It wasn’t quite the match Arsenal expected to start off 2014 with. On paper, hosting Cardiff City shouldn’t have caused the Gunners much trouble at all, especially since Arsenal 3-0 easily won the reverse fixture a few weeks ago. However, this was a different game entirely for the North London club.
With midfield maestros Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Özil out with injuries along with goal-scorer Olivier Giroud’s fresh injury ahead of this match, the Gunners were nowhere near full strength. Fortunately for them, Cardiff City isn’t the match you need a full strength squad to win, especially at The Emirates Stadium. The absence of Giroud gave Arsène Wenger the opportunity to give Lukas Podolski the nod at striker against the Bluebirds.
Podolski led the line for the first 64 minutes before Wenger decided to swap in Nicklas Bendtner to add height and fresh legs to the equation in an attempt to break the 0-0 deadlock. Chance after chance for the Gunners fell short, leaving the team and fans frustrated for nearly the entire match. But just as hope was dwindling away, Bendtner nabbed the deserved first goal. Nacho Monreal crossed in from the left flank to Bendtner who had his first attempt blocked but stayed with it and blasted home from up close. In the process of scoring and celebrating, the Dane seemed to turn over his ankle and injured himself as he had to be replaced immediately.
The boss replaced his goal-scorer with Thomas Vermaelen to preserve the lead. Just minutes later, Jack Wilshere’s pass found Theo Walcott who drove into the box and scored the second goal to seal up three points for the Gunners.
Bendtner has now scored in both matches Giroud did not feature in and secured six vital points for the club in the process. With Manchester City winning earlier in the day, Arsenal needed a win to stay atop the table. Thanks to Bendtner, the Gunners’ unlikely hero, they start the new year off the same way they ended 2013 – top of the league.