STEVE BRUCE insists the Hull City team that will take on Arsenal today will be much stronger than the one that gave Arsene Wenger’s men such a massive scare in last season’s FA Cup final.
The two teams will renew rivalries at the Emirates Stadium for the first time since that thrilling meeting at Wembley in May.
Hull, huge underdogs that day, raced into a 2-0 lead inside 11 minutes to stun Arsenal, who had to dig deep before prevailing in extra-time.
Wenger’s men are again regarded as huge favourites for this afternoon’s contest, but Bruce is adamant that the summer recruitment that brought in the likes of Abel Hernandez, Mohamed Diame and Michael Dawson will make the Tigers a much tougher opponent.
The Tigers’ manager said: “I would like to think we have got a stronger side, certainly a stronger squad, that is fair to say.
“The lads that played in that Cup final or were on the bench were magnificent. We just ran out of juice. We put up a hell of a show that day and, hopefully, we can do that again at the Emirates.
“We weren’t quite good enough but we gave it everything we had. As a manager, you can’t ask for anything more.
“As for this game, all you can ask for when you play against the big ’uns is that you play to your maximum yourself. Go and take them on. That is the biggest thing we have to do and we will. I am quietly confident of that.”
Bruce’s belief that Hull are a much stronger proposition this time around compared to last term is one shared by Wenger, who believes the Yorkshire club did some of the best business of last summer’s window.
Ahead of taking on the Tigers for the ninth time as a manager, the Gunners chief said: “Look at the quality of the players they got, you can say it is top quality.
“The Hull game for us is a remembrance of a big sweat because we played against them in the FA Cup final in a very difficult game. They could not use (Nikica) Jelavic in the final last season (due to being Cup-tied) and since then they have bought Diame and Hernandez.
“When you look at their team sheet now, it looks like a team that can beat anyone.”
Jelavic is likely to lead the Hull attack today as he looks to end a traumatic week on a high.
The 29-year-old, capped 36 times by Croatia, quit international football after being overlooked for the Euro 2016 qualifier against Bulgaria.
Coach Niko Kovac admitted to being “surprised and sorry” about the decision, which Bruce believes could work in Hull’s favour.
He said: “Jela hasn’t taken it (the decision) lightly. He made that decision after he got to a stage in his career where he wants to play.
“The reason why he came here was to play and there comes a time when you are not going to play and you don’t want to be trailing half the way around the world.
“He has made a decision where he would rather be here but his state of mind is just what you would expect from Jela.
“He is a single-minded, tough individual. Once he has made his decision, that is it.
“He was his belligerent self in training this week. It will work in our favour. He can have four or five days off (during international breaks), which when you get to a certain age it helps.”
While Jelavic will lead Hull’s attack, Danny Welbeck is likely to be spearheading Arsenal’s front line. Signed for £16m just before the window closed, the England striker has started brightly at the Emirates.
Bruce tried to sign Welbeck when it had become clear he was unsettled at Manchester United but admits Hull stood little chance once the big clubs made their own interest known.
He said: “I rang his brother (and agent, Chris) but there were some rather big clubs in for him.
“I think Spurs were in there, too, Arsenal and one or two from Europe as well. He had a pick but we did have a dabble.
“I took him for a year at Sunderland (on loan) and I had no doubt in my mind after working with him that he could play at any top four side, no question.”
Wenger has a few selection headaches at the back with teenager Hector Bellerini set to start at right-back in place of the suspended Calum Chambers.
Bruce, however, believes Arsenal will be tough opponents. “They might have defensive issues but look at the players they have got up front.
“(Alex) Sanchez, (Alex) Oxlade-Chamberlain, Welbeck. The reason they are a great side is their squad.
“I remember going to play them in the League Cup with Wigan. I got their team-sheet and I thought we were playing their youth team. They kicked our backsides 3-0 and we never got a touch. I thought, ‘Wow, what a great group of young players this is’. You don’t finish in the top four all these years in this country without having a really good squad and a really good manager.”
Hull preview: Page 5.