Cup holders Arsenal stroll to easy victory over Hull
Arsenal 2-0 Hull
There was a time in the FA Cup's recent history when a meeting between the previous May's two finalists in the third round would have been a high-stakes, needle tie par excellence, regarded as a chance for the losers at Wembley to exact revenge. These days it is just another excuse to treat the competition like a minor inconvenience.
There were 10 changes to the Hull City team from the side that beat Everton last week and, given that Steve Bruce only had three players in his line-up who started the final in May, perhaps we should not be so surprised that their approach was so low-key.
The best chance for the away side came on 15 minutes when Tom Ince cut in from the right and hit a left-foot shot wide, and, well, that was about it.
Having gone behind to a soft goal for Per Mertesacker, Bruce's side raised their game in the early stages of the second half but there were precious few chances and Alexis Sanchez brought matters to a close with a second goal on 83 minutes.
This was FA Cup football with the volume turned down, the crowd patchy and a worrying level of indifference from the away team. Hull, as we were reminded on more than one occasion before May's final, have never won a major trophy in the 111 years of their existence and it felt as if it will be a lot longer before they get close again.
Bruce said afterwards that he had no alternative but to make some changes. "We had a huge result against Everton and Sunderland and this was a big ask. We had injuries and had to make 10 changes.
"We were not disrespecting the Cup because we had one of the best days of our lives last year. [Gaston] Ramirez, [Jake] Livermore and [David] Meyler had run [combined] 146km over the last few days. It was always going to be difficult to come to the Emirates after a gruelling Christmas period."
As for Arsenal, there were the usual imperfections but there can be no doubt the holders deserve their place in this evening's fourth-round draw.
With Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Danny Welbeck all close to a return, and Olivier Giroud's suspension now expired, they have more reasons to be hopeful than they did after last weekend's defeat by Southampton.
On his first start in a year, 12 months to the day since he ruptured his cruciate ligament against Tottenham Hotspur, Theo Walcott looked sharp, if a little wasteful in front of goal. He had a shot saved on 26 minutes but will have regretted a second-half miss the most.
There were only two Arsenal players in the starting line-up who began the final in May - Santi Cazorla and Mertesacker - and it was the latter who scored the first goal.
His header was simply executed, catching out Curtis Davies, another survivor from May's final, from a Sanchez corner.
It was a bad goal for Hull to concede, and exactly the kind of passive defending from the home side that Mertesacker, on his 150th appearance for the club, has been guilty of himself this season.
Arsenal had started well and Steve Harper did well to block a shot from Joel Campbell, one of five changes to the team beaten by Southampton.
Arsenal should have had another one when Tomas Rosicky bewitched the Hull defence and slipped a ball through them to Sanchez, who rounded Harper but had his shot kicked off the line by Paul McShane.
The Hull defender was back in the side for the first time since his public complaints about Steve Bruce for being frozen out this season.
Ince had a second chance, a dipping shot with his right foot three minutes to play.
By then, Hull had truly run out of steam, what little belief they had exhausted when Sanchez scored the second.
He turned on the edge of the box and expertly picked out the corner of Harper's goal, the match's one true moment of quality.
"I hope he [Sanchez] can keep the energy up," Wenger said. "When you look at the players who have the confidence it is important to keep them going."
If Hull were to be aggrieved at anything it was that referee Bobby Madley did not take a harder line with Francis Coquelin. He committed bad fouls on Stephen Quinn and Harry Maguire, but was only booked for the second. Yet, Hull can have few regrets Their run to Wembley last year is still fresh in the memory but it felt a lot more distant after this defeat.