With rain pouring down and yellow placards and Argentinian flags raised in the away section, team captains Mesut Özil and Sol Bamba laid bouquets of flowers in honor of Emiliano Sala, still missing after his flight to Cardiff disappeared last week. Arsenal would go on to beat Cardiff City 2-1 as the rain turned to sleet and fans sheltered beneath the upper decks of the Emirates.
The Gunners nearly opened the scoring just two minutes into the game, but Alexandre Lacazette took an uncharacteristic extra touch, allowing Cardiff’s defenders to get back into their box and block his shot. Lucas Torreira’s sizzling 10th-minute free kick came close as well, but nothing was going in, on either end of the pitch. Arsenal survived three scares from the Bluebirds, and Lacazette came close twice more (and perhaps deserved a penalty after a Cardiff defender caught one of his feet in the box).
Arsenal looked uninspired in the middle of the pitch, maybe missing Granit Xhaka’s vision at the base of the midfield, and wasteful in front of goal, taking the ball straight into clumps of Cardiff defenders and inevitably losing it. Meanwhile, Cardiff came to play, keeping Bernd Leno much busier than he should have been. But they couldn’t capitalize, either, and the half, hardly a classic one, ended with both teams tied at zero.
Unai Emery put Alex Iwobi came on in place of Mohamed Elneny to start the second half, hoping for a more robust attack, and instead the first thing he got was another injury scare as Shkodran Mustafi spent a minute or two on the deck with what looked like an ankle knock. He was up and playing again soon enough, though—a good thing, because the club is down to him and Dinos Mavropanos at center back.
After a few more dribbling mishaps and off-target shots, Stephan Lichtsteiner was replaced at right back by Carl Jenkinson, making his first league appearance since 2016. Play then paused for a brief baseball-style shouting match following a Harry Arter’s yellow card-worthy tackle on Matteo Guendouzi, adding unnecessary drama to an already suboptimal match for the Gunners.
And finally, at the third time of asking, Arsenal got their penalty. Sead Kolasinac was blatantly tripped by Bruno Ecuele Manga after getting the ball from Iwobi and taking it into the box, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang converted from the spot to take the lead for the Gunners. Arsenal may have had a second shortly afterward, but Cardiff keeper Neil Etheridge made sure that Iwobi’s chipped shot stayed out of the net.
Emery’s final change saw Aaron Ramsey replace Özil, with Ramsey taking the captain’s armband against his former club. And within five minutes, Lacazette had finally gotten his goal as well. After three clear missed opportunities, Laca had probably had enough, and he took the ball himself about thirty yards into the box and hit a hard shot off the hand of Etheridge and into the far corner.
Lacazette’s goal seemed to remind Arsenal how the game worked, although Ramsey’s header to make it three sailed just wide. But even down two, Cardiff kept going, and three minutes into stoppage time, the Bluebirds got a consolation goal—Nathaniel Mendez-Laing’s well-placed curling shot beat an unsighted Leno on the left side. At the other end of the pitch, Etheridge made a good save against Aubameyang and a second against Ramsey, just a few seconds before the final whistle.
With three points today, Arsenal draw level with Chelsea in the league table (although the Blues have a game in hand and hold onto the fourth spot thanks to goal difference) and move two points ahead of Manchester United. Although the Gunners looked quite off, Cardiff should get credit for the shift that they put in, especially given the circumstances. Arsenal play again on Sunday, February 3rd, against Manchester City.