Much-changed Arsenal held by Hull in FA Cup fifth round
Hull denied FA Cup holders Arsenal easy passage to the sixth round Saturday, with keeper Eldin Jakupovic putting on a clinic to deny the Gunners and earn a replay with a 0-0 draw. In truth, neither side wanted a replay, but these two familiar FA Cup foes got one, adding another wrinkle to both teams’ high-flying seasons.
Hull and Arsenal have met now for three straight years in the FA Cup, with Arsenal always getting the better of the Tigers. But with Arsenal in a title fight and with the Champions League looming, and with Hull atop the second division and looking to vault into the Premier League, this was a game both sides really could have done without.
That was underlined by the fact that both teams made wholesale changes ahead of the game: Hull swapped out ten players; Arsenal, who face Barcelona Tuesday, made nine. As one might expect, this made for a somewhat fragmented match.
Traffic was largely one way, streaming at the Tigers’ goal. Steve Bruce had his team sitting deep, and Arsenal’s attackers found themselves facing a forest of legs and bodies in front of Jakupovic’s set. Still, the Gunners nearly got an early goal when Mohamed Elneney, dynamic in the playmaker’s role, had a shot that was pushed away by Alex Bruce’s hand. Bruce, the son of the manager, was visibly chagrined at the play, but Arsenal’s old nemesis, ref Mike Dean, waved play on as the crowd bayed. Make no mistake: it was a clear penalty; Bruce moved his hand out to stop the ball.
Arsenal kept on coming, with Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck both having good chances. Welbeck's well-stopped by Jakupovic at the keeper’s near post after a fine interchange between Calum Chambers and Elneny at the quarter-hour; Alex Iwobi was set up well five minutes later but pinged his shot just wide of the frame.
Hull had little to offer in response, with Harry Maguire collecting a booking for simulation on one of the Tigers’ rare forays upfield. But, the half petered out, the Emirates becalmed, with the crowd sensing that they were in for a long day. Jakupovic was in sterling form, and as the game wore on Hull – despite doing little to trouble David Ospina – had to feel a smash and grab might be on the cards.
Walcott had a shot saved right off the second half restart after Kieran Gibbs played a fine ball in, but there was another talking point five minutes later when Hull’s David Meyler fouled Chambers in the box right in front of Dean. Again, the ref declined to award the spot-kick, and again, it was deeply controversial.
Arsenal kept the pressure up with Iwobi first letting fly with a shot that again trickled inches wide; then Joel Campbell sent in a vicious free kick that Jakupovic did very well to touch onto his own post. Jakupovic played the hero again in the 62nd, making a fantastic diving save on a curling strike from Welbeck that took a deflection on the way in.
Arsene Wenger decided that he’d like to win the game and avoid a replay, thanks very much, and threw on three regulars, running out Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. It made little impact as Arsenal simply could not find a way through the thicket. Alexis, in particular, looked lost.
Late sub Sone Aluko nearly nicked the match for Hull, storming down the middle to latch on to a long cross. But, his shot was right at Ospina, and was easily saved. Sub Tom Huddlestone nearly gifted Arsenal the tie late as well, heading a corner kick sent in by Alexis right into the turf and nearly into his own net.