What madness. What brilliant, bizarre, weird and wonderful madness. However this season plays out from here on in, there will be nothing boring about this Arsenal team.
Quite how they won this one is anyone’s guess. Did they deserve to? On the basis of possession, chances created, and the quality of their finishing, then probably they did.
Could they have lost? Oh yes. And that against a Cardiff team that previously held a unique distinction among the top four divisions for having failed to score this season.
Call it the Arsenal effect – they made Cardiff look deadly, owing to a defence that can, at its best be described as a shambolic, and a goalkeeper who appears to be trapped in some kind of cruel experiment. Time and again, Unai Emery implored Petr Cech to play out from the back. Time and again, the 36-year-old fluffed the brief, a magnificent keeper forced into a style that is all wrong for him.
That deficiency might have had Cardiff ahead at the start of the match. It might also have had them in front early in the second half. And had that come to pass, then who could have really said it was unfair? Repeatedly, Arsenal gave up the openings.
Shkodran Mustafi missed defensive headers, Granit Xhaka misplaced passes, Sokratis was out of position – recurring scenarios, all of them. They play that high line and get caught – every game now. Cech plays from the back and gets it wrong – it look questionable against Manchester City, it looked suicidal here.
And yet they have such riches going forward that in games like this they can get away with it. Against opponents like this. And that is not to disrespect a Cardiff side built in Neil Warnock’s snarling image – they were brilliant. A constant energy and threat. Arsenal don’t like rough stuff and so Harry Arter jumped into everything.
MATCH FACTS AND STATS
Etheridge 7; Manga 6, Morrison 7.5, Bamba 6.5, Bennett 7; Camarasa 7 (Madine 89), Ralls 6.5, Arter 6.5, Hoilett 7; Reid 7, Ward 6.5 (Zohore 84).
Subs: Harris, Peltier, Paterson, Cunningham, Brian Murphy.
Bookings: Camarasa, Arter, Hoilett
Goals: Camarasa (45+2), Ward (70)
Cech 5; Bellerin 6, Mustafi 6, Sokratis 5.5, Monreal 5; Guendouzi 6 (Torreira 70, 7), Xhaka 5; Ozil 5.5 (Welbeck 84), Ramsey 7, Aubameyang 8 (Mkhitaryan 89); Lacazette 7.
Subs: Elneny, Lichtsteiner, Holding, Leno.
Bookings: Bellerin, Mustafi, Xhaka, Monreal
Goals: Mustafi (11), Aubameyang (62), Lacazette (81)
Referee: Anthony Taylor 7.
But Arsenal just had too much quality. Mustafi had put them in front, before Victor Camarasa levelled following more defensive incompetence from Arsenal in first half stoppage time. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had Arsenal back in front just after the hour, before Danny Ward looked to have saved Cardiff a point. Then up popped Alexandre Lacazette, starting a game with Aubameyang for the first time and his winner was exceptional. A thing of beauty.
It meant a rare away win for Arsenal and a second of the season. But with top four the aim, you have to wonder if they will be sturdy enough to get enough over the course of the campaign.
The first half was the ultra high-definition, volume-up showcase of what is wrong with this Arsenal team.
Inside the first seven minutes, Cech was looking desperately vulnerable with the ball at his feet. And not just once – three times, twice in the opening 55 seconds. In the first instance, he made a heavy-footed attempt to sidestep Bobby Reid in order to roll left to Nacho Monreal and came within an inch or two of losing possession a couple of yards from his goal. Emery clapped the attempt.
A moment later, Cech was trying to play square across his goalline to Hector Bellerin and nearly gave Danny Ward a tap-in. It is the kind of manoeuvre you generally learn to avoid sometime before turning 10.