FA Cup – Dogged Cardiff hold Arsenal
Both sides had chances to win it, as the home side dominated the first half before the visitors’ superior fitness and technique saw them control the second.
Yet neither team could break the deadlock – Arsenal’s Emmanuel Adebayor was guilty of a particularly glaring miss – and the Championship side will travel to North London with their dreams of repeating last season’s final appearance still intact.
The atmosphere was everything you would expect from a Ninian Park cup tie. In Cardiff’s last season before moving to new premises, their fans ensured the old ground a raucous send-off to the FA Cup – and gave it a chance of seeing more action later in the competition.
Arsene Wenger has never been afraid to shuffle his pack in domestic cup competitions, and he relegated Manuel Almunia, William Gallas and Emmanuel Adebayor to the bench while Gael Clichy was suspended.
Cardiff went straight on to the front foot, utterly dominating the first 20 minutes. Debutant Chris Burke, having recently signed from Rangers, reached a long ball and cut inside his marker, but his left-foot shot was charged down.
Minutes later, in-form striker Ross McCormack headed a presentable chance wide from Joe Ledley‘s cross. The replay showed the Cardiff man had strayed well offside but the linesman’s flag stayed down.
McCormack was in again on 14 minutes when Djourou and Kolo Toure both hesitated and let a long ball bounce – but the Scotsman again failed to hit the target.
As Arsenal reeled, Cardiff continued to spurn goalscoring opportunities. Ledley volleyed over from 10 yards and Paul Parry jinked inside from the left but shot well over with his weaker right foot.
Then came a warning of Arsenal’s hitherto unseen quality, as the ball broke for Samir Nasri in the box and his shot brought a sharp diving save from Peter Enckelman.
Emmanuel Eboue has received a vote on confidence and the promise of a new contract from Arsene Wenger after being booed by his own fans earlier this season.
Yet the Ivorian remains a supremely frustrating player. Never more so than in the 42nd minute when he burst into the Cardiff box on an impressive run then dived theatrically in search of a penalty. Referee Martin Atkinson booked him for simulation.
Arsenal had two superb chances just before half-time. First they counter-attacked with a three-on-two advantage, but Nicklas Bendtner failed to finish off an incisive move.
The Dane had another opportunity in stoppage time, but headed well over from a few yards out.
Arsenal improved in the second half, with Van Persie looking especially dangerous. The Dutchman bent a long-range free-kick just wide and also brought two fine saves from Enckelman with close-range shots.
McCormack hit back with a long-range effort Fabianski had to parry for a corner, but the tide appeared to be turning.
Adebayor came off the bench and was immediately involved – albeit not in the manner he would have liked. A Van Persie cross was flicked on to the unmarked Togolese who had a simple finish, but completely miscued it and the ball bounced harmlessly to Enckelman.
Nasri then tested Enckelman with a 20-yard drive, but Cardiff weathered the storm and their fans will relish their trip to the English capital for the replay.