Match Report: Arsenal 2 – 0 Cardiff City

Premier League: 1st January 2014

By Zedie

JackWith rumours of a bonafide injury crisis circulating before the game, Arsenal fans had to wait until the very last minute to find out what sort of team was going to kick off the first game in 2014.  Thankfully, the team we eventually put out looked good enough to tackle a Cardiff City side that have found themselves in turmoil going into the New Year.

Interestingly, Lukas Podolski made his bow as striker in the absence of Olivier Giroud, who couldn’t shake off his ankle problem sustained at Newcastle.

As is the tradition at the Emirates, the home side flew out of the blocks, looking to take an early advantage in what many saw as one of the less challenging fixtures for 2014.  My blood pressure was already rising in the 4th minute, when Theo Walcott was flagged offside when he was directly in line with the last defender.  What I would give to have one linesman officiate a game for us, that actually knew the offside rule.

Arsenal pressed on and a clear pattern began to emerge, as searching cross field pass after pass was aimed towards Walcott, who had no issue pulling away from the Cardiff defence.  Unfortunately, the passes were not accurate enough to give Theo a chance.  Not until the 12th minute did one from Jack Wilshere register, but unfortunately, Walcott had been pushed to far wide to muster anything more than a first time shot wide of the post.

The pressure was all Arsenal, ranged shots were arrowed towards the Cardiff City goal by Arteta, Wilshere and Cazorla, with the latter going closest to breaking the deadlock on 17 minutes.

Arsenal were trying everything to register a win, with Wilshere bursting into the area in the 24th minute after a neat passing passage, only to be tripped and then nipped at by a prone Gary Medel.  By the letter of the law, it was a penalty but as is the case recently, the ref waved play on.  While it wasn’t the worst foul you’ll see during a match, it was still a foul.

The first half was littered with  great opportunities for the Arsenal to break the deadlock, if only someone could register a shot on target!  As was the motif in the Newcastle match, there were plenty of opportunities, although the Gunners couldn’t seem to take their chances.

A fine example of this came in the 45th minute, when a raking Arteta pass found Walcott, who in turn squared it to the very quiet Lukas Podolski with his back to goal 6 yards out.  Podolski, tightly marked, tried to turn but was jockeyed very well.  He failed to also spot the run from Cazorla into the box and by the time he attempted to lay off, the tracking defender had blocked and the ball was ushered away.

The first half elapsed with barely a real test of their keeper, something that had to be addressed when the Arsenal marched back out.

The start of the second half seemed a lot more promising from an Arsenal perspective.  There was a lot more urgency to our play, something that was lacking towards the end of the first half.

The screws were turning, and the 50th to 60th minute literally saw corner after corner after thrown in after corner.  It was all Arsenal, as our forwards took turns to test the mettle of the beleaguered Cardiff City.

The reinvigorated Jack Wilshire, playing in his favoured AM position, was pulling many strings.  In the 66th minute, Jacky basically pulled all the strings into the penalty area with a mazy  run that culminated in a thunderbolt which came crashing off the post for a goal kick.  Had that gone in……

Bendtner 2With the lacklustre Podolski and defensive  Flamini coming off for the more attacking Bendtner and Rosicky in the 67th minute, Arsene Wenger signalled his intent that something had to change for the better and quickly.

The pressure nearly paid of in the 68th minute, when big Per Mertesacker found himself in acres of space, only to nod a powerful header just past the post.  In that position, you would have bet the farm that he would have been the man to break the deadlock.  Arsenal blood was pumping and Mertesacker had another golden opportunity a mere minute later, when he again rose unchallenged to smash a header off the foot of the Cardiff post.  Again, you would have bet the farm if you hadn’t lost it during the previous wager.

Nervous ripples began to travel around the home support, as they knew those opportunities were golden and were acutely aware that with time ticking away, it was much easier for Cardiff to dig in deeper and fight for that point they so sorely needed.

The game stretched a little, but Cardiff City’s few counterattacks often came to nothing as they seemed to have forgotten how to move forward, having been under the kosh for so long.

The 77th minute saw another strong penalty shout, this time from Walcott, who was caught on the ankle by a sloppy challenge in the box.  John Moss, refereeing his first game involving Arsenal, was having none of it and play continued.  It looked like one of those fouls that would easily be given outside of the box, but with refs seemingly looking to avoid penalty controversies, his decision could be expected.

