ARSENAL 2 CARDIFF CITY 0
We left it very late, but in the end The Arsenal kicked off the New Year in a very satisfactory way; with three points and a clean-sheet as Cardiff City were beaten 2-0 at The New Home of Football.
The first half was a very slow affair, with very little tempo and what seemed a real lack of drive on our part. Whether it was a result of the extremely wet playing conditions, trying to shake off the heavy legs following our hard-fought win at Newcastle, or whether it was just a poor 45 minutes is anyone’s guess. Possession was dominated, but the Cardiff goalkeeper wasn’t tested. He should perhaps have been tested from the penalty spot when Jack Wilshere was clearly fouled, but referee Jon Moss waved away our appeals.
Thankfully the second half was better, with our play much quicker and more incisive, but it still looked like it was going to be a frustrating night as continued dominance of possession still wasn’t leading to shots on target. Both Wilshere and Mertesacker hit the post and the BFG also headed wide from a glorious opportunity. But patience and endeavour were the key and in the 89th minute Nicklas Bendtner provided the break through, smashing home from close range after Marshall had saved Sagna’s initial effort. It was the least we deserved.
When 5 additional minutes were indicated I’m sure there were a few nerves, however, Theo Walcott put the game to bed with a lovely chipped finish. Afterwards a relived Arsene said:
We had a slow start, that can happen sometimes when you play so many games and it was important for us that they didn’t score the first goal today and to find some pace in the second half. That is what we did and it looked like in the last 25 minutes like the goal was coming but sometimes it doesn’t, and not only does it not come but you are then caught on the counter-attack. We needed resilience and intelligence not to make a mistake at the back and continue to go forward. In the end, Nicklas got us great relief.
For me the turning point was the introduction of Bendtner. Cardiff were defending very narrow, defending the width of the area and comfortable to let us have the ball out wide. But once Bendtner came on our width became an issue as Cardiff were keen to stop the crosses to our new aerial threat. The game was suddenly more stretched and thankfully for us they couldn’t stop Monreal’s cross late on and though Bendtner didn’t win the header he was there to pounce on the loose ball.
So, 2-0 to The Arsenal and still top of the league. A somewhat nervy start to 2014, but a pleasing one at that…the BFG certainly seemed to enjoy it, perhaps relived that his two missed chances didn’t cost us.
There was more bad news on the injury front last night, with Bendtner sustaining an ankle injury in the processes of scoring our first goal. It means we go into our upcoming fixtures with no Giroud and no Bendtner. Podolski and Walcott will have to fill the void in the interim, but I have to say it worries me. Both are excellent attackers and finishers, but neither provides the physical attributes that are so crucial to our attacking play.
Giroud’s hold up and link play is second to none. When he’s absent Bendtner is the obvious replacement for me, helping to provide the height and strength required, requirements so important to our play that I’d even start Sanogo ahead of Podolski and Walcott in the central role, despite us having seen very little of him, simply because he has the physicality to create a presence.
Against Cardiff Podolski once again struggled in the central role where he is too closely marked, unable to profit from the space and service created by Giroud or Bendtner. The same applies to Walcott from the right. But with Giroud and Bendtner both ruled out “for weeks”, and with Sanogo last seen wandering the streets of Diabyville, we have little choice but to find a way to make it work; over to you Lukas and Theo!
FA CUP THIRD ROUND
The FA Cup returns this weekend and it’s a big one; a North London derby. As I’ve said before, with the exception of winning a trophy there is no better feeling in life than beating our North London neighbours. To do it as the first step en route to a trophy would make it feel even better. I’m getting nervous already just thinking about it. Victory is a must; defeat is unthinkable. Up The Arsenal.