Arsenal 2 Cardiff City 1
Aubameyang 66, Lacazette 83, Mendez-Laing 93

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette struck to beat Cardiff on an emotional night at the Emirates. Tributes to Cardiff striker Emiliano Sala hung over the Emirates stadium with both side’s captains Mesut Ozil and Sol Bamba laying flowers in the centre circle before the kick off. The Arsenal matchday programme had Sala named in the Cardiff line up, with the visiting supporters holding up yellow placards in tribute to Sala’s former club Nantes. There was little sign of the aircraft piloted by David Ibbotson in which Sala was travelling back to Wales in following his farewells to his former team mates. The Argentine was due to feature in this match following his record £15m signing for the Bluebirds, however all contact was lost with his privately registered aircraft as it flew over the English Chanel last week. The Bluebirds got themselves up for this contest with Bamba and Bruno Ecuele Manga having decent games in defence while Bobby Reid was lively in attack. Reid should have put the visitors ahead with a low shot which flew past the post.

0-0 at the break, Arsenal took the lead from the penalty spot after Ecuele-Manga caught Sead Kolasinac. Up stepped Aubameyang to send Neil Etheridge the wrong way. The Gunners doubled their lead when Lacazette escaped the attentions of the robust Bamba and ran at the Cardiff goal before firing low into the net. A rare clean Arsenal clean sheet was very much on the cards, until substitute Nathaniel Mendez Laing struck low into Bernd Leno’s net in injury time. Unai Emery was pleased with the win but wanted to express his thoughts on an emotional night.

“Firstly, we have respect for the situation for them, and above all our thoughts are with Emiliano Sala, his family, his friends, Cardiff City and his ex-club Nantes. I played in France for two years against him. It wasn’t a close relationship because he was an opposition player, but I understand above all that the coach spoke with him before he signed with them and it’s very difficult afterwards to prepare for this situation. Last week I was thinking, ‘Maybe today we cannot play’ but the decision is continuing, continuing to find Emiliano Sala, continuing the competition. It was very emotional match today and they worked amazingly in a hard moment. We can only say that our thoughts are with them.”

Emery made seven changes from the FA Cup 4th round exit to Manchester United and handed Ozil the captain’s armband. Mohamed Elneny, Stephan Lichsteiner and Nacho Monreal started, the latter at centre back. Kostas Mavroapanos was a welcome sight amongst the substitutes where Carl Jenkinson also featured.

After a largely tame first half which saw Lacazette squander a half chance as Ecuele-Manga got a block in from five yards out. Emery took off Elneny for Iwobi at the break and when Ramsey and Jenkinson came on for Ozil and Lichsteiner respectively, Arsenal had more shape and purpose about them. It was Iwobi’s ball to Kolasinac which led to the penalty, and Cardiff who were denied a first half penalty of their own when Kolasinac and Oumar Niasse clashed, never really recovered. Bamba and Lacazette seemed to be having a good old battle in which the France striker proved to be the victor with his powerful run for his ninth Premier League goal of the season.

Five minutes of time added on were punctuated when Mendez-Laing finished smartly from the right, however there was to be no leveller and Arsenal had the three points.

Emery was impressed with Cardiff’s game and felt that they would have been good value had they taken a first half lead.

“The first half, if one team deserved to score then maybe it was them. The best thing to do in this moment when we were in the dressing room was to speak about it. The first half at 0-0 was good for us because we conceded chances to them and they didn’t score. But we had the opportunity to change this situation in the second half and we had to play in that second half with patience because we knew this match was not easy. They play well in one against one in all areas of the pitch and it’s not easy to play or find space in these duels. In the first half this happened a lot. But then in the second half, also in the 90 minutes, the individuals working hard can become tired in some moments. IN the second half, with our patience, we found the best offensive solutions to score and to win this match.”

Arsenal next travel to the Etihad stadium on Sunday for a crucial match against Premier League title holders Manchester City.