Arsenal v Cardiff City
Barclays Premier League
Kick off: January 1, 2014 3:00 PM BST
There is a proverb in South Slavic languages which roughly translates to:”If milk burns you, you’ll blow even on yoghurt next time.” We have been bitten so many times in these type of matches that it was normal to feel fear that we would spill the three much-needed points against opponents that will struggle to keep their Premiership status.
Luckily for us, Nicklas Bendtner broke the deadlock in the 88th minute and Theo Walcott sealed the victory so all those bitten nails weren’t in vain.
Arsene Wenger had an injury crisis before he even picked eleven players to face Cardiff. His press-conference reminded me of “Saving Private Ryan”, more specifically the part when the American officer stated the casualties of private Ryan’s family. However, Rosicky, Wilshere, Walcott and Monreal passed late fitness tests and were available for the match against the Bluebirds.
Monreal took the place of Kieran Gibbs on the left side of the defence, while Lukas Podolski made his first start since Fulham in Week 2 due to Olivier Giroud’s injury.
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It was visible from the very beginning that it was not going to be an easy game as our opponents came to snatch a point and the fact Manchester City had won against Swansea probably didn’t help. Our attack was led by Podolski who doesn’t have the qualities of a target man like Olivier Giroud. That had consequences as Podolski had to drop deeper to pick the ball and couldn’t open acres of space for our midfielders like Giroud can.
Our first attempts were based on Theo Walcott’s runs down the right flank but he was flagged offside twice. The Englishman finally found his way out of the offside-trap but he hit the side-netting after Wilshere’s pass. We made a very good move down the left flank after which Monreal was in a promising position to cross. He was obstructed a bit by the Cardiff defender just outside the box but the Spaniard kept running and fizzed a low cross into the middle that wasn’t met by his team-mates. Nacho’s compatriot Cazorla had a fine attempt from the outside of the box but his drive went wide.
Another poor piece of refereeing against Arsenal this season could have been seen when Gary Medel fouled Jack Wilshere in the box. The Englishman went down and should have had a penalty but Moss refused to point to the spot. Theo Walcott spurned a good opportunity by opting for a shot while his body was in an awkward position instead of passing the ball to Podolski who was all alone.
The visitors had their chance via Mutch but Cardiff’s top scorer was denied by Szczesny after he had opened himself a bit of space.
Walcott had another chance to score but sent the ball wide.
In the second half, the visitors started time-wasting in order to fulfill their goal of gaining a draw. Our attacks didn’t stop but our finishing was wasteful before Bendtner scored. Mertesacker had two chances to score, Wilshere hit the post and Walcott’s free-kick ended on top of the net…but we couldn’t change the score-line. Rosicky and Bendtner came on for Flamini and Podolski respectively.
Finally, in the 88th minute, the deadlock was broken. Monreal’s brilliant cross from the left flank was met by Sagna’s powerful header. The Frenchman’s attempt was parried by Marshall only for Nicklas Bendtner to fire it into the net. The Dane got injured during the shot and his participation in the match was over. Thomas Vermaelen replaced him.
Theo Walcott finally got his goal in the first minute of the injury time. Rosicky played the ball to Wilshere who flicked it perfectly to Walcott. The winger playing upfront entered the penalty box chased by Cardiff defenders and managed to send a lovely chip over Marshall who dashed out in order to stop him. It was his fifth goal in the Premiership.
At the end, there is only one important thing: we won with an injury-depleted squad and we are still top of the league. We lost Bendtner who sprained his ankle and that might persuade Wenger to sign a new striker in January.
Also, I’d like to see more dangerous free-kicks from our end. Bacary Sagna wasted the free-kick today from the D-area and I don’t know why he took it in the first place given that we had Arteta, Cazorla, Walcott and Podolski in the team.
One more thing: we played a practically manager-less Cardiff City. If Ole Gunnar Solskjaer turns out to be a quality manager and makes tough opponents out of Cardiff for everyone in the league, this victory might have an even bigger worth.
on a late victory…
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.
He is a player who has gone through some difficult periods so I just want to give him great credit. I told him already today that he is back to the level I want him to be at, and if he continues to develop like that he will come back into the team. Unfortunately he got injured today and it looks like it is not a question of days, but weeks, with a sprained anke. I am very sad for us, but for him as well.
on what that does to transfer plans…
I don’t know, it doesn’t mean we go straight from Nicklas’ ankle straight to the transfer market. It means that we have Giroud and Bendtner out.
on Podolski’s performance…
he has not played for four months and he lacked a little bit the sharpness that is needed up front. He needed a game and he got it today. it was not easy for him because Cardiff were very well organised and worked hard.
on Bendtner’s bad luck in getting injured…
Usually he is not a fragile player, he was a bit unlucky. He said he landed on the foot of a Cardiff player and turned his ankle.
on him turning things around…
I never give up on people because you always have to give them credit. i know the expression of the fans is only the diagnosis of the day, the photo of the day. they are always ready to change their mind if you put the effort and the performance in.
on Bendtner being able to talk to other clubs…
It is January 1 so we cannot stop him [talking to clubs abroad] but he says he wants to stay here. If he is focused on staying with us and his job, he is a great striker.
on needing everyone to contribute…
We have a good togetherness in the side, the players come on with the right attitude and that makes the difference. You know that if you do not have that in the championship [race], then you have no chance to do it. We have that in the squad, we have to take care of that spirit and show it in every game.
on Bendtner’s potential…
When you are a manager, you always feel responsible to get the maximum out of a player because you want to influence their life in a positive way. When you don’t manage to do it, it is frustrating.
on the half-time team talk…
We wanted to play higher up because we gave them too much comfort in possession in the first half, we wanted to speed up our tempo. We did it quite well, but Cardiff is certainly physically the fittest team in the league.
on Solskjaer being at the game…
I have seen him before the game – and they played like they knew he was in the stand!
on Cardiff’s hopes of survival…
Cardiff have the basic ingredients to survive in the Premier League. You would say if you look at their record they need to add a few more goals offensively to stay in the league. If he can find that in the final third, then they will stay in the league because they have the basic quality to do it.
on Solskjaer possibly taking over…
It is a chance. Basically what you want when you are young is a chance and after you have to make the maximum of that chance. He has already experience as a manager in Norway, so he has learned his job. He was an intelligent player, so he is an intelligent boy as well, and that will help him to be successful.
on Ozil’s fitness…
He thinks Ozil could be ready for Saturday. It is no big damage, just the pain now.
I believe he will be short for Saturday and should be ready for Aston Villa.
Sagna Mertesacker Koscielny Monreal
Flamini Arteta (c)