Cardiff City succumbed to a 2-0 defeat at the Emirates Stadium on New Year’s Day as Nicklas Bendtner and Theo Walcott broke the Bluebirds’ resistance late on.
Walcott had looked the most dangerous for the hosts in the first period as he fired wide on two occasions, while Jordon Mutch very nearly grabbed the lead for City, shooting low after a trademark break down the left wing.
In the second half, it took until the 87th minute for Arsenal to turn their numerous chances in to goals as substitute Bendtner struck first on the rebound before Walcott chipped the ball home in injury time having been played in by Jack Wilshere.
City travelled to North London undoubtedly encouraged by a few notable absentees for their illustrious opponents as Olivier Giroud, Mesut Özil and former Bluebird Aaron Ramsey were all missing for the Gunners.
The likes of Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski made excellent replacements however, and they started reasonably brightly as the in-form Walcott was unlucky to be called back by the offside flag when he raced through on five minutes.
The Bluebirds were containing their opposition well though and enjoyed their fair share of possession early on as Medel, Mutch and Whittingham all looked to keep the ball on the ground in the middle of the park.
The home side did manage to carve out the first real opportunity of the match on fifteen minutes as Wilshere’s early cross was met by the on-rushing Walcott, but Marshall was on hand to watch his side footed effort go past the post from a tight angle.
That apart, it was a fairly subdued early performance from the Gunners, although they started to get into their stride as the half hour mark approached. First Wilshere’s claims for a penalty were waved away by Referee Jon Moss before Walcott fired comfortably over from outside the box.
City looked dangerous on the break though and could have easily grabbed the lead when Mutch strode down the left flank and fired in a low drive after a couple of step-overs, only for Szczęsny to block well with his legs.
At the other end Walcott threatened once more as his left footed effort hit the side netting, leading some sections of the home support to believe that they had broken the deadlock.
They were made to wait, though, as the visitors looked just as likely to strike first on the counter. Both Craig Noone and the ever impressive Mutch threatened with long distance drives before the break.
But the final chance of the half fell to Arsenal, as Podolski was unable to get the ball out from under his feet when it broke to him in the box. He was soon crowded out by the resolute City defence, leaving the score still all level at the break.
HALF TIME: ARSENAL 0–0 CARDIFF CITY
The Bluebirds had been by no means overawed in this encounter with the top side in the country and continued to hold their own early on in the second half.
In fact, they felt aggrieved not to have been awarded a penalty early on as Noone’s cross struck Nacho Monreal’s raised hand right on the edge of the box. The referee was not swayed by the appeals of the travelling City faithful though, and Arsenal soon started to get on top, flashing a couple of dangerous crosses across Cardiff’s six yard box in the following minutes.
Along with Walcott, Jack Wilshere, celebrating his 22nd birthday, was looking the most likely to force an opener for the Gunners. After some clever running, he was extremely unlucky to see his smashed effort rebound off Marshall’s near post, although the Scot appeared to have it covered.
As the home side upped the ante, Mertesacker really should have given his side the lead on two separate occasions. Two remarkably similar chances fell to the German international within a couple of minutes, only for him to flash both of his free headers past the left hand post.
Arsenal had really done enough to deserve the lead by now, although they couldn’t seem to convert their various chances into goals. Walcott saw his free-kick nestle on the roof of Marshall’s net with one such opportunity with just fifteen minutes now remaining.
City could have snatched a late goal as Steven Caulker threatened from some Whittingham set piece deliveries. But the former Tottenham centre half had to be on hand at the other end too, as he cleared a deep cross off the line with several Arsenal attackers lurking.
But it was the home side who would grab the first goal, and the three points, in devastating fashion as they first struck with just a couple of minutes left on the clock. Marshall had done very well to parry away Bacary Sagna’s header at the far post, but unfortunately for City, Nicklas Bendtner was on hand to smash the rebound home and make it 1-0.
As the fourth official indicated that there would be five minutes of added time, the Bluebirds still harboured some hope of securing a come-back, but it was only to get worse for the visitors. Jack Wilshere played in Walcott cleverly as Arsenal’s two brightest players combined and Walcott made no mistake with this finish – chipping past a despairing Marshall to leave the final score at 2-0.
FINAL SCORE: ARSENAL 2–0 CARDIFF CITY
Teams - Arsenal: Szczęsny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Arteta, Flamini (Rosický 63), Wilshere, Walcott, Cazorla, Podolski (Bendtner 63) (Vermaelen 90). Subs not used: Fabiański, Jenkinson, Ryo, Gnabry.
Cardiff City: Marshall; McNaughton, Caulker (C), Turner, John; Whittingham, Medel (Gunnarsson 61), Kim, Noone, Mutch (Cowie 68); Campbell (Maynard 79). Subs not used: Lewis; Hudson, Cornelius, Smith.