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McNicholas: Arsenal have a winning formula

Arsenal about an hour ago
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Bayern refund fans after stunt

Bayern Munich about an hour ago
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Dec 18, 2009

ESPN Soccernet Preview: Arsenal v Hull

• Live on ESPN UK at 1730 GMT

The visit of Hull to Emirates Stadium will not dredge up favourable memories for Arsenal after they were the victims of one of the shocks of the season when the Tigers came away from North London with a 2-1 win last year, thanks to goals from Daniel Cousin and Geovanni.

It was a result that threatened to expose Arsenal as top-four charlatans and paint Hull as potential European challengers. Fifteen months on, and Phil Brown's improving Tigers are one point above the relegation zone, while his opposite number, Arsene Wenger, saw his side secure an important victory at Liverpool last weekend to reignite their title challenge.

But a glimmer of hope for Hull fans came on Wednesday night when Arsenal were held by promoted Burnley at Turf Moor to sit eight points behind leaders Chelsea, with a game in hand. Wenger's side were uninspired, sloppy and lacking in fight. Just the combination of elements that saw them fall victim to Geovanni's thunderbolt in September 2008.

The Gunners will also be missing captain Cesc Fabregas after the Spaniard picked up a hamstring injury against Burnley and if he does sit in the stands to watch the game, then he would be well-advised to dress to impress. Following an FA Cup tie in March, Phil Brown accused Fabregas, who again was out injured, of spitting at his assistant Brian Horton and questioned the player's attire, remarking: "What was he doing on the pitch [after the final whistle] wearing clothes like that?" Fabregas was cleared of cleared of any wrong-doing.

Arsenal player in focus: Andrei Arshavin. With both Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas sidelined, the little Russian genius is Arsenal's only remaining world-class player and much will rest on his performance, whether in an unfamiliar striking role or out wide. Will he conjure up a magic moment like his stunning goal against Liverpool or become isolated and frustrated?

Hull player in focus: Geovanni . It was the Brazilian's brilliant strike that famously defeated Arsenal last season and the home defence will be wary of the figure floating across the Emirates turf again on Saturday. With three goals in 12 starts this season, he remains a key player for Phil Brown's side.

Key battle: Alex Song v George Boateng . In the absence of Fabregas, Hull will fancy their chances of winning control of the midfield battle and key to that will be George Boateng who has been in impressive form of late. Arsenal will rely on Song to be their enforcer and, if he is off the pace, then the likes of Samir Nasri, Denilson and Abou Diaby could struggle.

Tactics: Wenger is not one to compromise on football principles and his team will play in much the same manner as they always do; looking to dominate possession and carve teams open with their superior passing. One tactical tweak could be the return of Eduardo in attack, shifting Arshavin out to the wing, as Theo Walcott has performed disappointingly in recent games. Hull cannot afford to take on Arsenal at their own game and will put men behind the ball, hoping to exploit any breaks. As ever, Arsenal are lacking in physical presence and Hull will look to take advantage of this at set-pieces.

Quotes: Arsene Wenger takes issue with the packed fixture list: "Some teams do not play at all but we play Sunday and Wednesday away then we must play Saturday against Hull, who have not played the whole week. It is the same for Burnley. You should organise fixtures on a day when you know teams are capable to play fixtures."

Hull midfielder Dean Marney on the chances of lightning striking twice: "We proved last season when we went to Arsenal and won that we are capable of getting results. There's a little bit of confidence back in the squad and we're all looking forward to games now."

In the news: Arsene Wenger's decision to appoint himself football's moral crusader has continued apace in recent weeks. As well as taking international teams to task following Robin van Persie's injury while on duty for Holland, Wenger also had a dig at Mick McCarthy's selection of a second-string side at Old Trafford on Tuesday. "We compete with Manchester United over 37 games instead of 38. I believe it is a problem for the international credibility of the Premier League," said Wenger.

Arsenal team news: Wednesday's draw at Burnley cost Arsenal the services of Fabregas due to a hamstring problem and he will not play on Saturday, leaving Arsenal without their two leading players as Robin van Persie is a long-term absentee. With Gael Clichy, Kieran Gibbs and Armand Traore out, Mikael Silvestre will continue as fourth-choice left back. Tomas Rosicky (hamstring), Nicklas Bendtner (groin) and Johan Djourou (knee) remain sidelined.

Hull team news: Midfield talisman Jimmy Bullard is still sidelined with a knee injury, but long-term injury victim Ian Ashbee aside, that is the only serious selection problem for Brown who has an otherwise healthy squad.

Probable Arsenal team (4-3-3): Almunia, Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Silvestre, Song, Denilson, Nasri, Eboue, Eduardo, Arshavin.

Probable Hull team (4-5-1): Myhill, McShane, Gardner, Zayatte, Dawson, Geovanni, Boateng, Marney, Garcia, Hunt, Fagan.

Soccernet prediction: Arsenal have won 12 of their 13 home games in all competitions and expect a reaction after a disappointing draw in midweek. With Van Persie absent though, they may only sneak a narrow win.

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