Arsenal’s injury problems are easing, but they are still probably without three potential starters. Theo Walcott will be out until July with a knee injury, while Thomas Vermaelen and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are major doubts with knee and groin problems, respectively. Jack Wilshere, though, could be fit enough for a place on the bench.
The central defender James Chester is a slight doubt for Hull City with a hamstring injury, but Robbie Brady is expected to be named in the squad, three months after surgery on a groin problem. The Irish winger has played just 101 minutes of football this year so will not start, but he could take his place on the bench. David Meyler is available after no further action was taken following an incident in which he trod on Adnan Januzaj; the referee Craig Pawson saying he had seen the incident clearly and felt it was not deliberate. The two forwards Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long are both cup-tied.
EARLIER IN THE SEASON
Arsenal were comfortable 2-0 winners at the Emirates in December, when Hull struggled to get to grips with Mesut Özil. The away side fielded a back three, but with Nicklas Bendtner the only striker, they left them with a marker, a spare man and a redundant player at the back. Perhaps as a defensive strategy the two spare men may have worked, had they not fallen behind after two minutes. As it was, it meant Tom Huddlestone, sitting deep in midfield, was asked both to mark Özil and create play, something that proved beyond him. Steve Bruce switched to a 4-4-2 for the game at the KC Stadium in April. Although his side lost 3-0 in a slightly flat game with both sides having all but achieved their league objectives for the season, they performed rather better than earlier in the season, although Lukas Podolski’s pace on the Arsenal left troubled them.
Although Hull performed better against Arsenal with a back four than a back three, the performance of Wigan Athletic in the semi-final means it’s far from certain that he will stick with the back four. The problem with a three is that if Hull concede early, as they did at the Emirates, the benefits of the extra spare man at the back are rather lost. Given the problem at the Emirates was largely a failure to get close to Özil, his dip in form removes another reason not to play with a back three. The other question for Bruce to answer is up front. If he goes with a back three, it seems likely he’d play a front two – drawn from Matty Fryatt, Sone Aluko and Yannick Sagbo. With a back four, he could use Jake Livermore as a deep-lying midfielder picking up Özil, with Huddlestone and Meyler flanking him, and then use two wingers – Ahmed El-Mohamady on the right and Fryatt or George Boyd on the left – who could adjust their position depending how the game goes. Because of its flexibility and because Bruce’s main two strikers are cup-tied, the 4-1-4-1 feels more likely.
It’s nine years since Arsenal last won a trophy and it’s hard to believe that won’t play on their minds. Even Arsène Wenger seemed slightly daunted by the prospect, insisting there was no “mental block” on winning trophies at Arsenal, while at the same time admitting that “nerves” might affect his players. They certainly affected them in the semi-final against Wigan Athletic, although it should perhaps be acknowledged that Arsenal were in the midst of an awful run at the time. They’d gone four games without a win – including the 6-0 defeat at Chelsea - but since the semi, they’ve won five on the spin.
What if Aaron Ramsey hadn’t been injured? In Premier League games in which Ramsey played 45 minutes or more this season, Arsenal won 15, drew three and lost three. Extrapolate that over the season and they’d have 87 points, which would have won them the league title. It’s surely not coincidence that their recent upturn in form has come since his return. It’s not just what Ramsey himself brings, it’s the fact that his energy and ability to get forward from the back of midfield brings the best out of others, creating an extra angle in attacks while adding defensive cover. Checking his runs from deep will be key for Hull, with Meyler presumably the man to try to monitor those surges.
Given Arsenal’s recent form and the return of Ramsey, it’s hard to see anything other than a relatively comfortable Arsenal win.
For the Gunners to win to nil is 2.16, but it may be worth stretching a little further and backing Arsenal to win with Hull given a goal start at 3.80