Arsenal’s second half rally came to the rescue again as they proved too good for Cardiff at the Emirates on Tuesday night.
The Gunners were off the pace and lacked any real threat in the first half but redoubled their efforts for the second period and looked a team transformed.
Goals for Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang were just reward for a tireless effort from the hosts in the second period and ensures the pressure on the teams in and around the Gunners remains high.
After a first half to forget, the introduction of Alex Iwobi after the break proved a good move from Unai Emery.
The Gunners were lacking ideas and directness in the opening 45 minutes and the Nigerian added a touch of impetus and the sort of direct running that had been lacking.
In truth, much as at West Ham, Emery was a little too cautious in his team selection. I understand that rotation is necessary in what is going to be a long, tough battle for a top four place and a thin squad must be sparingly used, but with no FA or League Cup to worry about, the demands on the team are not what they might have been.
Matteo Guendouzi, Mohammed Elneny, and Lucas Torriera made for too conservative a selection for the calibre of opposition and the collective starting positions were just too deep. The team had too much to do to build from front to back and our top two were once again isolated.
In the second half, however, the team played five yards further forward and with the sort of drive that Emery is determined to impress upon his players.
There was more ambition in the passing, more runs from deep, and players were more prepared to take a shot at goal. After a first 45 minutes in which we didn’t muster a shot on target, the Gunners managed four in the second half.
Where we were tepid in the first half, we were electric in the second. We shifted up a few gears and Cardiff couldn’t live with us. We pressed, we threatened and we excelled.
While it was a welcome pick up in performance after the break, it was another first half in which we were off the pace and lacking direction, however. It has been an unwelcome and reoccurring feature of this season under Emery.
It’s something we can get away with at home against teams like Cardiff but it has, and will continue to, cost us points away from home and against sides of real quality. The likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, Tottenham, Manchester City and Liverpool have all scored at least two goals against us in the first half of matches, a completely unsustainable approach to matches in which the first goals is so often decisive.
I don’t doubt that the horrible weather, lukewarm atmosphere and general sombre mood surrounding the tributes to Cardiff’s Emiliano Salla played its part in how things panned out in the first half but it doesn’t excuse it all. We have to be better.
That said, we controlled the match in the second half in a way that gives me encouragement for the weeks and months ahead. The only blot on the copy book, as it so often is with Arsenal, was the concession of a scrappy, crappy goal late in the day which gave Cardiff hope in the dying minutes. It was ill-deserved and never materialised into any further threat but it was so like Arsenal. The loss of a clean sheet should infuriate the players as it much as it should the coaching stuff.
In any event, if we can hold this team together despite our freakishly bad luck with injuries, we will give ourselves a chance to be competitive right up until March and April, when the pressure really cranks up and funny things can happen.
Victory tonight was the very least required to keep our hat in the ring at the top of the table and victory it ultimately was. Sterner tests lie ahead but it was good to see us do the basics right, albeit belatedly.