03 December 2013

Match Preview: Arsenal v. Hull City, The Emirates, December 4 (2:45 PM EST)

With roughly one third (13/38ths for the perfectionists out there) of the 2013-14 Premier League season having been played, Arsenal begin December 4 points clear of Chelsea at the top of the table. The Gunners will be happy to have come through a difficult - on paper - November, in which they only suffered defeat away at Old Trafford. The home wins over Liverpool and Southampton were especially convincing, and the positive atmosphere around the Club was boosted with an away win in the Champions League against last season's runner-up Borussia Dortmund.
Giroud celebrates his goal
Arsenal celebrate yet another victory
(Photo courtesy Ronnie Macdonald)

Focus will now shift to another difficult looking December; Arsenal will play title contenders Manchester City and Chelsea, London rivals West Ham, a decent Everton side and face a tough away trip to Napoli, looking to ensure qualification to the CL knock-out stages. First though, the Gunners welcome Hull to the Emirates. Last time out, Arsenal beat Cardiff away, with 2 goals from ex-Bluebirds midfielder Aaron Ramsey. Rambo did the decent thing (*ahem* - Judas van Persie) and refused to celebrate, and even earned praise from his former club's fans who sang his name after another great game for Wales' best player.

Arsenal will be without Bacary Sagna for the visit of Hull; the Frenchman has a slight hamstring strain and will be replaced by Carl Jenkinson. Arsène Wenger has said that German forward Lukas Podolski will return to training after the Hull match, but is likely to be at least a week from returning to action as he lacks match fitness. Wenger has also claimed the he will rotate the squad over the busy festive period; with seven matches in December, le Prof will make minor adjustments game by game, rotating players "considering the level of fatigue". He also mentioned in his press conference that he is finding it hard to leave Thomas Vermaelen out - perhaps a hint that he will play on Wednesday? With a series of 'bigger' fixtures coming up, Wenger might choose the Hull fixture to rest some of the players with more minutes under their belts.

Hull will come to the Emirates full of optimism having beaten Liverpool 3-1 at the KC Stadium on Sunday. The result means the Tigers are 10th coming in to this fixture; however, enthusiasm in the fan base has been tempered by a row with the owner, Assem Allam, over the naming of the club. Allam wants to rebrand the club as Hull Tigers, claiming that the word 'City' is "lousy" and "common". Allam at first tried to placate fans by offering a refund on season tickets to any fans who wished to return their tickets in protest at the club's proposed name change. After further protests from the fans, he then took the typical megalomaniacal owner's approach by telling fans "they can die as soon as they want."

On the pitch, Steve Bruce will have a few selection headaches. Curtis Davies picked up his 5th booking of the season against Liverpool, receiving an automatic one-match ban, while key players Sone Aluko and Paul McShane remain injured. Matty Fryatt has been recalled from a loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday and may well come straight in to the match squad. Bruce had switched to a 3-5-2 against Liverpool last week, but with defensive linchpin Davies suspended, Bruce will likely revert to a regular back-4 to combat Arsenal's free-flowing midfield.

Five years ago, Hull became the first side to come from behind to beat Arsenal at the Emirates, inspired by a 25-yard goal from Geovanni, but since then have had little luck against the Gunners. Arsenal will be looking to win their 6 consecutive league home game and to boosting their goal difference, all while trying to keep a 5th consecutive clean sheet in all competitions. Match prediction: Arsenal 3 Hull 0.

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