FA Cup Final Preview: Arsenal 'Cup villains' to stand up to underdogs Hull City
Welcome to the 2014 Soccerlens FA Cup Final Preview, with team news, stats and predictions below…
Be sure to cast your final vote at the bottom of the page! Who do you think will come out on top?
Arsenal vs Hull City Preview:
Just after Obafemi Martins gleefully tucked in Birmingham City’s winner at Wembley, obliterating Arsenal hopes of a first piece of silverware in over five years, a horrified Laurent Koscielny, who played a large part in the comedy of errors that led to the goal, received a smack on the back of the head from a City player who was wheeling away in celebration.
This slap was seen across the world, and while it was initially seen as a cruel bit of afters on the Frenchman, it was exactly what every Arsenal fan wanted to give the defender for allowing David to beat Goliath back in 2011, and ensure that the League Cup was not to be that victory to spur the Gunners back into life, and into contention for further, more lucrative prizes.
That slap has, as a confirming reaction to his error, been just what Koscielny needed, as he has clearly grown as a player since that dreadful mistake, and when he takes his place in the Arsenal backline on May 17th against Hull City in the FA Cup Final at Wembley, there will surely be no more mistakes from a defender now regarded as one of the very best in the business.
The Arsenal defence has rather improved since the leaky days of yore, and no, I’m not forgetting the hammerings dealt out by Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City this season.
We live in an age where everyone can roundly beat each other (it wasn’t too long ago that Arsenal beat Chelsea 5-3 at Stamford Bridge), and despite the dreadful losses to their top four rivals, the Gunners finish the season only behind the Blues for clean sheets kept, and with a defensive record only four worse that City!
A large part of that can be put down to Koscielny’s brilliance at the back, and it was to the confusion of fans across the country that he was omitted from the PFA Team of the Year, with the 28-year-old really on top form this season.
Another reason for Arsenal’s defensive solidarity has been keeper Wojciech Szczesny, who collected the joint ‘Premier League Golden Gloves’ after his keeping sixteen clean sheets this season.
Szczesny, who was also at fault back in 2011 in the now infamous League Cup final, has gone from strength to strength since that evening, and is now firmly the Gunners number one, after so many years of post-Lehmann insecurity between the Arsenal sticks.
Question marks remain however over who will start in goal for the Gunners against Hull, with backup keeper Lukas Fabianski, the hero of the semi-final against Wigan, having played every minute of the club’s run to the final.
But the Pole, who is out of contract this summer, replaced Szczesny for the last Premier League game of the season against Norwich, fueling speculation that Wenger will plump for his Premier League number one in the club’s most important game of the season.
The general consensus is that Szczesny will be given the gloves for the FA Cup final, and the chance to banish his demons alongside Laurent Koscielny, and considering their recent exploits together, they’ve an excellent chance to do just that.
Arsenal have only conceded one in their last five matches of the season and, despite the rebuild process at the back, have kept clean sheets in each of their last three FA Cup finals, meaning Hull City’s attack will have it’s work cut out.
But that attack will be bereft of the two main Hull strikers, with both Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic cup-tied for the final.
To round off our key stats, the Gunners have lifted the trophy on five of their last six appearances in the final.
This all equates to it being truly tough to envisage anything but an Arsenal win at Wembley, with Hull City knowing that it will take something akin to a miracle to wrest this singularly significant piece of silverware from the Gunners, with Arsene Wenger’s side beyond desperate to end their near decade-long trophy drought.
Hull have lost their last six meetings with Arsenal, with the last coming at the end of April, with the Gunners waltzing past the Tigers 3-0 at the KC Stadium; not the best warm-up for Steve Bruce’s side.
But Hull will eagerly tell you that they have a 100% record at the new Wembley, having won their past two games (the 2008 play-off final and the FA Cup semi against Sheffield United) at the famous venue.
Steve Bruce’s side’s main weapon will surely be pressure, specifically that Arsenal are overwhelming favourites for the trophy, something that Curtis Davies, the Hull defender who was at Birmingham during the 2011 shock, knows will be key for his side if they are to come out trumps against their illustrious opponents.
The 29-year-old was ineligible for the Birmingham’s League Cup win over the Gunners, but will be slap bang in the heart of the Hull backline later this month, and is hoping his side’s underdog status pays dividends once again:
“It will be another massive game and occasion,” Curtis told the Mirror,
“That Birmingham game was strange because I was a spectator. But it was a good experience and I was especially excited as if we won we would be in Europe next season.
“It is a coincidence to come up against Arsenal again and we know the shock Birmingham put on that day. The pressure is all on Arsenal again.”
But Arsene Wenger will ensure his side does not take the final for granted, despite their excellent record over Hull.
While his side can boast the attacking talents of Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla, the wily Frenchman will not be underestimating the damage Hull could do to both his Arsenal side, and potentially his status as manager at the club.
Wenger told the Express: “I don’t believe we need any warning. A final is a final. Hull is a Premier League team. They can pass the ball, they can create chances and it is just down to us performing well on the day.”
Arsenal Team News:
Which Pole will be in goal? That’s the question on everyone’s lips as we approach the weekend. Szczesny looks to be the favourite, considering his Premier League final day omission, but Fabianski has played every game of the FA Cup run.
But with Fabianski sure to leave the club in the summer, I expect Szczesny to be given the ultimate responsibility, with his compatriot set to be disappointed.
Bacary Sagna will surely start on the right, despite his ongoing contract dispute, ensuring that Arsenal start with their strongest possible back four.
Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey should start in the centre of midfield, with an attacking triumvirate of Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski just ahead of them. Mr Olivier Giroud will lead the line for the umpteenth time this season, and will be expected to cause havoc in the Hull backline.
Injury concerns remain over Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Thomas Vermaelen, who will both be assessed ahead of the game.
Hull City Team News
Alan McGregor should remain between the sticks, having successfully made his comeback from injury during the defeat to Everton last week.
Paul McShane, James Chester, Robbie Brady and Sone Aluko are all expected to pass fitness tests but are unlikely to make the Tigers’ starting line-up, with Steve Bruce vowing not to take risks in what is one of the biggest matches in the club’s history.
As mentioned previously, both Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic are both cup-tied.
Soccerlens prediction - Arsenal 4-0 Hull City
Arsenal will be gunning for blood right from the off, and I just can’t see a repeat of the semi-final, where Wigan ran them very close through a combination of graft and determination.
We may be in for a rout, with Hull unable to stem the flow of pumped-up Arsenal attackers. Wenger will surely get his prize, and some much earned respite after eight years of struggle and strife.
What do you think? Who will come out on top? Will Arsenal collect their first piece of silverware for almost a decade, or will Hull overcome all odds and collect their first ever FA Cup? Get voting, and let me know your thoughts in the comments below…