, and we could have been punished in the good spell that the home side had. You could invest some symbolism in Campbell's rough but fair tackle on Zayatte (which, with delicious irony, left the Hull player on crutches), but there was no huge improvement in Arsenal's play thereafter. With twenty or so minutes to go, they finally woke up and started to show some urgency. But Nasri was withdrawn and this left us with little invention; it was a struggle to put a move together, especially on that bobbly surface. Arshavin and Bendtner suffered moments of trademark wastefulness, and it seemed that a clearly knackered Hull had held out for a deserved point.

Then, it happened. Denilson decided that desperate measures were called for. His long range effort moved a bit in the air, the keeper parried it weakly when he should really have held, and Bendtner was on hand to keep the rebound down and bouncing into the net. A real moment of euphoria, and three undeserved points. This must be what it feels like to support Man Utd.

This entry would doubtless have comprised a petulant rant had that goal not happened. Instead we can cling to the cliche that leagues are won by teams that win while playing badly. And, to be fair, it is (hopefully) unlikely that we will again be missing Gallas, Song, Fabregas and Van Persie all at once. From that perspective, you'd have to say again that the fixture list seems to be working in our favour at the moment. Is everything falling neatly into place? I'm still sceptical, but if we have Song and Fabregas back next week, it SHOULD become six wins in a row against West Ham.

I've jinxed it now haven't I?

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