Arsenal overcome familiar defensive calamities to win at Cardiff
Three thoughts from Arsenal's 3-2 win at Cardiff in their Sunday morning Premier League clash.
1. Lacazette to the rescue for Arsenal
Alexandre Lacazette spared Arsenal's blushes as he marked his first start of the season by scoring a spectacular winner in Sunday's 3-2 win at Cardiff City Stadium.
The Gunners looked set for another poor away result after their familiar defensive weaknesses allowed Cardiff to come from behind twice, but Lacazette capped a terrific performance by firing a shot into the roof of the net from a tough angle in the 81st minute. The France international also set up Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to make it 2-1 in the 62nd, making a strong argument for why the two forwards should be starting together regularly.
Both strikers netted their first goal of the season and the partnership between the two -- which Emery had been reluctant to deploy up until now -- will be needed to make up for the defensive deficiencies that still remain in this team.
This was Emery's first away win as Arsenal manager -- an improvement over last season's woeful road form according to the Luck Index -- and the result will go some way toward building momentum behind his side after also beating West Ham at home last week. But the performance itself showed that there are still plenty of issues for the new manager to sort out. Arsenal were nearly the architect of their own downfall once again as their sloppy defensive mistakes show no sign of disappearing under Emery.
The Gunners had led through Shkodran Mustafi's header and Aubameyang's second-half strike but allowed Neil Warnock's scrappy side to score their first two goals of the season. Victor Camarasa made it 1-1 on the stroke of half-time after Granit Xhaka had sloppily given the ball away in midfield, while Arsenal's defence was then caught watching as Sean Morrison met a free kick in the area and headed the ball toward Danny Ward, who was left alone to head it past Petr Cech.
The Gunners created enough chances going forward to put the game away much sooner, with Lacazette hitting the post in the first half, but were also fortunate to concede a couple of more goals despite dominating possession. Sean Morrison had a late chance to equalise again but headed high in injury time, letting Arsenal off the hook and denying Cardiff a point that would have felt deserved.
Sunday's game was another reminder of the daunting task Emery has been given to solidify a side that so often folded under Arsene Wenger and has yet to establish anything that resembles a backbone.
2. Ozil, Cech struggle to make a mark
On his fifth anniversary of signing for Arsenal, Mesut Ozil had a great chance to show he can still be a key part of the team's future as he was back in the line-up after missing out with an illness last weekend. But his performance won't do much to quell talk about whether he actually fits into Emery's high pressing side as he drifted in and out of the game while playing out on the right flank.
Emery insisted on Friday that Ozil is happy playing that role rather than as a No.10 but the Germany international did little here to show that's the case. His inability to track back also left right-back Hector Bellerin much too exposed on counterattacks. Emery has denied talks of a rift with the star playmaker but he has yet to show he can make the most of the German.
Additionally, the manager must also think hard about how much time Cech will be given to improve his passing ability, as the goalkeeper's struggles to play out from the back nearly cost Arsenal again.
Emery's whole game plan depends on having a goalkeeper who is comfortable with the ball at his feet but Cech clearly isn't. He nearly got himself in trouble in the opening minute when he struggled to control a back pass, then fed the ball straight to Harry Arter in the seventh minute to set up a gold chance for the hosts. He was let off the hook when Arter fired high, but Cech opened the second half with another sloppy pass and is becoming a liability that opponents will try to take advantage of by pressing Arsenal's centre-backs more aggressively.
Cech entered the game having made the most saves of any Premier League keeper in the opening three rounds but every mistake he makes is another argument in favour of giving new signing Bernd Leno a chance to show what he can do.
3. Cardiff fail to take advantage of opportunities
Sunday's encounter was a game most would have expected Cardiff to lose but they will rue the result as an opportunity lost after nearly snatching a valuable point.
Warnock's side showed they can certainly compete with top Premier League sides but they must still earn to take advantage of key situations. They were gifted chances here and Arter could easily have punished Cech's early mistake, while Morrison's late header could still have snatched a point, but they were left empty-handed despite creating enough chances for a handful of goals.
Cardiff entered the game as the only team in the top four English leagues who had yet to score a league goal this season, so it must have felt like a blessing coming up against Arsenal's notoriously shaky defence. The fact that they netted twice could be seen as a comfort, but it's also worrying that they couldn't turn that into at least a draw.