Cardiff City 2-3 Arsenal Six Things: thriller in the capital

 

Mustafi heads in the opener – bbc.co.uk

After a very awkward encounter in the Welsh capital, Arsenal managed a 3-2 victory at Cardiff City thanks to Alexandre Lacazette’s late winner. Here’s our Player Ratings from the game.

Mustafi strikes early

Arsenal had looked very uncomfortable early on – a misplaced pass from the nervy Petr Cech presented Cardiff a chance that Harry Arter blazed over. It came as a major relief then when Shkodran Mustafi scored the opener on 11 minutes; from Granit Xhaka’s well-flighted corner, the German got ahead of Sol Bamba to power home a header. Alexandre Lacazette threatened to add a second, hitting the post just after the half-hour mark and certainly Arsenal posed a threat once they got into the opposing half. They were often forced back though due to Cardiff’s efficient pressing.

Cardiff’s strong left side

The selfless Danny Ward and the vibrant Bobby Reid closed down with real intelligence, with Harry Arter the midfielder supporting them most commonly. In possession, The Bluebirds looked for the left-sided trio of Junior Hoilett, Joe Ralls and Joe Bennett, who caused plenty of problems with Mesut Ozil on the right lacking the defensive awareness to support Bellerin. Bennett’s cross in first half stoppage time was trapped by Victor Camarasa, who rifled the ball into the roof of the net.

Emery’s flexibility

In fairness to Unai Emery, his system change helped Arsenal. From the 4-2-3-1 which saw Ozil and Aubameyang shoehorned out wide, he switched to a 4-2-2-2 with both players occupying more central roles. As Cardiff dropped off,  Ozil and Granit Xhaka were given more space to control proceedings, meaning Alexandre Lacazette and Aubameyang had chances to combine. They did so superbly just after the hour mark, allowing the latter to launch an excellent curler from distance, giving Neil Etheridge no chance.

Bluebirds bite back

Had the game stayed level, a Cardiff side that appeared to be tiring might have stayed deep but Aubameyang’s strike gave them no choice but to pile on the pressure. Arsenal’s soft-centre was examined by pin-point set pieces from Ralls and long-throws from Sean Morrison; those two players combined to set up the equalizer just after the second half’s midway point. Ralls’ corner was flicked on by Morrison, with the lively Ward in position A to head in off the post. The hosts even had chances to break for a winner when Reid was unable to get the better of Cech, but would be denied a point by a late sucker-punch.

Ruthless Lacazette

This match certainly exposed Arsenal’s vulnerabilities, but it also highlighted the quality Emery has to work with. Substitute Lucas Torreira not only completed three tackles – matching the same number in 20 minutes as four Cardiff players completed in 90 – he also added craft and assurance in midfield. After the Uruguayan instigated a fine, passing move which Lacazette rounded off with a ruthless finish inside Neil Etheridge’s near-post, completing a ruthless display from the Frenchman.

Credit to Cardiff

Neil Warnock’s side were unlucky to concede three goals, because their work without the ball for much of the game was good; it’s just that their opponents made the most of the smallest openings. Cardiff might not have recorded their first Premier League win since April 2014, but a competitive performance against a top six side suggests it’s drawing closer.