x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

For Arsenal, it is better late than never in win over Cardiff City

Bendtner scored in the 88th minute and then Walcott added an insurance goal in injury time to lead Arsenal to a 2-0 victory over Cardiff City.

Arsenal's Per Mertesacker, left, heads wide during their English Premier League soccer match against Cardiff City at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez
Arsenal's Per Mertesacker, left, heads wide during their English Premier League soccer match against Cardiff City at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Arsenal 2 Cardiff City 0

Arsenal Bendtner 88’, Walcott 90+2’

Man of the match Lukas Podolski (Arsenal)

LONDON // At the final whistle, Per Mertesacker hugged Laurent Koscielny in the centre-circle, Jack Wilshere took off his shirt to celebrate in front of the fans behind the goal where Arsenal had scored their two late goals while Bacary Sagna thumped the air.

This was a victory that meant an awful lot to Arsenal, not least because for so long it seemed like it would not arrive.

There are two ways to look at the game.

On the one hand, Arsenal had 26 shots to Cardiff City’s five, slowly increased the pressure in the second half and kept playing even as their frustration mounted, before Nicklas Bendtner finally broke the deadlock with two minutes remaining. An optimist would see a side that had the character to overcome misfortune and finally secure the win they deserved.

The pessimist, though, would wonder why they were so flat for so long, and point out the deficiency that has been glaring all season: the lack of a back-up striker.

Without Olivier Giroud, the victim of an ankle injury, Arsenal turned to Lukas Podolski, making his first Premier League start since playing against Fulham on August 24.

On that day, starting on the left, he scored twice, but against Cardiff he was thoroughly ordinary as a central striker, his first notable contribution coming after 42 minutes when he blocked a shot from Theo Walcott.

Maybe he was just feeling his way back after a hamstring injury, but the modern Arsenal look better when they have a strong central striker.

It was notable that, other than a speculative Wilshere shot that struck the post, the best chances they had before Bendtner came on were two Mertesacker headers; against all expectations, Arsenal, the Premier League team most associated with passing football, have come to need an old-fashioned No 9.

Bendtner’s arrival coincided with an intensifying of tempo and he got the opener after 88 minutes, lashing in the rebound after David Marshall had parried Sagna’s header.

Bendtner sprained his ankle in doing so, though, and is expected to be out for “not days but weeks”, according to Arsene Wenger.

The Arsenal manager gently chided the immediate leap from a discussion of Bendtner’s ankle to a question about whether he will buy a new striker in the transfer window, but if they are to be without both Giroud and Bendtner, it surely increases the motivation to bring in a replacement, even if it is a short-term measure.

Wenger also suggested Cardiff had played above themselves because of the presence in the stands of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who is likely to be named as Cardiff’s new manager.

The former Manchester United striker was flown to London from Norway in a private jet belonging to Cardiff’s owner Vincent Tan, who sat next to the Norwegian.

Solskjaer has won two Norwegian league titles and the cup with Molde and, while many have expressed surprise that he should be willing to work with an owner as controversial as Tan, he presumably thinks he is ready to step up to the Premier League having turned down Aston Villa in summer 2012.

Adding a further layer of complication is the fact that he is a patron of the Manchester United Supporters Trust, which opposed the Glazer family’s takeover of United; Cardiff’s chairman, Mehmet Dalman, was the man who introduced the Glazer family to United.

What Solskjaer will find is a well-organised team described by Wenger as the fittest in the league, which is at least a starting point.

Arsenal did prevail, eventually, but there was much to encourage Cardiff. There was even more, though, to encourage Arsenal: they may lack strikers, but they have self-belief in abundance.

sports@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter at SprtNationalUAE