On the back of seven points from four games and playing against an Arsenal team who had suffered two consecutive lacklustre defeats, Hull City arrived with a wealth of confidence at the Emirates Stadium. Oumar Niasse replaced the injured Abel Hernandez to slot into the lone striker role, whilst Lazar Markovic picked up the right midfield position instead of Evandro in a tight 4-5-1 formation manufactured by numerous shape drills on the training ground.
Under pressure Arsene Wenger stuck to a familiar 4-2-3-1 set-up, with Alexis Sanchez preferred up front instead of Olivier Giroud despite Hull's poor record at defending aerial balls. Kieran Gibbs replaced Nacho Monreal at full-back as the most experienced manager currently in the Premier League opted to put faith in a similar starting eleven to the side rolled over by Chelsea last weekend.
Sanchez hands Arsenal the lead after a lively opening
With snow falling in North London there was no issue of the visitors freezing as they set about a renewed workrate that has seen Hull players average 7km further per match under Marco Silva. Yet a spell of nervy defending allowed Arsenal to formulate the first short of the match, though Francis Coquelin mishit his effort from the edge of the box harmlessly wide. For the visitors defensive errors were the tone of the opening ten minutes and the hosts saw another opportunity to take the lead disintegrate as Sanchez could not made the desired contact from a Coquelin header as he was put under pressure from Andrea Ranocchia.
The game itself certainly had a spacious feel and Hull could have opened the scoring themselves on the counter-attack. Markovic burst down the right and played a ball across the corridor of uncertainty, though Niasse found himself caught on his heels as a potential tap-in went begging. Moments later Alfred N'Diaye picked out Kamil Grosicki with an excellent diagonal pass.
The Polish international then curled an outside of the boot cross to Niasse who made contact on this occasion, only for his powerful header to be palmed over by Petr Cech. Arsenal then went racing down the other end from the resulting corner, before Hector Bellerin fired wide after a neat interchange with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
With 15 minutes still barely on the clock, Arsenal pushed forward again through the centre of pitch where gaps were opening up in Hull's midfield. The ball fell kindly to Sanchez who cut inside, found space and looked certain to score...though the Chilean dragged his effort just wide. Hull were getting pushed deeper into their own penalty and Sanchez turned provider as he clipped a cross to Mesut Ozil. The German met the ball on the volley but fired over as the Tigers continued to hold out.
Though the visitors did enjoy spells of possession, they were being pressed into mistakes and it surely looked only a matter of time before Arsenal would take the lead. Theo Walcott saw a goalbound effort blocked by Sam Clucas, before neat passing between Alex Iwobi and Ozil created another chance.
The ball came to Gibbs whose effort was blocked on the line by Andrew Robertson, only for the rebound to pop out to Sanchez who fired his shot at Eldin Jakupovic with the ball seemingly rebounding off the striker's arm and into the back of the net. Hull protested but the goal stood as Arsenal earned the luck they desperately required and Sanchez netted a deserved goal for his graft and endeavour.
Hull endeavoured to push forward for the remainder of the half but were unable to break down a solid Arsenal defence. The hosts trudged off with a deserved if controversial lead with the contest still in the balance.
The hosts labour to a crucial victory
Arsenal made a spritely start to the second half as Oxlade-Chamberlain burst forward immediately after kick-off and pulled an effort wide. They looked comfortable on the ball as they continued the tempo of passing they had displayed before the break, though Hull almost got back on level terms when they stole the ball back. Markovic powered himself away from Laurent Koscielny before digging out a cross to Niasse. The striker chested the ball down and fired a half-volley that produced a smart save from Cech.
After Walcott lost his cool and got into some handbags with Harry Maguire, Gibbs may have felt somewhat fortunate to escape a red card after pulling down Markovic when he was the last man. Tempers on both sides began to flare as the lowly temperature raised a notch on the pitch. Arsenal did eventually settle down into a rhythm as Iwobi curled over from an Ozil lay-off. Sanchez then fed Walcott who misshit a left-footed effort straight at Jakupovic.
Hull looked to offer an alternative threat as Evandro replaced Grosicki and headed a tight five in midfield. The Brazilian ushered energy in the engine room and created space for Alfred N'Diaye, though the Villareal loanee cut his long-range effort high and wide. A flurry of further substitutions cut the tempo of the game before Shkdoran Mustafi glanced a header wide from an Arsenal corner.
The visitors were continuing to provide a threat on the flanks as Maguire ventured out of his central defensive position to float a ball over to Markovic who could only generate enough power to cushion the header into Cech's arms. Moments later Evandro drifted in a corner that Niasse directed into the side-netting as Hull continued to offer glimmers of hope.
Arsenal made an attacking double substitution with the introduction of Danny Welbeck and Lucas Perez but Hull continued to push them back, with Markovic leading an industrious late effort from the visitors. They perhaps should have been rewarded with five minutes left but substitute Adama Diomande headed over from another Evandro set-piece.
As Hull ventured forward they were left short at the back when Arsenal broke away. Sanchez crossed to Lucas with Jakupovic out of position and Clucas kept the ball out with his arm. The young midfielder received his marching orders before Sanchez converted the resulting penalty in stoppage time to give the hosts a vital 2-0 victory.