Cardiff City hosted Arsenal on Sunday in a high-octane fourth Premier League game. The visitors made it tough on themselves as they dominated possession but momentary defensive lapses saw the Gunners squander the lead twice before Alexandre Lacazette’s winner.
Grass is green, the sky is blue, and Arsenal still insist on making matches against bottom-feeding Premier League sides into a war.
The Gunners had to deal with Cardiff’s press early, and Petr Cech again had trouble with passing it out from the back. Harry Arter intercepted a Cech pass in the seventh minute but shot over, and the Czech legend also gave the ball away fewer than 30 seconds into the second half.
Arsenal made the first breakthrough of the match in the 11th minute as Granit Xhaka’s out-swinging corner met Shkodran Mustafi’s head and landed in the top left corner after he freed himself from the shadow of Sol Bamba.
Cardiff’s go-to attacking strategy was to send in many crosses from deep, but Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulos played the role of air traffic controllers and did well to thwart most of their attempts. But in stoppage time just ahead of the half-time whistle, Granit Xhaka gave the ball away with a lazy attempt to switch the play, Ryan Bennett played in a cross towards Victor Camarasa that the Spaniard trapped, nicked away from Nacho Monreal, and he smashed it into the back of the net.
Unai Emery’s side tested Neil Etheridge’s goal on plenty of occasions throughout the 90 minutes, and if not for a good display from him, Arsenal could have scored many more goals.
The visitors’ second breakthrough happened in the 62nd minute: Alexandre Lacazette received a pass from Mesut Özil, flicked it behind to a cutting Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who placed it in the back of the net from just outside the 18-yard box. The Bluebirds answered a few minutes later when Sean Morrison headed a free-kick down into the path of Danny Ward, who headed it off the post and past Cech.
Lacazette bagged the winner in the 81st minute. He got the ball on the right side of the box, danced to create some space, and smashed it into the near post in a goal that looked like it came straight out of FIFA. After four league starts, he and Aubameyang have combined for seven goals, further proving to Unai Emery why they should start together regularly.
Cardiff used a 4-3-3 when attacking with Danny Ward as the No. 9, Junior Hoilett on the left, and Bobby Reid on the right. They dropped back into a 4-5-1 when defending, sometimes going into a diamond midfield to clog the center of the pitch.
Arsenal stuck with their 4-2-3-1, but this time Aaron Ramsey played mostly on the wing opposite Aubameyang as Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi played as the double pivot. Guendouzi brought the ball from deep for the most part which let Xhaka move forward and use his attacking ability.
Cardiff mostly played crosses from deep: they utilized Bennett and Hoilett on the left side to play balls in towards Ward. Emery still insisted to have his side play out form the back despite Cech’s inability to pass, but there were some beautiful spells of one- and two-touch football as the team built out from their back four.
Lacazette and Aubameyang played off of each other consistently which led to the two combining twice for goals. Aaron Ramsey’s presence on the wing surprisingly did not slow Arsenal down at all. He showed off some silky skills to create space and make chances for his forwards.
Both sides employed a press at various junctures in the match. Lacazette had a few instances where he tracked back and nicked the ball of an unsuspecting Bluebirds midfielder, and the hosts gave Cech a hard time pretty consistently when it came to building from the back.
The biggest point of discussion after this match will be whether or not Emery should stick with Cech once things start up after the upcoming international break. After four games, it has become clear that the ex-Chelsea ‘keeper is not well-suited to playing the ball out from his own goal.
Additionally, the Spanish head coach finally decided to put Aubameyang and Lacazette in the first XI, and it paid dividends.
Cardiff finally scored their first goal of the Premier League campaign, and they also had a penalty shout in the 66th minute when Morrison and Sokratis fought for a header in the box from the hosts’ free-kick.
Like his fellow summer signing Leno, Lucas Torreira still did not crack the first XI, but he did make a long cameo in the second half after Guendouzi exited the match with a yellow card to his name. He looked quite comfortable on the ball and drew a couple fouls, and Gooners should see more of him as the Europa League starts.
Man of the Match: Alexandre Lacazette
After reports of a possible exit from Emirates Stadium circulated throughout the week, the French forward stormed into the starting lineup and made a fantastic case to his coach as to why he should start regularly.
He bagged a goal and an assist and looked natural playing next to Aubameyang, which had concerned Arsenal supporters last January when they brought in the Gabon international after splurging on Lacazette the summer before.
Whether he was running behind the defense, helping the team bring the ball forward, pressing the Cardiff back four, or tracking back to make a tackle, the forward looked comfortable and had an effect on the match in all facets of the game.
Arsenal will visit St. James’ Park to take on 18th-placed Newcastle after the international break for matchday five.
Cardiff will travel to London to face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in a clash between the second- and 16th-placed teams.
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