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Arsenal back on top after late double sees off Cardiff

Arsenal's Nicklas Bendtner celebrates Arsenal's Nicklas Bendtner celebrates

Wednesday, January 1, 2014
5:05 PM

Premier League: Arsenal 2 Cardiff City 0

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Late goals from Nicklas Bendtner and Theo Walcott finally broke Cardiff’s dogged resistance as Arsenal returned to the top of the Premier League.

The Gunners were thwarted for most of the game by a superbly organised Cardiff side, watched by their incoming manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and it looked as if they would endure their second successive stalemate at the Emirates.

But substitute Bendtner put his side ahead with two minutes remaining, netting the rebound after Bacary Sagna’s header had been saved – and Walcott made the points safe with a second in added time.

With the ball tending to stick on the sodden surface, Arsenal adopted a policy of hitting balls over the top for Walcott to chase, without any real success.

Walcott did hit the side netting twice, stretching to reach Jack Wilshere’s cross, and later failing to find the target after Santi Cazorla’s trickery had set up the opportunity.

Another chance fell Walcott’s way when Mikel Arteta pounced on Ben Turner’s sloppy clearance and fed the winger, who manoeuvred himself into a shooting position but put his shot over the bar.

Wilshere felt he had earned a spot-kick when he played a one-two with Lukas Podolski and wriggled into the penalty area, only to be felled by Gary Medel’s challenge, but referee Jon Moss waved play on.

And it was Cardiff who forced the only actual save of the first period as the dangerous Jordon Mutch burst clear to fire a low shot that Wojciech Szczesny blocked with his legs.

The Bluebirds thought they might have had a penalty of their own soon after the restart as Craig Noone’s cross struck the hand of Nacho Monreal – however, the linesman felt otherwise.

Arsenal continued to make most of the running and Wilshere went close on 65 minutes as he skipped away from full-back Kevin McNaughton and rifled a left-foot drive against the post.

Per Mertesacker missed two good chances to break the deadlock in quick succession, nodding wide from Walcott’s cross – and then meeting a far-post corner with another header that grazed the woodwork.

Cardiff goalkeeper David Marshall was finally called into action, diving to catch a deflected effort from Cazorla, and the Gunners’ frustration continued as Walcott’s free-kick sailed onto the roof of the net.

Steven Caulker came to the visitors’ rescue when Sagna’s header looped away from Marshall, and it seemed Arsenal’s luck was out when Walcott blazed another opportunity over the bar.

But the breakthrough finally arrived when Monreal’s cross found the head of Sagna and, although Marshall parried, the loose ball was rammed into the net by the gleeful Bendtner.

And Arsenal’s return to top spot was confirmed when Tomas Rosicky and Wilshere combined to release Walcott, who chipped Marshall to clinch victory.

Arsenal: Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Arteta, Flamini (Rosicky 65); Walcott, Wilshere, Cazorla; Podolski (Bendtner 65, Vermaelen 90).

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