Friday, January 3, 2014

Arsenal 2 Cardiff 0

Arsenal had to dig deep to get a result, but they never gave up. We, the supporters, nearly conceded that this game was destined to be a goalless draw as so many chances went begging. Cardiff may have defended very well, but Arsenal were wasteful. Mertesacker had a couple of free headers, one of which flashed wide when no defenders were at the posts, the other hit the post. Theo should have been on target on a couple of occasions. Wishere's powerful effort at an angle cannoned off the post. However, a crucial goal arrived in the 89th minute from a surprising source in Nicklas Bentdner. Then Cardiff had to come out, which was a cue for Arsenal to attack on the break. Theo Walcott's goal in stoppage time sealed three points.

Prior to the game, Arsene Wenger's injury updates caused huge concern. Aaron Ramsey was ruled out for three weeks due to a thigh strain. With some of the newspaper reports claiming that he was likely to be sidelined for at least a month, the news came as a relief rather than a blow. Özil was seen by a specialist the day before, but the Club was yet to receive the report on his shoulder injury. Later on, it was revealed that Özil had received the all clear. The specialist thinks he could feature in Saturday's FA Cup tie against Tottenham, but Wenger believes that he will be short of fitness for Saturday. What is certain now is that he shouldn't miss more than one game. Olivier Giroud and Kieran Gibbs were definitely out for this game as they both picked up an ankle problem and a calf strain during the Newcastle game. Walcott (shoulder), Wilshere (ankle), and Rosicky (calf) all received knocks and were doubtful. The involvement of Vermaelen and Monreal, who both missed out on the trip to the Northeast due to illness, was also uncertain. The busy festive period was already taking its toll.

In the end, all the doubts came through training session on the New Year's Eve. Arsene Wenger made just two changes from the side that started in the 1-0 win over Newcastle. Lukas Podolski led the line in place of the injured Olivier Giroud. While Tomas Rosicky was dropped to bench, Wilshere started in the No. 10 role. Arteta started in the central midfield alongside Flamini. Monreal came in for the injured Gibbs at the left-back.

Wenger attributed Poldi's lacklustre display to the lack of match fitness as the German international made his first appearance in four months on Boxing Day, but we think that the problem is that the team tried to play the same way as they do with Giroud as a lone striker. Poldi is not a type of striker who plays with his back to goal.  No wonder the team clicked when Nicklas Bentner came on in the 65th minute and eventually produced a long-awaited goal. The Dane is a direct replacement of Giroud. (We have to give credit to the other substitute, Tomas Rosicky, though). The team had to adapt if Poldi or Theo is going to take over a centre-forward role. Also, these two pacey strikers are best deployed in the counter-attack. Cardiff came to the Emirates, like most of the visitors, to get a draw by sitting back, which was not suited for the counter-attacking tactics.

The major talking point during the match was a controversial decision. Most people, including commentators, agree that Wilshere had a strong case for a penalty when Medel clipped him in the box. I don't know what has to happen for Arsenal to get a penalty, but we are just not getting those decisions at the moment. If we had been given a penalty for the foul on Wilshere in the 25th minute, the scoreline would have been a lot different as all we needed was a first goal to open up the game.

It was a largely frustrating game, but in the end, we got the well-deserved three points. We needed a response, as Man City had leapfrogged us earlier on the same day by beating Swansea 3-2 and Chelsea and Liverpool were winning their respective games at the normal kick-off time. This was a kind of game in the past that we ended up with a draw or worse, conceding a goal on the break, while pushing forward too hard in search for a goal. The team kept applying pressure on a well-organised Cardiff side until last minute. The 2-0 win over Cardiff sent the Gunners back to the top of the league on the New Year's Day. A clean sheet, two goals and three points. Great start to 2014.

Players rating

Szczesny: 7
As Cardiff didn't offer much offensively with only 2 shots on target, he had little to do, but he had to be alert all the time, with Cardiff looking dangerous on the break.

Sagna: 7
He was in the goal-scoring mood this day. Stepped forward to take a rare free-kick, which was not great, but he met Monreal's deep cross with a powerful header, which forced an outstanding save from Marshall, only for Bendtner to pounce on the rebound and smash it at the roof of goal.

Mertesacker: 6
Missed a couple of great chances.

Koscielny: 7

Reassuring display. 

Monreal: 8
Made 2 tackles and 5 interceptions and he was a threat going forward as well.

Flamini: 7
Did his job. Replaced in the 65th minute to make way for Rosicky, a more attacking option.

Arteta: 7
Made 93 passes with a 96% passing success rate, a top accuracy alongside Flamini. 2 key passes.

Cazorla: 7

Had 6 shots, of which 2 were on target. Full of inventive ideas.

Wilshere: 8

Sky Sports site's Man of the Match. In the absence of Özil, he was slotted into the playmaker role and took his chance. He should have been given a penalty when he made an excellent run into the box. Set up a goal for Walcott with a clever flick that released Walcott behind the tight Cardiff defensive line.

Walcott: 8's Man of the Match. 
Took his goal very well. Excellent finish, but he failed to convert a couple of chances earlier.

Podolski: 5
Disappointing display, but in all fairness to him, he didn't get his kind of chances. On a sole chance when he had space, facing the goal, Walcott chose to have a shot himself only to blast it across the goal. 
Hopefully, we will see the best of Poldi when he plays against Tottenham as the game is expected to be open.


Bendtner: 7
65th-minute substitute for Podolski. After all he said about himself and the Club, we were not big fans of his, but credit to him, he played well. His movements off the ball were good and he held the ball up well. He looked like a capable deputy of Giroud. It is a shame that he is now likely to be sidelined for a few weeks after suffering a sprained ankle in scoring that crucial goal.

Rosicky: 7
Replaced Flamini in the 65th minute. Added urgency to the game and drove the team forward.

Vermaelen: N/A
Replaced the injured Nicklas Bendtner. 

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