Hull City 1 Arsenal 3: Clarets’ clash sure to colour Tigers’ future

HULL CITY’S one big advantage in a relegation scrap that becomes more absorbing with each passing week is a goal difference superior to most of their rivals.

Hull City players react with dismay after Arsenal had scored their second goal on their way to a 3-1 Premier League victory at KC Stadium last night (Picture: Simon Hulme).

At half-time last night, however, a rampant Arsenal were threatening to inflict serious damage on the Tigers’ goals-against column.

So, on that basis, a two-goal deficit come the final whistle must be regarded as something of a triumph even if it could not prevent Steve Bruce’s men slipping a place in the table to 17th.

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What a spirited second-half showing did not do, though, was lessen the belief that Saturday’s showdown against Burnley is the club’s most important fixture since returning to the Premier League in 2013.

Hull, outclassed in ruthless fashion by the Gunners in the first half, remain a point clear of Sunderland in the final relegation spot.

But with the season set to end with a trip to Tottenham Hotspur and a home clash with Manchester United, Yorkshire’s sole top-flight representative simply have to beat the Clarets this weekend.

To do so, they will have to improve on a truly abject opening 45 minutes in midfield that saw Jake Livermore and Tom Huddlestone pack in so many mistakes that it made a mockery of their recent impressive performances in wins over Crystal Palace and Liverpool.

Mind, as much as the hosts did not help their own cause, credit must also go to Arsene Wenger’s men.

They were in a different league as Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil passed the Tigers into submission.

With Alexis Sanchez darting here, there and everywhere to find space, the Gunners illustrated why 2015 has seen them drop points in just three games.

Ahead of kick-off, Arsenal fans had sung of their delight at finishing above rivals Tottenham for the umpteenth season.

Much to the delight of those same supporters, a trio of ex-Spurs players then played a big part in the opening goal just before the half-hour.

First, Huddlestone dallied on the ball sufficiently long enough to be dispossessed 15 or so yards into the Hull half.

Livermore, another White Hart Lane old boy, was then left with little alternative but to bring down Sanchez with a cynical trip.

Sanchez’s response was to fire a 20-yard free-kick that took a wicked deflection off another ex-Spurs man, Michael Dawson, to leave Steve Harper with no chance in the home goal.

Five minutes later, Hull were 2-0 down and, again, the veteran goalkeeper was left wrong-footed by a deflection.

This time, Robbie Brady was the unfortunate Tiger as, in trying to block Aaron Ramsey’s shot, the wing-back could only divert the ball into the corner of the net.

It was particularly cruel on Brady, who midway through the half, with the game goalless, had whipped in a quite wonderful cross that was simply begging Sone Aluko to convert.

However, despite being unmarked and just six yards out, the Hull striker could only head lamely back in the direction of the cross and Per Mertesacker was able to clear.

Had that chance been taken, the night could have been very different.

But, once Arsenal had scored twice in five minutes not long after Aluko’s miss, it was merely a case of how many times the Gunners would breach the home defence.

Harper did his best to stem the tide of marauding red shirts with fine saves to deny Ozil and Sanchez in quick succession.

The 40-year-old, though, could do nothing to prevent Sanchez adding a third in first-half stoppage time after a sublime pass from Ramsey had opened up the home defence.

At that stage, a rout looked on the cards.

Credit, therefore, must go to Hull for digging in and reducing the arrears on 56 minutes when Stephen Quinn headed in his first Premier League goal since netting for Sheffield United in 2007.

Paul McShane then headed narrowly wide from another fine Ahmed Elmohamady cross before David Meyler wasted a fine opening with a woeful cross as Dame N’Doye screamed for the ball.

It meant Hull’s already century-long wait since their last home win over Arsenal would go on.

Whether the club’s Premier League status also continues beyond May 24 is likely to be decided by Saturday’s crunch clash with Burnley.

Hull City: Harper; Chester, Dawson, McShane; Elmohamady, Livermore (Meyler 46), Huddlestone, Quinn (Jelavic 82), Brady; Aluko (Robertson 65), N’Doye. Substitutes (not used): McGregor, Rosenior, Bruce, Hernandez.

Arsenal: Ospina; Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Ramsey (Wilshere 68), Ozil, Alexis, Giroud (Walcott 85). Substitutes (not used): Szczesny, Gibbs, Gabriel, Rosicky, Flamini.

Referee: L Mason (Lancashire).