Arsenal: Leno, Lichtsteiner, Mustafi, Monreal, Kolasinac, Torreira, Guendouzi, Elneny, Ozil, Aubameyang, Lacazette
Subs: Cech, Jenkinson, Mavropanos, Xhaka, Ramsey, Iwobi, Nketiah
Arsenal ground out three points against Cardiff City at the Emirates this evening, as second half goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette banished memories of a dismal first half and ensured the three points put Unai Emery’s team level with 4th placed Chelsea.
Unai Emery recalled Mesut Ozil to the side, making him captain, as well as bringing in Nacho Monreal, Mohamed Elneny and Stephan Lichtsteiner to the starting line-up.
There was an early chance for the Gunners when Kolasinac was set free by Guendouzi, but his low cross couldn’t be converted by Lacazette at the back post.
Torreira fizzed in a dangerous free kick which didn’t get any further Arsenal contact, and Cardiff could have gone ahead after unconvincing play in midfield and at the back saw Reid have a clear sight of goal but he fired wide from the edge of the box.
The same player then had an even better chance to score, meeting a cross from the Cardiff right, but he headed over the bar from 10 yards out, our defensive frailties on display yet again.
Niasse went down in the box with no penalty awarded, but replays shown it could easily have been given. Then at other end Lacazette could have had one of his own but stayed on his feet after a clumsy challenge in the box from Ecuele Manga, meaning the ref was happy to play on rather than give the obvious spot kick it was.
Cardiff had a good opportunity when a Monreal foul for which he was booked gave them a free kick just outside the D, but Ralls hit the wall and the ball deflected out for a corner.
By the 37th minute Arsenal still hadn’t had a shot on target, Ozil fed Lacazette whose cutback was cleared easily, but Cardiff looked more dangerous, taking advantage of slack defending and marking, with one low cross fizzing into the area but thankfully there was nobody there.
Low crosses from Ozil and Lacazette caused danger in the Cardiff box, but the game remained goalless at the break as Guendouzi picked up a yellow card on the way off for dissent.
After such a dismal first period, it wasn’t a surprise that Emery made a half-time change, bringing on Alex Iwobi for Mohamed Elneny. Guendouzi had the first effort of the second 45 but it failed to trouble the keeper, while at the other end Patterson shot wide from the edge of the box.
Mustafi required some treatment for an ankle knock after landing awkwardly, Patterson shot over again, and after an hour in which we had still to have a shot on target, Emery brought on Carl Jenkinson for Lichtsteiner.
Mustafi had to be alert to block a Niasse shot in our box, before Arter picked up a yellow card for a red card challenge on Guendouzi, and then it was third time lucky on the penalty front when Kolasinac was fouled in the box and amazingly Mike Dean pointed to the spot.
Aubameyang stepped up and stroked the ball home to give us the lead with our first shot on target. 1-0.
Iwobi forced Etheridge into a good save moments later, shooting from a tight angle when he might have looked for a pass but given how rarely we shoot you can’t blame him too much for having a go from that close to goal.
Kolasinac had a shot blocked, Lacazette curled one wide after it opened up for him for the first time in the game, before Emery made his final change of the evening when Aaron Ramsey replaced Ozil in the 75th minute.
Torreira had a pop from outside the box but couldn’t hit the target, Guendouzi saw an effort blocked, and Leno had to save from Zahore after Mustafi got caught running with the ball across his own box.
It was all Arsenal in the second half, but with just a one goal lead there are always nerves. Those were put to bed with a second goal in the 83rd minute. Lacazette picked it up on the right hand touchline, drove into the box, and despite the best efforts of the keeper the ball found the back of the net. 2-0.
It was almost three when good work from Guendouzi and Lacazette saw the Frenchman fashion a chance for Ramsey but his header dropped just wide.
Guendouzi, who had a good second half, found himself on the receiving end of a heavy challenge from Ralls who picked up a yellow card in the process.
In the 5 minutes of injury time, Mendez-Liang pulled one back for the visitors, yet another game without a clean sheet, but ultimately it was just a consolation.
Arsenal even had chances to seal it through Ramsey and Aubameyang but couldn’t find the finishes.
In the end, hard work, not exactly pretty, but three points are three points and we needed them above everything else.