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Arsenal 2-0 Cardiff: Gunners sees off stubborn Cardiff thanks to Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette second-half strikes as Emery’s close gap on top four

Of course, Arsenal and Cardiff both wanted to win. Of course, they strained every sinew in search of three points. Of course they did.

But what both teams wanted more than anything else was for Emiliano Sala to be playing; to be making his debut for Cardiff.

MATCH FACTS AND STATS

ARSENAL: (4-3-1-2) Leno 6; Lichtsteiner 5.5 (Jenkinson 60, 5.5), Mustafi 7, Monreal 6.5, Kolasinac 6.5; Torreira 6.5, Elneny 5 (Iwobi 46, 6.5), Guendouzi 6.5; Ozil 6.5 (Ramsey 76); Lacazette 7.5, Aubameyang 6.5

SUBS NOT USED: Cech (GK); Jenkinson, Mavropanos, Xhaka, Nketiah

GOALS: Aubameyang (PEN 66), Lacazette (83)

BOOKINGS: Monreal (29), Guendouzi (45+2), Lacazette (81)

COACH: Unai Emery 7

CARDIFF: (5-3-2) Etheridge 6.5; Paterson 6.5, Peltier 6.5, Bamba 7, Manga 4.5, Bennett 6.5; Arter 6 (Harris 82) Ralls 6, Gunnarsson 6; Niasse 6.5(Zohore 73), Reid 6 (Mendez-Liang 70, 6)

SUBS NOT USED: Smithies (GK); Cunningham, Healey, Hoilett

GOALS: Mendez-Laing (90+3)

BOOKINGS: Paterson (36), Arter (63), Ralls (90)

COACH: Neil Warnock 6

REFEREE: Mike Dean 6.5

MAN OF THE MATCH: Alexandre Lacazette

VENUE: The Emirates Stadium

ATTENDANCE: 59,933

Once a Bluebird always a Bluebird’ read one banner. Another simply said: ‘Emiliano Sala – Forever a Blue’.

In the end, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s penalty and Alexandre Lacazette’s late strike was enough to secure victory for Arsenal to boost their top-four credentials. But the result almost felt inconsequential.

In many ways, despite the loss, Cardiff manager Neil Warnock will be relieved to get last night’s clash out of the way.

Maybe now they can gradually overcome the tragedy of losing their team-mate in such harrowing circumstances.

The plane Sala – and pilot David Ibbitson – were aboard remains missing off the coast of the English Channel. Until that issue is resolved one way or another, perhaps Sala’s loved ones – and Cardiff’s players – will never find closure.

Life, ultimately, goes on. But trying telling that to the Cardiff fans who arrived in London with the collective aim of expressing their love for a player they never saw play football for their club. 

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