Two Aaron Ramsey goals, on his return home to Cardiff, along with another from Mathieu Flamini gave Arsenal a resounding 3-0 win in the Welsh capital, capping off another decent month for the Gunners.
There were three changes to Arsene Wenger’s side after the midweek win over Marseille; Mikel Arteta came back in to captain the side, Kieran Gibbs returned from illness and Santi Cazorla replaced Tomas Rosicky, who dropped to the bench along with Nacho Monreal and Flamini.
Jack Wilshere almost ensured the start yesterday was a carbon copy of the Marseille encounter too, although this time the bar kept out his shot from the edge of the area inside a minute after some neat build up play involving Ramsey and Olivier Giroud.
Per Mertesacker then collided with Bacary Sagna in the air and was momentarily forced off because of blood, and in that time Frazier Campbell headed wide Cardiff’s first chance of the game after a good ball in from their right hand side.
We really should’ve been in front in the 15th minute through Giroud. Wilshere played the ball forward and Mesut Ozil flicked it on for Giroud, who stopped in anticipation of the linesman’s flag that never came, and was dispossessed as soon as he realised he was free to continue. There was some ambiguity over whether or not Ozil did flick on and as to if Giroud was in fact offside or not (replays showed the flick did happen and he should’ve been flagged), yet Giroud’s failure to play to the whistle, the most unforgivable crime in football, meant the opportunity past us by with Wenger visibly furious on the side line.
Fortunately it didn’t cost us, and just before the half hour mark we were ahead. Gibbs pushed forward down the left before Ozil took over, and the German played in a perfect cross for Ramsey, just to the left of the penalty spot, whose exceptional header sailed into the back of the net. No celebration, prompting applause from the home supporters, and a fine goal to put us in front.
Cardiff had a free kick a few minutes later that caused problems in the Arsenal area as we failed to deal with it, and Kim Bo-Kyung couldn’t connect before Jordan Mutch tried an overhead kick that went wide.
We almost doubled our advantage just on half time, as Giroud found Ramsey in the area but the Welshman couldn’t quite find the space for a shot as he twisted and turned before ultimately shooting over.
The second half started as brightly for us as the first, and Giroud almost made amends for his first half screw up but his close range shot was cleared off the line following some fantastic build up play and Ramsey’s pull back.
Wojciech Szczesny then pulled off a huge save to keep us ahead, as Campbell headed a deflected cross that looked to be heading into the bottom corner but Szczesny moved quickly to keep it out.
Clear-cut chances were then few and far between for around 20 minutes, with a Giroud shot from the edge of the area all that we managed, before Wilshere surged forward in the 70th minute and released Cazorla in the box, but the Spaniard fired it straight at David Marshall in goal.
Flamini came on for Cazorla and Monreal for Wilshere as Wenger looked to tighten our grip on the game in the final ten minutes, and Szczesny was again called into action as Peter Whittingham struck one from the edge of the area straight at him, with the home side sensing another possible late draw on the cards as they did against Man United the week before.
Don Cowie had a similarly ranged effort at Szczesny also kept out after a Cardiff free kick, before Monreal pushed forward and shot wide from distance when keeping possession seemed a better option.
The victory was sealed in the 86th minute as Ramsey found Ozil, who attacked the right hand side of the area, cut inside and threaded the perfect through ball into the box to find Flamini, who blasted it first time into the net from 12 yards.
Theo Walcott came on for the brilliant Ozil in the 90th minute, and the speedster was immediately involved in our third. Sagna started the move off, getting the ball as Peter Odenwingie went for a splash in the Arsenal area off a corner, and Ramsey charged forwards before finding Walcott, who squared it back to Ramsey in the area, and the man of the moment took a touch and drilled it home, completing the scoring in exceptional style.
Another three points in the bag and although the score line maybe slightly flattered us, we clinically put away a Cardiff side that had taken points off both Manchester clubs at home already this season.
The main man was again Ramsey, and I’m running out of superlatives to use when describing him. That’s 13 goals now this season, and I don’t think anyone in their wildest dreams imagined he’d be having the impact that he is. His hunger for the ball all over the pitch and ability to find himself in goal scoring positions has always been apparent, but now he has the confidence and belief to go with his already fine ability and he, and we, are reaping the rewards of having him in our side
Two other players enjoying fine form right now are Arteta and Wilshere, both of whom were again exemplary in midfield yesterday. Arteta is the undisputed holding midfielder at the Club, as much as I like Flamini, and his interceptions, link play between defence and attack, and covering was all superb. Wilshere has an extra spring in his boots these days, and is getting in good goal scoring positions that he often failed to manage to previously do, and except for the crossbar he would have been on the score sheet again yesterday, too.
Ozil has endured a bit of unwarranted criticism of late, from people who think he should be doing more for the team given the price tag he came with. He answered those critics in fine voice yesterday, and showed why he’s one of the very best attacking midfielders in the game. He completed 38 out of 40 passes in the opposition territory, a supremely clinical percentage, and the two balls for his assists were both perfect to the millimetre.
He’s a player who can make something happen out of nothing and isn’t afraid to look for a second goal rather than running down the clock. He’s the assist leader in the League to date and you get the sense that there’s more to come from him, which is quite an exciting prospect.
It was another clean sheet yesterday too, further testament to the continued progression of Szczesny who is enjoying some excellent form at the minute. It’s a welcomed change that an Arsenal goalkeeper is gaining us points, as he no doubt did with the Campbell save in the second half, rather than the years we’ve endured of the Almunia’s, Fabianksi’s and even early Szczesny days where goalkeeper errors were part and parcel of our games. The Pole has set a very high benchmark for future performances now, and with his deserved new contract under his belt he has a real opportunity to stamp his mark and be our number one for many years to come.
So another three points and another successful month for The Arsenal, and now we enter a December period that pits us against Manchester City, Chelsea and Everton in the League, plus Napoli in Europe.
The one, boring write off for our early season form is that we haven’t faced the top teams yet (despite having already played against two of last years other four sides from the top five), so this is another huge month where the fixtures come thick and fast and squad fitness and rotation will be paramount to seeing us get through it.
With a healthy advantage established at the top of the League we’ve allowed ourselves a small margin for error, and this is only a good thing as it’s maybe slightly over optimistic to assume we’ll go through December without dropping points.
But given the fine way the boys are connecting at the minute, plus with first team players heading back from injury, it’s tough to feel anything but positive about our chances in any fixture that comes our way.
That starts again with Hull on Wednesday.