Aaron Ramsey continued his incredible season with two goals against the club that first nurtured him to help put Arsenal seven points clear at the top of the Premier League. Ramsey, who got his football education at Cardiff City before departing for the Emirates as a 17-year-old, again showed the realization of the promise first witnessed in the Welsh capital by expertly guiding a header into the corner just before the half-hour mark.
It was no more than Arsenal deserved in a first half in which they hit the cross bar inside 90 seconds through Jack Wilshere and completely dominated proceedings. To their credit, Cardiff improved dramatically from the dormant attacking force witnessed in the opening half to make Arsenal sweat on their lead until Mathieu Flamini came off the bench to hammer home a fine strike with four minutes remaining before Ramsey got his second in injury time.
For all their endeavor after the break, Cardiff struggled to create a regular threat on the Arsenal goal. A superb save from Wojciech Szczesny scuppered the home side’s only real chance of coming from behind against one of the Premier League’s big guns for the second week running, following their draw with Manchester United last week.
There were some uncomfortable moments for Arsenal in the second half, but it was another professional away performance of the type that title runs are built on. And with every passing week, Arsenal’s claims for a first Premier League title since 2004 must be taken ever more seriously.
It was so nearly the perfect start for the visitors. A typically slick Arsenal passing move led to Jack Wilshere, fresh from his two goals against Marseille in midweek, taking a shot from 20 yards out that cannoned down off the underside of the cross bar and the wrong side of the line from his point of view.
Still, Arsenal continued in the pattern set by that opening exchange. They were dominating possession, albeit struggling to break down a hard-working Cardiff side who were restricting space in Arsenal’s favored central areas of the pitch. Yet, in the 15th minute, Arsenal could well have been ahead after a bizarre sequence. The referee’s assistant had apparently missed a touch from Mesut Ozil that rendered Giroud offside as he collected the ball clean through on goal. Meanwhile, the French striker assumed that the play would be halted and stopped. By the time he realized that play would be allowed to continue he was closed down by a Cardiff defender.
Wenger’s frustration on the sidelines was all-too apparent. There was plenty of relief then when Arsenal finally made their dominance count on the score sheet, with the identity of the scorer having a heavy sense of inevitability. With the confidence of a remarkable breakthrough season, Ramsey pointed to where he wanted Ozil to deliver a cross and the German willingly obliged with a fine delivery that was met by an outstanding header from Ramsey to direct the ball into the top corner from 12 yards.
The reaction from the player was unsurprisingly respectful, but his former fans deserve much praise for matching that respect by applauding their former prodigy. Ramsey could have had a second before the break too, but on this occasion his touch let him down as he looked to prosper from Ben Turner’s cheap concession of possession on the edge of his own box.
Unsurprisingly, Cardiff’s main, and at this point only, threat was coming from Peter Whittingham’s set pieces. The hosts could have pulled level when last week’s hero, Kim Bo-Kyung failed to make contact with a volley at the near post and Jordan Mutch sent an overhead kick wide.
There was to be more attacking threat form open play for Cardiff after the break, but not before they came desperately close to their deficit being doubled. As in the first half, Arsenal came fast out of the blocks and it took a fine goal-line block from Turner to prevent Giroud’s effort finding the back of the net after Ramsey’s cutback had appeared to have made a goal inevitable.
There was soon an equally close shave at the other end when Cardiff, for the first time, began putting their opponents under some pressure. Andrew Taylor’s cross from the left was flicked on by Kim and Campbell climbed high above Kieran Gibbs to power a heard down into the corner. With the crowd waiting for the net to bulge, Szczesny got down with incredible reactions to make a one-handed stop of the highest quality.
Despite failing to get back on level terms, the match was now very much a genuine contest. Wenger’s concern at Cardiff’s rallying was clear as he took off Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere and replaced them with the more defensively minded Flamini and Nacho Monreal late on.
Instead one of those brought on to protect the lead ended up spectacularly enhancing it. Ozil was again at the heart of things with an inch-perfect through ball for Flamini, who met it with a rocket of a shot into the roof of the net from 12 yards to get his first goal since returning to the club in the summer.
And the afternoon was complete for Arsenal and their returning star in the second minute of injury time. Ramsey exchanged passes with substitute Theo Walcott, before taking a touch to create space for a shot over David Marshall for his 10th goal of a Premier League season in which he has finally and spectacularly recovered from a horrific injury to do his home city and first club proud.