Arsenal began the New Year holding onto their top spot in the Premier League after defeating Cardiff City 2-0 to stay a point up over Manchester City.
The Gunners came into the match without four key members in their squad out due to injury. Kieran Gibbs is suffering from a calf strain, Olivier Giroud has an ankle issue, Mesut Özil has a shoulder problem, and former Bluebird Aaron Ramsey has a thigh strain. Arsène Wenger replaced Gibbs with Nacho Monreal, Giroud’s spot to lead the line was filled in by Lukas Podolski, Özil’s normal position in the hole was taken over by Jack Wilshere, and Ramsey’s place was handled by Mathieu Flamini. Cardiff City started the same side that drew Sunderland 2-2 over the weekend with the exception of Kevin McNaughton replacing Kévin Théophile-Catherine in the defense. The Bluebirds stylish owner Vincent Tan was in attendance with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Cardiff City’s new manager.
The conditions of the pitch due to the rain and heavy wind made a lot of long balls look miscalculated for both sides early in the match but eventually the squads figured out how to operate under the conditions. Wilshere finally getting a chance to play in his preferred position displayed early and often how influential he could be when playing in an advanced role on the pitch.
In the 14th minute, Wilshere dropped off a solid ball to Theo Walcott in the box but his slide to finish was poor. A minute later when Arsenal received a free kick in good position outside the box and wide left, Bacary Sagna was oddly picked to take the shot and it went right into Cardiff City’s wall. A few moments later, Wilshere crossed to Santi Cazorla right outside the box and the Spaniard shot the ball but it faded wide right. In the 25th minute, Wilshere gets pushed by well-known goon Gary Medel in box but stays up but the Chilean challenges again with a tackle to make the 22-year-old fall but no penalty was given. In the 28th minute, The Bluebirds had their first legit opportunity for goal off a quick counter-attack and Jordan Mutch took on two defenders in the box and faded right to get a clear shot of goal but Wojciech Szczęsny made a solid save into play to end the attack. In the 42nd minute, Cardiff City had another chance to score as Craig Noone took on Monreal and switched to his left foot to shoot but it went over the net. Heading into halftime, the 0-0 score was a reminder of the opportunities wasted.
The second half was all in the Gunners control as they dictated the action, pace, and flow of the match playing more aggressive. Ben Turner fouled Walcott and gave Arsenal a free kick while he earned a yellow card. Walcott crossed in and Per Mertesacker just missed the ball. Podolski was playing better in the second half but had a difficult time making his presence known due to playing alone up front. Due to this, Wenger had Nicklas Bendtner warming up the around 52nd minute to eventually end the German’s struggles. The first substitution occurred in the 61st minute when Aron Gunnarsson came on for Medel and the Gunners answered back by bringing on Bendtner and Tomáš Rosický to replace Podolski and Flamini respectively. The new players brought life to both sides but Arsenal continued maintain possession and have opportunities to go up. In the 67th minute, Mertesacker had a free header from a Walcott cross and the German wasted it. A corner arrived from the chance and Mertesacker again could not understand how to head the ball to keep the match scoreless.
Through the 88th minute, Arsenal shot the ball 22 times but only three were on goal. Bendtner finally put Arsenal on the scoreboard when he smashed in a rebound off David Marshall’s save of a Sagna header. In the process unfortunately, the Dane got hurt and Thomas Vermaelen replaced him to finish the match.
Wilshere and Walcott enjoyed great linkup play the whole match and it resulted in a goal when Wilshere brilliantly flicked from the side of his foot a quick pass to the agile Walcott and he chipped it over Marshall to seal the match for the Gunners to win 2-0 at home.
Arsenal plays hated rival Tottenham at home in the third round of the FA Cup on Saturday and Cardiff City will try to rebound off the defeat by traveling to Newcastle for an FA Cup match as well.
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