The way I see it - Hull City v Arsenal

Last updated : 16 January 2009 By Jason Hogan
You know, there is always something hugely satisfying about beating the kicking kings of Bolton. And Saturday's victory was right up there with the best of them. True, the Arsenal didn't exactly wipe the floor with them and it's also true to say that our performance can only be described as laboured at best.

But to see us overcome their cynical, blatantly defensive tactics, snatch all three points particularly just when they began to believe they were on the verge of pulling off a mugging was sweet - really sweet.

Don't get me wrong here. I've never been naive enough to think that every team in the Premier League is going to come to Arsenal and have a go at us or fight fire with fire. And I don't think that visiting teams have any moral obligation to play open, attacking football when they come to The Grove.

The thing that has really bugged me, particularly over the last ten years, is how lesser teams are eulogised as awe inspiring heroes and the paragons of wonderful defiance whenever they have come to the Arsenal and gained a point (or more) despite having done precious little, in a positive sense, to actually earn it. You can bet your life there would have been calls in the press and the media for all the Bolton players to be knighted had they held on for six or seven minutes longer.

Now, Wenger has said more than one or two things this year that have got right up my nose and several more things that have left me thinking he has lost the plot entirely. But he is right when he says that the Premier League is missing something and becoming increasingly lacking in terms of entertainment.

But, taking the current economic climate into account and the pure cost that would be incurred (in terms of lost revenue) by any club happened to fall out of the Premier League this season I guess that it heightens the determination of all clubs to ensure they do everything they necessarily can to survive.

It's a bit of a vicious circle, isn't it? Football is supposed to be an entertainment business after all but with the financial stakes getting higher all the time, most top flight teams will only become all the more willing to compromise their principles if it means getting a result.

Mind you, I cannot believe that it's much fun for a Bolton fan to travel 200-odd miles, pay fortunes to see their team come out and park the bus only to see parity and a perceived sense of honour snatched away right at the death. It's not my idea of a fun day out, that's for sure.

I did have a grin when I saw the post match comments of Kevin Davies. To think back in 1997 when he burst on the scene as a young man making his way in the game at Southampton, I thought he would become the long term England strike partner for what was then a fast emerging Michael Owen. It doesn't half make me cringe with embarrassment to admit that.

Instead, Davies has evolved into just about THE dirtiest player still plying his trade in the top flight. How he, of all people, can come out and condemn the conduct of other players defies belief. This is the sort of guy who would kick or elbow his own grandmother if it meant winning a football match.

For the last decade, the lad has become more renowned in the game more for kicking, maiming and aiming cheap shots at fellow pros than he ever has for scoring goals - which, lest we forget, is supposedly what he is actually paid (very well no doubt) to do. A phrase including glass houses and stones springs to mind where that lad is concerned.

In spite of the general indifference of our performances and despite the fact our squad is still way short of being all that we could be, the Gunners have now gone unbeaten in their last eight matches. I deliberately make reference to that purely because if you wind the clock back to say November when we lost back to back games against Villa and Man City I honestly couldn't see us putting any sort of decent run together at all.

So where does it go from here and how are Arsenal are going to improve their own situation? Well, whilst the ongoing link with Arshavin does intrigue me but it doesn't get me dancing a jig of delight.

No team in the world can have too many good players and there is no doubt in my mind that this boy can play. But for me, whilst he can play on the left or the right, I do believe that we would only get the best out of him if he played in the Bergkamp role just off the main striker.

Playing Arshavin on the flank in the Premier League where you need players to track back a fair bit to help out the full back, wouldn't really suit him particularly when you take into account the fact that our full backs at Arsenal are given more licence to get forward than most full backs at other clubs.

If we were to get him it would only represent a small step in the right direction for me and no more than that. Bringing in someone like Mikel Arteta from Everton would be a different matter though.

I believe this lad has the kind of game and more importantly the mental strength that Arsenal are so badly lacking. I certainly think that he could do a similar job to Cesc in the middle of the park for us and he can also be deployed on the flanks. He's excellent at dead ball situations and not afraid to put his foot in. He's a proper footballer in every sense if you ask me.

Like most Arsenal fans, I would like to see a defensive midfielder and another centre half come in. Wenger has come out and said he is not looking for defensive options but he has been linked with a few centre halves since the window opened. Is Wenger trying to put the press and media off the scent? I bloody hope so. We have been crying out for a commanding centre half ever since Campbell decided he wanted to leave and go abroad only to get as far as Portsmouth.

