Arsenal made life tough for themselves, but ultimately got the points they deserved in an open but tough contest at The Emirates versys Cardiff.
Second half goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette was enough to see us past a spirited Bluebirds side, with a late goal from Nathaniel Mendez-Laing giving travelling Cardiff fans something to shout about.
An impeccable silence from the crowd before kickoff for Emiliano Sala reminded everyone the turmoil that the away club would have endured recently, but they put in a performance to be proud of against the Gunners, but fell just short of snatching a point.
On a day where United dropped points and an impending trip to City is on the cards next up, it was vital that the home side grabbed the full points, and went with a strong attack and a grounded midfield in the lineup.
Unai Emery went with the experience of Nacho Monreal in the centre of defence rather than the youth of Konstandinos Mavropanos, with both first choice defenders Laurent Koscielny and Sokratis out.
In midfield, we had Matteo Guendouzi, Mohamed Elneny and Lucas Torreira in a solid centre, but the transitional links of Granit Xhaka would perhaps be missed.
In the first minutes, we had plenty of the ball as expected, but a free kick that flew just wide from Lucas Torreira and a saved Lacazette shot was all we had to show for it, but Cardiff also went close on the 12th minute, Bobby Reid firing just wide. We had to be on our game, Cardiff were not content to just sit back.
There was a penalty shout on the 18th minute as Laca went down under the challenge of Manga, but Mike Dean unsurprisingly said no.
For the next ten minutes or so the game petered out a little, no real chances of not for either side but plenty of tackles flying in, including a dodgy one from Monreal which gave away a dangerous free kick to Cardiff. Luckily for us, they hit the wall, and the score remained goalless.
The half was ticking away and we had done precious little with the ball, the final pass had been lacking. Just before half time we had a golden opportunity though, Mesut Ozil cut back and left the ball on a plate, but it avoided three of our men in the box.
That was it for the first half, and the score was not what we would have expected given Cardiff’s lowly position and our strong home form.
The second half saw an instant change, and we lost one of our central men, Elneny, and brought on Alex Iwobi, and we upped the tempo. Ozil performed a wonderful turn and set free Auba. Our striker laid it off to Guendouzi outside the box, who could only place pver.
But Cardiff had shown they could hurt us, especially on the break, and PAterson shot wide after breaking free. We were trying to find the balance between putting men forward and leaving a safety net, and Cardiff knew it.
On the 60th minute, it was still goalless. Thirty to play, and Emery made another swap, this time like-for-like, with Jenko coming on for Lichtsteiner. A rare League appearance for Jenks, and a warm reception from the crowd on a cold night.
Cardiff went close again though. Mustafi performed wonders to block Oumar Niasse’s close shot and we were looking vulnerable, until Manga again put in a challenge inside the box like in the first half, clipping Kolasinac in full flow after a great through ball from Iwobi.
This time, Dean DID point to the spot.
Auba picked the ball up and our leading scorer drilled it low and more or less central, and Etheridge dived and guessed wrong.
We had the lead and we looked to double it, but Etheridge saved Iwobi’s shot, before Laca shot wide from outside the box. We had picked up the pace and Cardiff were on the rocks now. With 14 minutes left, Ozil came off for Ramsey, and six minutes later, we had two - and this was all Lacazette.
The Frenchman picked up the ball out wide on the left and about thirty yards from goal. He was fouled but got straight up and made a beeline for goal on a diagonal run, no one could stop him. Straight into the box, he fired a low shot that Etheridge could only get a toe on, and it was two to the good.
Then, in the dying minutes we were denied a clean sheet, as Mendez-Laing curled in a low shot beyond Leno. It was cruel but Cardiff had warranted something for a tireless effort.
We had the points though, and with City being beaten, we’ll need every iota of confidence to go to The Etihad and take points from a wounded animal.
Still, we have done our part. A fighting performance and on the bare bones of our defensive units. A good thing indeed.