There is a mood emanating from the KC Stadium in the wake of reaching the FA Cup final that is best summed up by defender Liam Rosenior. “You can just see people floating around the city at the moment,” he said. Arsenal did their best to plant stones in Hull City pockets with a 3-0 win on Easter Sunday, but it will take more than that to bring a club and its supporters back down to earth.
It was only the 18th time City and Arsenal have met, but somehow the fixture had tinges of the inconsequential in East Yorkshire. Bizarre considering one side was chasing the Champions League while the other aims to plant roots in the top-flight; yet it is meeting No. 19 that will really count.
The two clubs have a more important date still to come in the FA Cup final next month and for all City were well beaten by their free-flowing visitors from North London, a timely dress rehearsal still provided cause for encouragement ahead of the curtain going up at Wembley. Arsenal could have won even more handsomely during a second half Steve Bruce described as a “procession,” but Arsene Wenger’s men left the KC Stadium knowing they had been in a fight. Just ask Mikel Arteta, minus a front tooth following a heavy collision with Shane Long.
City were equals for long periods of the first half and that reality allows Bruce to retain optimism ahead of the final. Allow Arsenal time to breathe, as they did once 3-0 behind in the second half, and the Tigers will be in trouble. Harass them, however, and an upset cannot be discounted. It still requires tweaking but the blueprint for success was drafted on Sunday. The first half was a breathless affair; City pressed and squeezed Arsenal and posed questions down the flanks and with pace in behind. All the good work went without reward as Shane Long, Nikica Jelavic and James Chester missed good chances, not to mention Jake Livermore thumping the upright, but Arsenal were seldom comfortable.
That’s the way it has to be at Wembley for 90 minutes. A game on City’s terms. Chasing the game will only present problems -- Arsenal have wonderfully gifted technicians capable of exploiting space and time in a heartbeat and that was demonstrated through their fluid midfield. Tracking the runs of Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla from deep is a thankless task.
Wenger was quick to conclude the win meant nothing with Wembley on the horizon. Bruce, though, refused to even contemplate its consequences. Talk of Wembley is not welcome in the City dressing room ahead of trips to Fulham and Aston Villa over the next fortnight. All it will perhaps need is for one of the two games to yield a point and the Tigers will be over the line. It might not even need that given City’s goal difference, but Bruce is unwilling to take anything for granted.
That makes Saturday’s trip to Fulham a spicy one. Against a side the Tigers clattered 6-0 in the final game of 2013, avoiding defeat will be the only order of the day. That would effectively mean one relegation rival will finish beneath them and with either Sunderland or Cardiff, the two others in the bottom three, sure to drop points when they meet the following day, top-flight survival will become a given for the Tigers. Defeat at Craven Cottage, though, is something most would rather not contemplate. Then it may well start getting twitchy.
Anxiety is only natural with so much at stake but City do not look a worried side. Quite the opposite, in fact. Belief in their own ability was demonstrated against Arsenal and anything close to that first half performance will cause Fulham problems in a game they know they must win.