01 January 2014

Arsenal 2-0 Cardiff: Player Ratings

Give credit to Cardiff, playing manager-less and auditioning for potential new manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær, who did better than hold their own for most of the match, succumbing only in the closing moments. As Arsene put it after the match,"We needed to be patient against a very good Cardiff side. They did work absolutely hard; their new manager was in the stands. They deserve credit and were a bit unfortunate to lose in the end." It's always a bit harsh to concede late goals, all the more so after having played so well for so long, and I imagine that, should Solskjær take over, he'll be able to build from that strong defensive platform and help Cardiff to score a few more goals. I admit to having a bit of a soft spot for them. They provided us with Aaron Ramsey, for one.

Well, having a soft spot for a club is different from wanting them to beat us, so I'm grateful that we found a way to win, even if it was in the waning moments. On a day when each of our key rivals won, it was essential that we do the same.

Without further ado, then, let's take a look at how our lads did, using statistics from whoscored.com (remember that players start at 6.0 and can climb higher or slump lower over the course of the match:

  • Theo Walcott—9.38 (✯): In the absence of Giroud, he was very much the focus of the offense as we tried to unlock Cardiff's defense. Eight shots on target, most for naught, but he did lead the team with six key passes and added the insurance-goal in stoppage-time to bring his total to five goals in his last five appearances.
  • Jack Wilshere—9.14: This was easily Wilshere's best performance in a while, and he might even have done better had his shot not hit the woodwork of if he had earned a penalty for being brought down in the box. He tallied five key passes and seven successful dribbles to lead the team while spearheading the attack.
  • Santi Cazorla—8.12: Although he didn't register a goal or an assist, Cazorla looks to have regained the kind of dynamic form that thrilled us so much last year. He sliced through Cardiff's defense innumerable times but fizzed most of his shots wide, but the threat he posed unsettled them time and again. It's only a matter of time before his shots move from testing the keeper to beating him.
  • Nacho Monreal—8.04: He was lucky not to have been called for a hand-ball on the edge of (or perhaps just inside) the box, but he otherwise did quite well. Not called on to do terribly much on defense, he contributed very well on the offensive end, pressing forward to provide width behind Cazorla and combining well with Wilshere to create chances. His cross in to Sagna led to Bendtner's goal, after all, the only shame of it being that Monreal doesn't get credit for the assist.
  • Laurent Koscielny—7.88: Interestingly, he frequently dropped deeper on defense, playing more of a zonal role as Mertesacker (distressingly, perhaps) played a bit higher and more aggressively. Along the way, Kos claimed ten of ten effective clearances and added four interceptions to lead the team in both categories.
  • Wojciech Szczesny—7.47: Not called on to do much as Cardiff only managed two shots on target, but he delivered a fine, point-blank reflex save around the 81st minute as Cardiff looked like they might even take a late lead. He did well to clear some tetchy pack-passes from teammates, avoiding the kind of deflections that have stopped a few hearts over the last couple of weeks.
  • Per Mertesacker—7.39: As mentioned above, he seemed to press higher up the pitch than I'm comfortable with, given his pace, and he ran the risk of getting caught out. Indeed, he earned a yellow-card for dragging Jordan Campbell in the 28th minute and was lucky not to see red. At the other end, he delivered two fine but wide headers just a few minutes apart, one that glanced off the post in the 68th minute.
  • Bacary Sagna—7.19: As with Monreal, not called on to do much defensively, but he did it well, and so was freed up to press forward a bit more. He even took a spot-kick at one point and had few chances to score. Ultimately, though, a solid performance with few other highlights to celebrate on a quiet afternoon.
  • Mikel Arteta—6.97: Led the team with 102 touches, 93 passes, and 96% pass-accuracy but looked a bit sluggish, even to the point of losing the ball twice around the 80th minute, one near midfield that led, eventually, to a Cardiff corner, and again in a scrum when he collected the ball at the top of our box but lost it, leading to that fine save from Szczesny.
  • Matthieu Flamini—6.87: A quiet afternoon as he played deeper and seemed content to support Arteta, who played more forward. I might have liked to see Flamini do more to contain or disrupt the few counters that Cardiff managed. Why we started both he and Arteta is a bit of a mystery to me as it was unlikely that Cardiff would exert much defensive pressure.
  • Lukas Podolski—6.29: a bit of a disappointment as he only managed one shot and didn't look particularly aggressive, perhaps highlighting the idea that he's not meant to play centrally, at least not in our set-up. He only managed 35 touches, suggesting that he was a bit lost, both due to his own lack of comfort/familiarity/skill as a central-striker and due to Cardiff's ability to clog the middle of the pitch.
Subsitutions
  • Nicklas Bendtner (64' for Podolski)—7.08: At first, I bemoaned his subbing-on, such is my low regard for the man. However, give him credit for playing with purpose and determination, and he scored a well-earned if fortunate goal for his efforts. He moved intelligently if not fluidly, and he contributed well to the build-up. He may not be good enough to lead the line regularly, but he's shown a new-found dedication and, yes, maturity that we will likely need going forward. His ankle-injury might put him out for a few weeks, reminding a certain French manager of our needs in the transfer-window.
  • Tomáš Rosický (65' for Flamini)—6.29: His appearance may not have registered much statistically, but it's perhaps more than a coincidence that we looked more energetic and direct with him in. I might go so far as to say that having started him in place of Flamini or Arteta might have seen us open Cardiff up a bit earlier. His urgency helped to put Cardiff even further on the back foot. More of him, please!
  • Thomas Vermaelen (89' for Vermaelen)—6.16: Only on for about six minutes after Bendtner turned his ankle, not long enough to rate, in my opinion, but he continues to accept his diminished role with greater dignity and diligence than many of us might.
We came away with the points we needed, even if the game-winner came from the least-likely of sources. It's a credit to the squad that, shorn of other options, we could find a way to win against a well-organized, stubborn side. It's enough to keep us atop the Prem despite our rivals' wins and builds a bit of momentum ahead of Saturday's clash with Tottenham, winners of three of their last four matches, including today's win at Old Trafford. We've have a closer look at how Tim Sherwood has changed Spurs' approach as we prepare to meet them in the FA Cup's third round. For now, sit back and relax today's win and another week in first place.