Whilst we have been linked with all manner of centre halves, I have yet to see us linked with many midfielders with more defensive qualities though rumour has it that we have approached Boca Juniors about a lad of theirs (Battaglia I think his name is). But, as in the case with Arshavin, there would be question marks over how quickly he would settle over here (if at all) and whether he would adapt to the speed and extra intensity of the football over here.

Having shown ourselves to be lacking in collective mental strength over the first half of the season, regardless of injuries to certain personnel, I think at least two or three players have to come in between now and the end of the month particularly in midfield. Because if we are left to rely on the likes of Diaby, Denilson, Eboue and Song to carry us through the rest of this season then, quite frankly, we can kiss a top four finish goodbye right now.

Now I guess it's as good a time as any to look forward to our trip to the KC Stadium where we will come up against Hull.

When you look the current form of The Tigers it's tempting to make flippant remarks. After all, the stereotyped impression of Arsenal is that we are archetypal southern softies who not best suited to cold, wet and windy afternoons up north amongst other things.

Given their recent record, however, of four straight defeats in the league and one win in their last twelve league games, you could also argue that our northern cousins, the pride of East Yorkshire no less, have failed to adapt to the arrival of shorter days and colder, longer nights too well either.

That said, the Tigers did turn Newcastle over in their own back (again) last night in an FA Cup replay and they did that despite Hull boss Phil Brown getting his marching orders after a pitch side squabble with Joe Kinnear.

Brown has had a tendency to let his emotions get the better of him lately. The on-pitch dressing down he dished out to his players at Eastlands recently was almost as bizarre as the on-pitch pep-talk that Gallas gave in front of the cameras before our game against Chelsea last season.

I thought Brown's antics that day were every bit as unnecessary as those of Gallas. Some things should stay behind closed doors and he could have issued an apology to the fans on TV after the game instead of putting on a rather showy, undignified haranguing session for all to see.

From the outside looking in, despite last night's results, I think there has been a mixture of reasons why Hull have struggled of late. Firstly, in the process of yielding 20 points from their first nine games, they did carry a fair bit of luck with them in spite of the fact that their performances were very good at the time. Of late, they haven't quite as bold in their approach to matches and where fortune once favoured their enterprise, it has started to desert them.

The thing that has perhaps helped to hinder Hull the most in recent weeks (apart from adverse results) is the realisation they are actually in the Premier League. At the start of the season, every day would have almost felt like a holiday and with the so-called experts initially writing them off at every turn, Hull went into every game with nothing to lose by having a right go everywhere they went.

The trouble is there comes a stage in season where every team starts to jockey for a position and if you happen to be newly promoted team, there comes a time, no matter how well you've done, when the enormity of being in the Premier League hits home and you start to think more acutely about how much you could be lose as a club should you go down again.

In a way it's a bit like growing up. When you are a kid, you invariably don't have a care in the world, everything is an adventure which can be taken on with little or no fear. But of course as you get older you acquire an increasing sense of responsibility for all sorts of things, some of which force to think about a bigger picture and the consequences that you could face if you fail to do the right thing.

That's exactly where Hull are at as a Premier League club right now. Having slipped a little down the league in recent weeks, they are in need of some consolidation. They have given themselves a good platform on which to build and only a major disaster between now and the end of the season will see them end up in a relegation struggle.

Looking more closely at tomorrow's game, I think that Arsenal really don't have the right to go into this game with any prejudgements or assumptions about Hull. Their current record in the Premier League shouldn't count for anything because the truth is that we are the ones that go into this game with it all to prove.

In the absence of Fabregas, Walcott and Rosicky, I look at the make-up of our midfield and I keep thinking to myself who is going to influence things for us in that area for us, who is going to make the opposition think and who's going to ask questions of our opponent's week in, week out.

It's been a season where I have been waiting for the current Arsenal squad to show me that they are the real deal and that they can really compete with anyone and everyone. And I'm still waiting.

We are going to face a team whose fans will see this as a game which captures the essence of what being in the Premier League is all about. Long standing season ticket holders at Hull will remember only too well that they were near the bottom of the entire football league 10 years ago and you can bet tomorrow's game can't come around quick enough for them as well as anybody else with an allegiance to Hull.

For me this is far and away the most important game Arsenal have played for a while. If this season is going to have any kind of meaning games like this need to be won. Nothing else will do, really.