Alexis Sánchez hands Arsenal and Arsène Wenger relief against Hull

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Alexis Sánchez hands Arsenal and Arsène Wenger relief against Hull” was written by David Hytner at the Emirates Stadium, for The Observer on Saturday 11th February 2017 14.39 UTC

It was the break that Arsène Wenger and Arsenal needed. Alexis Sánchez’s opening goal was the result of a clear handball, which went unnoticed by the referee, Mark Clattenburg, and his assistants, and it helped to earn the win for his team and end the two-game losing streak that had led to the latest outbreak of angst in these parts.

Yet this was a long way from being a command performance from Arsenal and there was the sense that they were hanging on in the second half against a Hull City team that have been rejuvenated under Marco Silva – at least, until Sánchez scored his second from the penalty spot in stoppage time.

It was the result of another handball and, this time, it was spotted. Sánchez had surged forward and taken the ball around Eldin Jakupovic, who had unwisely bolted from his line, before crossing for the substitute Lucas Pérez. His header was blocked on the line by Sam Clucas with his upper arm and, to compound the Hull midfielder’s pain, he was sent off.

Sánchez drilled home the penalty and Wenger, who was up in the stands as he continued to serve his touchline ban, could exhale. It was not pretty and Hull had the chances to have taken something from the game – mainly through Oumar Niasse – but, in the end, the result was all-important to Arsenal.

It had been fast and furious at the outset, which does not tend to happen in the early kick-off but it reflected what was at stake for both clubs and the undercurrents of nervous tension. Silva started with five across midfield and he wanted to use the pace of his wingers, Lazar Markovic and Kamil Grosicki, and Niasse to get in behind Arsenal.

It was a sound strategy, particularly as the Arsenal full-backs were pressed so high, and the visitors’ hopes had surged when Niasse rose to meet a cross from Grosicki in the 14th minute. There was power behind the striker’s header and Petr Cech had to make a smart tip over the crossbar. Moments earlier, Markovic had robbed Alex Iwobi, surged forward, beaten Laurent Koscielny and crossed low. The ball was too far in front of Niasse. Silva’s team did not look like one in relegation trouble.

The breakthrough goal should not have stood but Hull’s protests went unheeded. Sometimes, there is something to be read into the immediate reaction of players in the vicinity of an incident and those of Hull gestured that the ball had gone in off Sánchez’s arm. The TV replays supported them.

Kieran Gibbs’s shot was hacked off the line by Andrew Robertson, after Mesut Özil’s cross had ricocheted off Tom Huddlestone and Sánchez got to the loose ball before Jakupovic. His shot from point-blank range was blocked by the goalkeeper but it looped up, hit his arm, which was raised, and went in. It was a horrible moment not just for Hull but for the officials.

Özil was strangely hesitant and out of sync but Arsenal had created the chances to have gone ahead earlier. Héctor Bellerín, who was passed fit after his concussion against Chelsea last Saturday, worked a one-two with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain only to slice when well-placed; Sánchez jinked inside but dragged wide of the post – a bad miss and he knew it – and Özil skied a left-footed volley from Sánchez’s cross. Theo Walcott also had a shot blocked, on 32 minutes.

Hull stuck to their game plan and they refused to be rattled by the unlucky concession. Silva has effected a remarkable uplift since taking over in January and his team showed balance and a sense of purpose. Markovic was dangerous; so, too, was Robertson on the overlap and Arsenal could not relax at the back. There were moments when they were stretched.

Hull threatened an equaliser early in the second half when Markovic drew in Koscielny before blasting away from him and crossing for Niasse. The Senegalese took a touch on his chest and struck powerfully for goal only for Cech to beat away the effort.

Silva’s team could also point to the moment when Gibbs, who was the last Arsenal defender, came across to flatten Markovic, as he jumped for a high ball. Hull felt that Markovic had an opportunity to get in on goal but he did not have the ball under control. Gibbs was booked.

Silva made attacking changes in the second half, introducing Evandro and, later, Adama Diomandé and, with the full-backs pushing forward and Alfred N’Diaye playing as a box-to-box midfielder, Hull put themselves firmly on the front foot. Sánchez was booked for a dive but, after Diomandé had headed high from a corner, the Chilean would have the last word.

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