After failing to score in their first three games of the Premier League season, Cardiff City opened their account by finding the back of the net on two occasions against Arsenal on Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately for Neil Warnock, though, his side also conceded three times to slip to a second defeat of the campaign and leave the newly promoted outfit still looking for their first win back in the top flight of English football.
The Bluebirds began 2018/19 with a 2-0 loss at Bournemouth, before consecutive goalless draws with Newcastle United and Huddersfield Town – teams who came up from the Championship the season before they did. Cardiff were probably the better team in the latter of those matches, but their failure to score against opponents who were reduced to 10 men shortly before the hour mark was a concern.
Yet although Arsenal finished sixth in the top tier last term – higher than each of the three sides they had previously faced – there was always a sense that Cardiff could cause them problems in front of their own supporters. The hosts made a fast start, pressing high up the pitch in an attempt to disrupt Arsenal’s build-up, which produced some nervous moments early on. Petr Cech does not look at all comfortable when asked to play out from the back, and his poor pass gifted Harry Arter a golden chance to break the deadlock in the opening exchanges.
It was the Gunners who took the lead, though, Shkodran Mustafi powering a bullet header past Neil Etheridge in the 11th minute. The north Londoners continued to dominate possession but Cardiff deservedly drew level on the stroke of half-time when the excellent Victor Camarasa slammed the ball into the roof of the net after latching onto a cross from Joe Bennett.
Arsenal restored their advantage in the 62nd minute through Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but Cardiff again refused to let their heads drop and levelled things up when Danny Ward expertly guided a header past Cech shortly after. Yet Unai Emery’s charges were not done there, as Alexandre Lacazette lashed home the winner with nine minutes of normal time left to play. Cardiff had performed well and made life extremely difficult for Arsenal throughout, but the Gunners’ superior individual quality is what ultimately made the difference on the day.
“I just thought this was the best way forward really,” Warnock told reporters after the final whistle. “We've tried it with one up front in the Championship but at this level the players are too good and we'd never see the ball or create anything so we tried the system out in midweek.
“I just want us to compete and to score goals. The league is such that I don't think anybody can predict anything. A lot of people expected us to park the bus and score no goals, but we had some great chances today. I can’t remember how many times I put my head in my hands today."
It has been a difficult start to the campaign for Cardiff, who were the bookmakers’ favourites to go down before a ball had been kicked – a situation which has not changed a month on. There were positives to take from their all-round display against Arsenal, but it was also a lesson in the harsh realities of the Premier League.