Arsene Wenger made three changes from the side that started in Arsenal's comfortable 2-0 defeat of Marseille on Tuesday night. Kieran Gibbs came in for Nacho Monreal, who had a good game on his rare start, after the Englishman had recovered from illness. Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla replaced Mathieu Flamini and Tomas Rosicky, respectively. Jack Wilshere kept his place on the merit of the two goals he scored in midweek.
However, all eyes were on one Arsenal player, a certain Aaron Ramsey, who made a return to his home-town where he spent his early career. Ramsey joined Arsenal in 2008 with a reported fee of £5 million and when he played against his former club a year later in the FA Cup, his every touch was met with boos and the then 18-year-old looked very uncomfortable on the pitch. It was one of his poorest displays as Cardiff didn't allow him much space, either. It was one of talking points prior to the match how he would be received by Cardiff fans this time around. The fact was that the home crowd gave the Wales international a warm reception before the kick-off.
Ramsey responded to them with respect in return. He did not celebrate his goals against his childhood club and the Cardiff supporters appreciate it with applause. Some Cardiff fans sung his name after his stoppage-time goal. The 22-year-old responded by tapping both hands against his head - a Cardiff celebration known by supporters as Ayatollah.
In contrast to such a nice home-coming story, there are still a number of mindless Arsenal fans (hope they are not true fans) who blame the in-form midfielder for the death of an actor. There was a so-called curse of Ramsey goals a couple of years ago, which we have mentioned in this Blog before. The rumour has it that when Aaron Ramsey has scored, famous people die. The victims include Osama Bin Laden, Steve Jobs, and Whitney Houston. However, his goal tally so far this season has already reached 14 and apart from Paul Walker (if you haven't heard of him, apparently he was a star of the Fast and Furious film franchise) who was killed in a car crash on Sunday, we haven't heard of any demise of celebrities on or around the day when Ramsey found the net. So please leave him alone and let him get on with what he is doing very well at the moment.
As for the game, it was an all-round great performance from a quality Arsenal side. Our midfield was tremendous going forward. Combined with Giroud, our midfielders were all over the pitch, interchanging their positions freely, while keeping the shape with a danger of counter-attack in mind. This requires good understanding between the players and individual players' intelligence. During the absence of recognised wingers, we sometimes suffered from the lack of width, but when the midfielders are playing like this, we have no width problem. Even Cardiff fans admitted that Arsenal were a joy to watch.
Our defence deserved credit, too. They were solid even when they were under sustained pressure from Cardiff. They were calm and just weathered through those moments. Mathieu Flamini was brought on to shore up the defence in order to protect a narrow lead, which they didn't need to in the end as the holding midfielder scored a second goal. Then we were cruising. The third goal came from a quick counter attack, which was initiated by Sagna's interception at the edge of their own box.
The 3-0 win saw us move 7 points clear at top of the table on Saturday. The results of the following day were mixed. The draw between Man U and Tottenham was ideal for us, resulting in Man U trailing us by 9 points and Tottenham by 10 points. Liverpool also dropped points and now sit fourth in the table, 7 points behind us. Chelsea and Man City moved to second and third, 4 and 6 points behind the Gunners, respectively, after their wins on Sunday. Games come thick and fast in December. We are in a strong position where we just need to concentrate on our games. As long as we keep winning our games, we will stay top.
His stunning 52nd-minute save was arguably the decisive moment of the game. If we had conceded a goal at that time, the dynamics of the game would have changed completely. His decisions were flawless, too.
Solid defensively, helped attack.
Made a last-grasp tackle.
Made 5 interceptions and 10 clearances.
Joined attack, solid defensively.
Made 7 tackles and 5 interceptions.
Unanimously chosen Man of the Match. Scored 2 goals, including an exquisite header, and always in the heart of Arsenal attack. Top passer of the game with 72 passes in total including 3 key passes. Real box-to-box performance.
The recent games suggested a dip in his form, but this was arguably one of his best games in an Arsenal shirt. His touches and movements oozed class, but his vision was his greatest asset. He picked out Ramsey and Flamini and set up their goals with incisive passes, moving top of the assist table in the Premier League with 6 to his name. Clearly he enjoyed the game, tweeting "3:0 away. what a game. I love this team and this Club" after the game.
Unlucky not to score in less than 30 seconds from the start of the game, hitting the corner of the woodwork. Gave way in the 81st minute to Monreal, but it is clear that his fitness level has improved massively in the recent weeks.
Tracked back well and worked hard defensively, but hasn't reached his best form he showed last season yet. Attempted a tame shot on target.
Very mobile. Unlucky to have his effort in the goal-mouth blocked on the line. His hesitation to capitalise on the referee's wrong decision (or lack of off-side decision) cost us an early goal chance, but he seemed to have learnt lessons that he should not stop playing until the whistle has been blown.
Came in for Cazorla. The 77th-minute substitution was designed to see out the game. It was his first Premier League goal in 5 years.
Replaced Wilshere in the 81st minute. Made a wrong decision to blast a shot high and wide when we needed to hold the ball.
90th-minute substitute for Özil. Set up a goal for Ramsey after breaking on the right wing.