A brace from former Bluebird Aaron Ramsey consigned Cardiff City to a 3-0 defeat to Premier League leaders Arsenal at Cardiff City Stadium.
The Bluebirds were competitive throughout and it was only Ramsey's first-half header that was the difference between the two sides as the game moved into it's latter stages; a superb stop from Gunners 'keeper Wojciech Szczesny the only thing denying Fraizer Campbell an equaliser six minutes into the second period.
An Arsenal second from substitute Mathieu Flamini and a second for Ramsey in stoppage time put the game beyond doubt as Cardiff eyes quickly turned to a midweek test against Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium on Wednesday night.
After an outstanding draw against Champions Manchester United Malky Mackay’s men were looking for their second scalp in less than a week. There was applause for former Cardiff favourite Ramsey on his return to the Cardiff City Stadium and the Welshman was involved almost from the kick off. With just over a minute on the clock his ball found teammate Jack Wilshire on the edge of the area, whose shot cannoned off the crossbar and away safely from David Marshall’s goal.
There was a lengthy stop seven minutes in as Mertesacker received treatment after colliding with fellow defender Bacary Sagna during an aerial challenge. When play resumed it was Cardiff who looked the more threatening. A measured ball from Peter Whittingham found Kevin Théophile-Catherine on the right flank before his cross was headed just wide of the far post by the onrushing Campbell.
There was confusion with fifteen minutes on the clock as Olivier Giroud found himself alone in the Cardiff penalty area. With only Marshall to beat the Frenchmen came to a halt assuming the assistant referee had flagged for offside. The expected flag never came however and the Arsenal forward wasted what was a clear-cut goal scoring opportunity as Steven Caulker reacted quickest to finally dispossess him.
With the half hour mark fast approaching Mesut Özil fired a searching delivery into the Bluebirds area, which was met by Ramsey. His looping header left Marshall helpless in the City goal as it dipped below the crossbar to give the visitors a 1-0 lead. Muted celebrations followed from the former Cardiff man whose respect drew applause from the home faithful.
Malky’s men looked to find the equaliser and were creating chances. Jordon Mutch’s acrobatic effort could only be directed wide of Szczęsny’s goal after a low cross had caused problems for the Gunners’ defence.
A stray pass from Ben Turner allowed Giroud to charge at the City backline and slot the ball to Ramsey inside the 18 yard box. He turned once to avoid Turner, again to evade Gary Medel but to the delight of the City faithful his effort sailed high and wide. City held on and entered half time with just a one goal deficit.
HALF TIME: CARDIFF CITY 0-1 ARSENAL
Arsenal started the second half with every intention of extending their slender lead. A mazy run from the in-form Ramsey allowed him to reach the Cardiff byeline and cut the ball back across the six-yard box. His delivery found captain Arteta whose snap shot was cleared off the line by Turner.
It did not take long for Cardiff to come back at the London side, in what proved to be the Bluebirds best spell of the game. Some impressive work down the left side of the pitch allowed Andrew Taylor to whip a cross in, Kim flicked the ball on with a glancing header before Campbell nodded goal-wards - Only a great save from Polish stopper Szczęsny denied the Bluebirds an equalising goal.
That chance galvanised the home side. Cardiff, now with a foothold in the game were preventing Arsenal from the free flowing passing which had been apparent through the first half and the beginning of the second. With half hour left Mackay introduced Peter Odemwingie into the game at the expense of Campbell in search of the elusive equaliser.
The Bluebirds were certainly seeing a great deal more of the ball in the second period and were pushing forward. Malky’s second substitute saw Kim-Bo Kyung leave the field and Craig Noone enter the fray - he had an immediate impact. Cutting inside, Noone played a tantalising long ball to almost find Mutch behind the Arsenal centre backs, one which would have left him with just the 'keeper to beat.
Arsene Wenger soon responded with two substitutes of his own, first Flamini came on for Santi Carzola and later Nacho Monreal for Wilshire.
After long spells of relatively few chances Arsenal broke forward with Mesut Özil in possession midway in the Cardiff half. He produced a delicate ball to find Flamini in the area, before dispatching a rifled shot past Marshall to double their lead and to give Özil his second assist of the game.
With a two-goal deficit, Taylor made an exit from the field to allow Andreas Cornellius to bolster City's attacking options. Özil fresh from his assist also made way for Theo Walcott.
With City now pressing, Arsenal broke from their own half, allowing Walcott to gain the ball down the right. With Taylor now off the field Walcott took advantage of the extra space out wide and after some intricate passing, finally found Ramsey on the penalty spot who, clinical as ever, smashed the ball into the back of the net to end all hopes of a Cardiff revival.
FULL TIME: CARDIFF CITY 0-3 ARSENAL
Teams - Cardiff City: Marshall, Taylor (Cornelius 87), Turner, Caulker ©, Théophile-Catherine, Whittingham, Medel, Cowie, Mutch, Kim (Noone, 75), Campbell (Odemwingie 65). Subs not used: Lewis, Hudson Gunnarsson, Bellamy.
Arsenal: Szczęsny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Arteta ©, Wilshire (Monreal 81), Özil (Walcott 90), Giroud, Ramsey, Carzola (Flamini 77), Gibbs. Subs not used: Fabianski, Vermaelen, Rosicky, Gnabry.
Goals: Ramsey (29, 90) Flamini (86)
Attendance: 27,948 (Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff)