Comment and Analysis @p_smith86
Arsenal have thrilling attack but defensive errors in danger of holding them back
Cardiff twice levelled before the Gunners won 3-2
Last Updated: 03/09/18 7:57am
In Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, Arsenal have one of the most thrilling front-lines in the Premier League - but they must cut out the defensive mistakes if they are to compete with the very best, writes Peter Smith.
Progress is being made at Arsenal as Unai Emery begins to shape the team into his way of playing. But the best and worst of what he inherited at the club were on show in a dramatic 3-2 win at Cardiff on Sunday.
In attack, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, starting together for the first time under the Spaniard, demonstrated the fearsome firepower they possess and their potential to form one of the best strike-partnerships in the league.
But in defence, hesitation, carelessness and players switching off almost un-did Arsenal's good work on the front foot. It is a familiar story for Arsenal supporters.
First, the positives of that attack.
Aubameyang has made a quietly brilliant start to life in the Premier League, already racing to 10 goals from 13 starts, but, in Wales, he and his fellow forward Lacazette proved the pair can be even more effective when played together.
Emery had been reluctant to start Lacazette in the early weeks of the season, despite some impressive cameos from the bench, but the Frenchman seized his opportunity with a man-of-the-match display in tandem with his off-field pal Aubameyang.
Aubameyang's quick start
Since his Premier League debut in February, only Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah (15) has scored more Premier League goals than Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (11).
Lacazette cannoned a shot against the upright in the first half before turning match-winner for the Gunners after the break. He flicked a flash lay-off for Aubameyang - who had started on the left of a supporting three - to curl in, before hammering Arsenal's third high into the net with less than 10 minutes to play.
Those goals take the pair's tally to seven in four starts together and will surely convince Emery this must be his selection going forward, leaving Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Iwobi and the benched Henrikh Mkhitaryan to battle for the two remaining attacking slots.
Arsenal striker Alexandre Lacazette has been directly involved in seven goals in his last five Premier League starts (5 goals, 2 assists).
"At the end of the day you want to get your best players on the pitch," said former England striker Jermain Defoe in the Sky Sports studio. "They are two great players. They're sharp, they make things happen, they score goals.
"Aubameyang's goal was brilliant - that Thierry Henry finish - and Lacazette's movement in and around the box is really sharp. He stays high, as we saw with his winning goal."
It would have been so frustrating then, had their good play not been rewarded with three points. And poor mistakes at the back almost made that the case.
Cardiff had failed to score in the Premier League this season but they found the net twice against Arsenal and racked up 14 shots, just one fewer than the visitors.
Petr Cech was once again living dangerously with risky passes out to his defenders and he should have been punished by Harry Arter who blasted over after making an easy interception - but there were plenty of others at fault for Cardiff's first.
Granit Xhaka's all-too-casual pass was easily intercepted, Hector Bellerin allowed Joe Bennett space to cross, Arsenal's centre-halves failed to win the aerial battle and Victor Camarasa reacted quickest to the loose ball to lash in.
A free-kick was Arsenal's undoing second time around, with Nacho Monreal switching off and losing Danny Ward, who gladly headed home unmarked to pull Cardiff level for a second time.
They were a culmination of basic, avoidable mistakes - but ones which seem to recur all too often for the Gunners. Last season Arsenal made more errors leading to goals than any other team in the Premier League. Emery must find a way to end the gift-giving.
Errors leading to goals - Premier League 2017/18
|Team||Errors leading to goals|
"What Arsenal have to look at is that the problems they confronted today were self-inflicted," said Graeme Souness. "You have to give credit to Cardiff, they played well, created some chances but ultimately it was the two players up front for Arsenal who decided the game. Some special goals from them, quality goals."
On this occasion Arsenal's attacking superiority won out - just - and the travelling supporters can enjoy the feeling of an away win which became all too rare last season.
But for this team to consistently deliver the points on the road, and at home, they must find the balance between attacking thrust and defensive security.
The improvement goes on - but Emery still has plenty of work to do.
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