LONDON – When his number finally went up, the Emirates Stadium rose as one. There were 84 minutes on the clock when Alexis SÃ¡nchez was permitted the rare luxury of a short breather, but by then the Arsenal striker had done his damage. As he walked past ArsÃ¨ne Wenger to take his place on the bench, the Arsenal manager offered him a casual hand-shake. He ought to have bear-hugged him.
SÃ¡nchez set up the first goal and he scored the second one late on, a sharp spin on the edge of the area and trademark curled finish for his 16th goal of the season, as Arsenal began the defence of their FA Cup by shrugging aside the team they had beaten in the final last May. But it has come to the point where SÃ¡nchezâ€™s excellence has come to feel like the norm. Time and again he has made the difference since his arrival from Barcelona last summer. Where would Arsenal be without him?
Hull had wanted revenge for their cup final defeat but they never threatened an upset. The contrast to that dramatic day at Wembley was stark. Fatigue from the festive programme had bitten hard and Steve Bruce made ten changes to the team that had beaten Everton on New Yearâ€™s Day.
The Hull manager made the point that his midfielders David Meyler, Jake Livermore and Gaston RamÃrez had each covered more than 45 kilometres in the three Premier League fixtures since Boxing Day and suggested that to ask them to do any more running would have been unreasonable. However, the second-string lacked spark and cutting edge.
SÃ¡nchez did not, and his stamina is remarkable. â€œThere was no sign of him being tired,â€ Bruce said. â€œHis appetite and work-rate is what every player should look at. He looked a world-class player.â€
Wenger said he had been tempted to rest SÃ¡nchez and, goodness knows, the Chilean ought to need one. He has now started 27 of the clubâ€™s 30 matches this season while he has also played in six long-distance friendlies for his country.
But Wenger decided that the pros of a rest for SÃ¡nchez were outweighed by the cons of breaking the momentum he has built and, with his other centre-forwards all unavailable, he persisted with him. â€œSanchez recovers very quickly and he doesnâ€™t look to have fatigue problems, according to our tests,â€ Wenger said.
SÃ¡nchez was a blur of explosive bursts and he was at the heart of almost everything Arsenal created. He released Joel Campbell in the early going â€“ the Costa Rican should have done better than to shoot too close to Steve Harper, who blocked â€“ while SÃ¡nchez floated one effort onto the top of the net and, after skipping around Harper, saw another cleared off the line by Paul McShane. Harper also kept out Nacho Monrealâ€™s deflected header in the 24th minute.
Among all that, Sanchez whipped over the corner that Per Mertesacker headed past Harper, having risen above Curtis Davies. It was the central defenderâ€™s first goal since his equaliser in the FA Cup semi-final victory over Wigan last April. There was also the moment in the 80th minute when SÃ¡nchez blasted to the byline to cross for the substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who could not convert.
It was a big day for Theo Walcott, who started his first game in exactly a year since his cruciate knee ligament rupture in the third round of last seasonâ€™s competition against Tottenham Hotspur. The England winger was understandably rusty, shooting straight at Harper in the first-half from Santi Cazorlaâ€™s chip and blowing a glorious chance in the second period. From another Cazorla pass, he took a fine first touch but, with Harper advancing, a bad second one, nudging well wide of the far post with the outside of his boot. His movement, however, was sharp and Wenger could talk about â€œpositive signsâ€.
Bruce changed both of his strikers in the second-half as he searched for the break, but the cold truth was that his team never looked like scoring. The Arsenal stand-in goalkeeper, David Ospina, was quiet. This was a tie that belonged to SÃ¡nchez. – The Guardian