Superior finishing breaks Bluebirds hearts
Arsenal secured their first away win of the season as they edged a pulsating Premier League encounter with Cardiff City.
Alexandre Lacazette’s powerful late winner proved the difference in a contest full of attacking quality and defensive fragility.
The Gunners led twice, through Shkodran Mustafi’s header and a curling effort from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, before Lacazette crashed home the winner on 81 minutes.
Victor Camarasa’s first Cardiff goal, on the stroke of half-time, and Danny Ward’s header had seemed as though they would earn Neil Warnock’s side a point as they scored their first goals of the league campaign.
Arsenal manager Unai Emery this week denied reports that he had fallen out with midfielder Mesut Ozil after the former Germany international withdrew from the squad that beat West Ham last weekend, citing illness.
There have been suggestions Ozil’s style does not fit with a manager who demands high-energy pressing from his forwards, but Ozil started in an attacking-looking line-up that paired Aubameyang with France striker Lacazette up top.
Ozil and former Cardiff favourite Aaron Ramsey were given licence to roam in behind, and for large periods in the first half, Arsenal’s shape and roving full-backs troubled Cardiff.
Emery’s side took the lead on 11 minutes with a goal that will have left Warnock incredulous as Mustafi headed home, unopposed, from Granit Xhaka’s corner.
But for a wonderful save from Neil Etheridge, who denied Nacho Monreal from point-blank range, the Gunners might have given Cardiff a mountain to climb inside 20 minutes.
However, as always seems to be the way on the road – Arsenal came into this game having lost eight of their past nine away games – the Gunners allowed the hosts a way back in by failing to either extend their advantage or keeping their opponents out.
The first period especially was a game full of attacking intent and flimsy defensive resistance on both sides and Lacazette underlined the danger he posed when he rattled the inside of the post on 33 minutes as Arsenal streamed forward.
Emery’s men almost replicated their opening goal when Mustafi got a firm header to Xhaka’s corner, but this time Etheridge repelled the danger.
Lacazette and Aubameyang struggled to find a rapport at times, but were perfectly in tune just past the hour mark when they combined beautifully to allow Aubameyang to curl home from just outside the area, his 150th goal in one of Europe’s top five leagues.
While Arsenal always catch the eye in attack, the Bluebirds had failed to score in their first three fixtures back in the top flight, extending their run to 1,597 days without a Premier League goal since Peter Whittingham’s penalty on 19 April 2014 against Stoke City.
They probably feared more of the same when they spurned a golden opportunity inside 10 minutes, when midfielder Harry Arter shot over the crossbar despite being presented the ball by Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech. Arter also shot over in first-half stoppage time as Cardiff looked a little bereft of ideas in attack.
Ward was within an inch or so of turning home Bobby Dercordova-Reid’s cross, while the former Bristol City forward also acrobatically volleyed over after Ward failed to find a convincing touch following Junior Hoilett’s cross.
It seemed it was going to be yet another frustrating half for Cardiff, but Arsenal allowed more shots on target to the opposition in their first three games (24) than any other Premier League side and on the stroke of half-time, they let the hosts in.
The Gunners failed to deal with Joe Bennett’s cross and summer signing Camarasa stole in between Mustafi and Monreal, twisting away from the latter and rifling the ball past Cech into the roof of the net.
The Bluebirds barely created even a half-chance in the second period with Arsenal again seizing the advantage, but they found a goal from nothing with 20 minutes remaining when Sean Morrison flicked on a free-kick and Ward crashed home a header off the inside of the post.
It set up a grandstand finish where both sides pushed to win the match, with Reid bursting clear and firing straight at Cech, before Lacazette’s stunning finish ensured all three points would head back to north London when he escaped Sol Bamba’s slack marking and thundered the ball in at the near post.
Morrison’s late header over the bar with Cech completely stranded almost provided even further drama, but Arsenal held on.
GK Etheridge 7
RB Manga 7
CB Morrison 6
CB Bamba 6
LB Bennett 7
M Camarasa 7
M Ralls 6.5
M Arter 7
AM Reid 7
W Hoilett 7
F Ward 7.5
F Zohore 5.5 (For Ward 84 mins)
F Madine 6 (For Camarasa 89 mins)