If you haven’t already, it’s ok to finally exhale and unclench you buttocks. After a very nervy 90 minutes that involved some scintillating goals, chippy play, and seven yellow cards, Arsenal have found themselves on the winning end of an away match for the first time in the 2018-2019 Premier League season.
To the delight of many Arsenal fans, the match marked the first time this season that Arsenal started the attacking tandem of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, a decision that would prove to be the difference in this match. Mesut Ozil was also given the start after missing last week’s match
due to a training pitch dust-up with Unai Emery with an illness.
Aaron Ramsey, purchased from Cardiff in 2006, also featured in a very attack-minded Arsenal midfield.
It was clear from the outset that Cardiff City fans were going to do their best to fill the void left by Stoke fans as they rained boos and whistles onto the pitch at the creatively-named Cardiff City Stadium, directing much of their vitriol toward Aaron Ramsey. Cardiff City was also clearly up for the match, as they came after Arsenal with a press-heavy approach, which set the tone for a particularly scrappy match.
Shortly after kick-off, it didn’t take long for Arsenal to put anxiety into the hearts of their fans. As with Arsenal’s first three matches, a running theme had been how Arsenal would build from the back, a tactic Unai Emery has been trying to emphasize despite it’s drawbacks. One minute into the match, Petr Cech needlessly invited pressure and nearly conceded possession inches from the goal. In the 6th minute, Cech once again made a mind-boggling error, passing directly to Harry Arter at the edge of the 18 yard box. Luckily, his shot skied over the bar.
Regardless of the miss, this type of play is surely to fan the flames of discontent with those wondering why summer signing Bernd Leno has not been given any runout.
Thankfully, Arsenal were able to find the back of the net early, with Shkodran Mustafi heading home a Granit Xhaka corner kick in the 11th minute.
Shkodran Mustafi scores the opener pic.twitter.com/w6VN9oNlZu— ArsenalGIF (@ArsenalGIF) September 2, 2018
Following their opening goal, Arsenal looked eager to pad their lead. In the 15th minute, Arsenal
striker fullback Nacho Monreal found himself in a one-on-one with Cardiff goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, but was unable to find the net. The Gunners, having struggled to adapt to Emery’s press-heavy style of play, looked more fluid in the attack than they had all season, but were still hard pressed to find the back of the net through the attacking front.
Through the first three matches of the season, the attacking quartet of Aubameyang, Lacazette, Ramsey, and Ozil had not registered a goal or assist. Despite Lacazette hitting the post and Mustafi nearly netting another header, the first 45 minutes proved to be much of the same, as Mustafi’s goal proved to be Arsenal’s only one of the first half.
Defensively, Arsenal were once again shaky, committing numerous poor fouls and inviting chance after chance by a Cardiff City squad that had not found the net through their first three matches. Luckily, Arsenal were able to weather the Bluebirds’ attacks, largely on account of poor finishing by the home team. It looked as though Arsenal was going to head into the locker room with a lead in hand, but Cardiff City capitalized on some poor Arsenal defense, shocking absolutely no one. Two minutes into the first half stoppage time, Victor Camarasa found the ball at his feet from seven yards out following a cross that no Arsenal defender could put a head on, slotting it home over an outstretched Cech.
As the second half began, the aggressive tenor of the first half continued into the second with both sides battling feistily for possession. Hector Bellerin and Matteo Guendouzi were both shown yellows for poor challenges, while Cardiff remained off the books despite some rash challenges of their own.
In the 62nd minute, after failing to score through the first three matches, Aubameyang treated Arsenal fans to a goal of exquisite caliber. With an excellent series of passes, Ozil found Lacazette, whose silky first touch with the outside of his foot fell to Aubameyang 20 yards out. Recognizing the generous space the defender was affording him, Aubameyang curled a shot from 18 yards to put the Gunners back in front and open his account for the season. The goal also marks the first time the Gabon international has scored from outside the box in over two years.
Aubameyang with a gorgeous strike to restore the lead for Arsenal. 2-1 pic.twitter.com/mEIbUaRgpT— Terje (@TerjeGIFs) September 2, 2018
What a strike.
Unfortunately for the Gunners, their lead was not held for long. Shortly after Granit Xhaka’s expected yellow card (Arsenal’s fourth of the match to Cardiff City's zero at that point), Lacazette was called for a highly questionable foul on Harry Arter in the 69th minute.
The ‘foul’ that was given before Cardiff’s 2nd goal. pic.twitter.com/sEPNGv4CAL— ArsenalGIF (@ArsenalGIF) September 2, 2018
From the ensuing free kick, Danny Ward scored Cardiff’s second goal of the match and of the season, benefitting from Arsenal’s shoddy set-piece defending. Following a centered header from Sean Morrison, Ward’s header from the center of the box glanced off of the far post, beating an outstretched Cech and giving Cardiff a huge boost in momentum.
As with the West Ham match, the substitution of Lucas Torreira for Matteo Guendouzi following Cardiff’s goal changed the match for Arsenal. Torreira’s calmness on the ball and smart passing began to open up Arsenal’s attack, and in the 81st minute, he set up Lacazette for an emphatic goal from eight yards out, as the French striker seemingly channeled all of his frustration into what turned out to be the deciding goal. Turning the defender, Lacazette roofed the ball from a tight angle, leaving the keeper flat footed, helpless to stop the strike.
Lacazette puts Arsenal back in front once again. 3-2 pic.twitter.com/oW3g7tbXVQ— Terje (@TerjeGIFs) September 2, 2018
With 10 minutes left to play, Cardiff was desperate for an equalizer and nearly found the net in the 91st minute, as Cech decided to come off the line to challenge a Cardiff attacker, leaving the middle of the box open. A lob to Sean Morrison found his header off the mark, and Arsenal was able to see out the final four minutes of stoppage time, nearly finding a goal of their own on the counter to wrap up the match.
After a poor away form in the previous season, Arsenal will need to capitalize on opportunities such as this one - away at a bottom-half team. Emery’s tactics are still in their infancy, but this match showed appreciable growth in some areas, most noticeably the fluidity of the attack. Passes were sharper, and the opportunities were numerous. The defense is still a problem, and Cech’s ball playing continues to tempt fate, but the Gunners have taken three points away from home, something that cannot be understated all things considered.
With the win, Arsenal have now earned six points on the season and are three points into Project 24 Points. With an international break ahead, Arsenal can head into into their next league match, away at Newcastle on September 15th, with no regrets about their result.