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Arsenal grind out victory against Cardiff

29 January, 2019 — By Richard Osley at Emirates Stadium

FA Premier League
ARSENAL 2 (Aubameyang 66p,  Lacazette 83)
CARDIFF CITY 1 (Mendez-Liang 90+2)

ARSENAL made hard going of it, waiting for more than an hour to break down relegation-threatened Cardiff before claiming three valuable points on a rain-soaked evening at the Emirates.

They are breathing down Chelsea’s neck, and just about keeping Manchester United at bay in a tightening race for the top four positions in the league. Manchester City, bruised by a reverse at Newcastle tonight, wait on Sunday, however.

In truth, top scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had hardly had a kick, certainly not a shot in anger, by the time he coolly pushed home a penalty midway through the second half. It had been a messy affair beforehand, to put it politely, with the atrocious conditions not helping.

The tricks and flicks from Mesut Ozil, installed as captain today (Tuesday), were not coming off and misplaced passes all over the field were the undoing of anything close to a promising attack.

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There was lots of honest endeavour, especially from the energetic Matteo Guendouzi and determined Alexandre Lacazette, but there was a familiar sense that Arsenal did not have a clear strategy as to how to move from playing their way to the edge of their opponents’ box and actually scoring a goal.

With not enough clear sights on goal, the game became a contest of penalty shouts. Lacazette was twice ignored, at least once unfairly, in the first half after being brought to the ground in the area. Cardiff had complained earlier that they too had been worth a spot kick after some big-footed defending from Kolisinac.

Ref Mike Dean could not keep saying no, and had little choice when Kolisinac himself broke through the lines only to be fouled by Bruno Ecuele Manga. Aubameyang had no doubts, sending keeper Neil Etheridge diving the wrong way with his conversion.

Cardiff were now there to be picked off. Ozil was withdrawn for Ramsey, and looked deflated to miss the fun bit. With gaps appearing, a second looked likely. He put up a little wave to the fans, whatever that means.

It was fitting that Lacazette, who had invested so much earlier in the match, was the man to add to the score. With seven minutes to go, he brushed off a probable foul on the wing and just kept running until he was close enough to fire a trademark thunderbolt in off Etheridge’s legs.

Ramsey headed just wide as a third looked possible, but it would have been a flattering scoreline given the earlier labouring. A reminder of how awkward this match had been was in fact posted in injury time when Cardiff sub Nathaniel Mendez-Liang finished his twisting and turning with a fine strike past Bernd Leno, denying Arsenaal a clean sheet once more. They have had far too few of those this season.

Cardiff, full of tough tackles and bouncing balls, had given it a good go, but it was impossible not to feel for the visitors. With new signing Emiliano Sala still not located more than a week after the plane he was travelling to Wales in went missing, the message was still for ‘pray for Emiliano’.

The relentless rain was a sad reminder of how hard the search has been for Sala, his pilot and the plane. Fans had stood in reflection before kick-off, some clapping, some silence, a reminder that there are more important things in this world than whether Ozil can do it on a wet Tuesday night.

ARSENAL: Leno, Lichtsteiner (Jenkinson, 60), Kolasinac, Monreal, Mustafi, Elneny (Iwobi, HT), Torreira, Guendouzi, Ozil (Ramsey, 76), Aubameyang, Lacazette.
SUBS NOT USED: Cech, Mavropanos, Xhaka, Nketiah.

CARDIFF CITY: Etheridge, Peltier, Bennett, Bamba, Ecuele Manga, Gunnarsson, Arter, Ralls, Paterson, Reid (Mendez-Laing, 70), Niasse (73).
SUBS NOT USED:  Smithies, Cunningham, Harris, Healey, Hoilett.

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