Cardiff City 0 – 3 Arsenal
0 – 1 Ramsey (29)
0 – 2 Flamini (86)
0 – 3 Ramsey (90)
The focus was all on Aaron Ramsey, of course it was. It remains so with a brace of goals on his return to the club where it all began for him. There was mutual respect on the part of the player and those who never really had the chance to idolise but nonetheless take pride in his progress. Mathieu Flamini tried to get in on the act, not quite the eight decades which have passed since Hughie Ferguson’s goal at Wembley but a decent start had been made down that track since his last Arsenal goal.
Such asides wove their way through the game, combining with the sporting nature of the home supporters response to the visiting fans exhortation toward Pat Rice in his current fight, creating a rich tapestry of football where Cardiff’s efforts went unrewarded. That may yet come in May with survival; where Arsenal’s destiny lies will be unveiled at the same time.
Arsenal have put themselves in a good position. Victory extended their lead at the top to seven points, the pressure moves to the shoulders of their pursuers in their matches today. Next weekend the roles reverse, the ebb and flow as the title battle begins to consume the season. There is the small matter of a full Premier League programme in the middle of this week to add further twists to the turns as winter approaches.
There can be few arguments with Arsenal’s victory. Ascendency was asserted in the opening minute when Jack Wilshere’s effort beat all but the woodwork. Warning served, the visitors waited another thirty minutes or so before opening their account. In between, livewire midfielders prodded and poked the Cardiff defence, confusion reigning as runners came from deep, never letting markers settle. Some teams try rotational fouls to break an opponent, Arsenal prefer rotational attackers to achieve the same objective.
The deadlock might have been broken sooner had Olivier Giroud believing the flag had been raised, stopped. Slower than the home defence to realise that opportunity still knocked, the chance went under a welter of red shirts. The look on his manager’s face suggest that it will be some time before we see a repeat of that Clouseau moment. The striker was outstanding beyond that, entirely unselfish in his work for the team. Lyrically, it might be cast as a lonely plough he is foraging but support is bountiful that he is rarely left isolated; whatever space he left yesterday was gleefully exploited by the midfield, even the defence as Sagna and Gibbs enjoyed the opportunity to push forward.
Inevitably, Ramsey broke the deadlock with a goal that encapsulated Cardiff’s problem. Where Giroud was, a shorter midfielder appeared, the header which met Özil’s cross might have come from a seasoned centre-forward, one from another era even; superbly guided into the net, unstoppable. Ramsey’s muted response caused a moment of shock in the home crowd, appreciated soon after nonetheless. For me, it was the pick of the goals such was the technique employed in the finish. I know Flamini’s was a superb team goal but – and accusations of being blasé can be rightly levelled – it was one you expect Arsenal to score. The opener served as affirmation of a young players burgeoning talent.
Inbetween those moments, Cardiff fought back but clear opportunities were few and far between. Talk of Szczesny’s great save highlight this, Campbell’s header was well-directed yet the Pole produced a sharp and decisive save. The accusations that he could not make the difference between victory and draw, a point and none, have surely been laid to rest in recent weeks. The consistency of his concentration is a clear signal of that, the quiet nights are punctuated sporadically and he has found the answers. Of course this form has to be produced over the course of a season but credit should be given where it is due. Equally, the defence as a whole did well. Criticism is frequent during ninety minutes when opponents have their time, when pressure is exerted. There must be some football myth which has found its way into consciousness; matches where opponents are entirely penned back are few and far between. Even the most imbalanced of fixtures will present one opportunity to the defeated but at this level, to expect Arsenal to dominate ninety minutes away from home is most unrealistic. How are the cuckoos or has the nimbus got in the way?
But the defence stood firm, aided by the superb Mikel Arteta. “Somewhat rested” was how Arsène described the Spaniard having dropped him to the bench for the Champions League encounter with Marseilles. It certainly appears to have done the trick, Arteta produced his best performance for a while I think, marshalling defensive duties in front of the back four, timely in tackle and interception in equal measure.
The finale produced the tangible difference between the two sides. Flamini entered the fray and foraging forward from protecting the lead, exploited the space left in the middle as Giroud moved along the home side’s defensive line, to apply an exquisite finish to Özil’s pass. When the German finally starts in enjoying himself, he will be a force to be reckoned with. Ramsey finished it all off, this time Theo Walcott’s pace exposing tired limbs as the whistle was pursed on the referee’s lips.
Three points was all that was required beforehand, delivered with aplomb and should be enjoyed. The next match comes into focus soon enough.