Sunday, 1 December 2013

Arsenal Beat Cardiff To Put It Up To The Chasing Pack

Arsenal went into yesterday's game away to Cardiff four points clear at the top of the Premier League and looking to increase that lead. With Liverpool, Chelsea, City and United not playing until today it was a great chance for them to increase that lead to seven points and put some pressure on each of those teams. 

Cardiff had already won at home to City and drawn at home to United last week and they were certainly going to be no pushover at home. Their proficiency from set pieces had been the undoing of the Manchester clubs and Arsenal knew they had to keep their defensive concentration for the full 90 minutes. Arsenal had only conceded one goal in their previous four league games and more of the same defending would be needed to win this game.

Arsene Wenger made three changes from the team that beat Marseille on Tuesday night as he looked to build up a lead at the top of the table with some very tough games coming up. In fact the changes he made meant the team was the exact same as the one which beat Southampton 2-0 last Saturday. With a home game against Hull on Tuesday night some squad rotation was important, but players like Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud simply cannot be left out at the moment.

Arsenal started very positively and were almost ahead inside the first minute when Jack Wilshere hit the bar with a fine effort. He had scored after less than a minute against Marseille and was very close to getting his fith goal of the season. The early signs were good as Arsenal dominated possession and looked to get an advantage.

Not long afterwards Per Mertesacker took a bad blow to the mouth after a collision with Bacary Sagna and looked like he might have to go off with blood pouring from his mouth. Thankfully he managed to return but Cardiff got their first real chance from a header when he was off receiving treatment. Thankfully the header from Fraizer Campbell went wide after he out jumped Sagna.

The next incident was quite bizarre and I'm sure it's one Giroud would like to forget in a hurry. He found himself through with only the keeper to beat but thinking he was offside stopped and allowed a Cardiff defender to get back and block his effort. He was definitely offside when Ozil flicked a through ball on to him, but the officials failed to see Ozil's touch and the whistle never blew. As good as Giroud has been this season (and he has been very good), a more ruthless striker would have put the ball in the back of the net and asked questions afterwards. 

Just before the half hour mark Arsenal got the lead goal they wanted and it was the Ozil and Ramsey partnership on the mark again. Ramsey ran into the centre forward's position and he clearly pointed at where he wanted the ball played with Ozil duly obliging. It was a sweet ball from Ozil and a fantastically controlled header from Ramsey to put Arsenal 1-0 up. He didn't celebrate out of respect to the club that gave him a break in the game and the Cardiff fans appreciated it. 

Arsenal stayed in control for the rest of the half and started the second half in the same mode with the second goal looking imminent. A superb passing move ended with Ramsey cutting the ball back for Giroud to shoot from six yards out, but unfortunately there was a defender on hand to clear it off the line. The miss almost proved costly a short while later when Campbell rose high to get a header in, but Wojciech Szczesny make a fine save to deny him.

Cardiff got a bit of confidence from that chance and as long as Arsenal couldn't get the second goal they stood a chance of getting back into it. The best of the chances was missed by Santi Cazorla when he failed to get enough on a shot with only the keeper to beat when I expected him to bury it. As the clock ticked down Arsenal brought Nacho Monreal and Mathieu Flamini on for Cazorla and Wilshere to shore things up and hold their narrow lead.

In true Arsenal style the player who was brought on to tighten things up in a defensive midfield role was the next man to score when Flamini burst forward to get on to an Ozil pass and fire the ball into the net first time. With only four minutes left the game was effictively over as Cardiff were never going to pull two goals back. It was his first goal in English football in almost six years, but he did spend most of that time playing in Italy.

Theo Walcott came on as normal time came to an end to run the clock down more than anything, but he had a big hand in Arsenal's third goal. Arsenal won the ball in their own box and fed it to Walcott who broke quickly forward and passed to Ramsey who fired in his second goal and Arsenal's third. The goal showed how much of an asset Walcott's pace can be when teams are trying to push forward against Arsenal in particular.

It was a very impressive display from Arsenal against a Cardiff team who are no mugs at home as they have proved against both City and United. The two late goals put a bit of gloss on the scoreline but the result was no more than the team deserved on the day. They set out to play their own game from the first minute and played some excellent football at times.

The inter changing of the players in the attacking third is quite fantastic to watch and a real headache for opposing teams. The midfield combinations and alternatives Arsenal have at the moment are magnificent and there's still Lukas Podolski and Akex Oxlade-Chamberlain to add to the equation when they return from injury. The defence is now statistically the second best in the league and only City have scored more goals than Arsenal.

Next up is a Hull team who have struggled away from home with five defeats in six games and it's a game Arsenal should be winning. In the meantime they can sit back today with a seven point lead at the top of the table and watch as the chasing pack try to make up ground on them. It's a great time to be an Arsenal fan and I can only imagine it's a great time to be an Arsenal player too.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow,

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