Arsenal were getting closer, Theo Walcott nearly dropping a ball on top of Bendtner’s head when he was a not more than 6 yards out, only for the Great Dane to mistime his jump.

Arsenal’s attempts became more desperate, when Walcott unleashed an uncontrolled shot that went sailing over the bar in the 87th minute, all but condemning the whittled fingernails of the home crowd.Merts Celebrating

Many accusations have been levelled at the Arsenal for many failings during my time as a Gooner disciple, but I would challenge anyone to tell me that we are a team that give up, if the going ain’t good.

That unerring desire to keep pushing on, to keep knocking on the door paid dividends in the 88th minute. The umpteenth attack led the ball to drop wide left to the advancing Nacho Monreal, who fizzed in a wonderful curling cross into the box.  The ever battling Bacary Sagna forced his way in front of the defender and made a near perfect connection to the ball from point blank range.  David Marshall made a fantastic block, but could only watch as the ball looped up out of his reach.  It fell to the lurking St. Nicklas Bendtner to smash home a volley so powerful, it took both of his feet off the turf.

The relief poured out of red and white hearts like the driving rain that had battered the always immaculate Emirates turf.  Arsenal had finally broken a resilient Cardiff City with a goal that surely had the 3 points wrapped up.  As is the Arsenal way, St. Nick managed to injure himself during the goal, which meant a swift substitution, with Thomas Vermaelen on to replace him to see the scoreline out.

City looked broken.  It was a little wonder that their legs couldn’t carry them as diligently as the preceding 90 minutes, when the magnificent Jack Wilshere redirected a wonderful ball through the defence, perfectly into the path of Theo Walcott.

Walcott took the ball in his stride and produced a cheeky chip that was just too good for Marshall to divert anywhere other than the goal, sending the home crowd into 7th Heaven.

The final whistle blew, another 3 points was deposited into the bank and Arsenal climbed back onto the summit of the Premier League. All of this was made possible because of one sinner, who again became a Saint in the eyes of the Arsenal fans on this day.

 

Match Ratings

Szczesny – 7 – Had bugger all to do for the most part, what he was required to do, he did well.  Made an absolutely magnificent, Schmeichelesque save at 2-0, when the ball had broken kindly to Caulker on the 6 yard box.  What a save!

Sagna – 7 – Put in some wonderful balls, but no one was on the end of them largely.  Smashed the header that led to the breakthrough goal.

Mertesacker – 6 – Was a bit untidy today, didn’t seem his normal efficient self.  Guilty of 2 scandalous misses, especially for someone so good with their head.  Could easily have had a brace.

Koscielny – 7 – Did well today, cleared up most attacks that Cardiff City could muster.  Nnever switched off.

Monreal – 7 –Didn’t really impose himself in the final third where he played for most of the game.  Peach of a cross for the winner.

Flamini – 7 – (off 65th min) Marshalled the defence well and killed attacks before they had a chance to kick off.

Arteta – 6 – Would like to have seen more from him, he seemed to not be able to adjust to moving a position forward into central midfield.  Must do better.

Walcott – 7 – Made some great runs today, caused their left back lots of issues.  His goal was a striker’s finish.

Wilshere – 9 – Its been a while since he’s been in his favoured central position, took the reigns  well.  Some excellent passing, mazy runs and came so close for us on a number of occasions.  Finished off with a sumptuous assist.

Cazorla – 6His form has been a bit up and down recently, today we saw both sides.  He was a bit sloppy at times but also took a few threatening shots.  He needs to snap out of it and get back to the form we know and love.

Podolski – 3(off 65th min)  Failed at the striker position today.  Didn’t seem to want to stay up top, couldn’t get himself into shooting positions.  You noticed how poor his hold up play was as soon as Bendtner came on and took up the positions he should have been.  OK, that’s his first start in 4 months, but he needs to do MUCH better if he wants to stake a claim for the striker position.

Subs

Bendtner – 8 – (on 65th min / off 90th min) – Came on and played like a striker should.  Scored a massive goal under pressure, but performed admirably up until that point anyway.  Make me eat my words St. Nik!

Rosicky – 6 – (on 65th min) – Came on and helped push us over the line with some more direct running and passing.

Vermaelen – 6 – (on 90th min) – Didn’t really have time to do much.

 

Gooner Ramble

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