The FA Cup holders are on the march again.
Cardiff has been good to Arsenal in this famous old competition. They have reached the Final in all but one year since the showpiece game was switched to the Welsh capital in 2001. However Arsène Wenger's side showed little sentiment when the city's team visited Highbury in the Third Round this afternoon.
Robert Pires finished fine moves in the sixth and 18th minutes to break Cardiff hearts. Despite a second-half rally by Dave Jones' side, they never looked like staging recovery until four minutes from time when the referee ruled that Cameron Jerome's flick had crossed the line.
It brought the tie to life in the final stages but the result was never in doubt.
There were the usual wholesale changes ahead for Arsenal's first foray into the FA Cup this season. Jens Lehmann, Thierry Henry, Sol Campbell and Cesc Fabregas had already been announced as absentees. They were simply rested. Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue were added to list after they were called up to the Ivory Coast squad for the African Nations Cup.
If their side go all the way to the Final they will be absent until February 10. Their departures meant Wenger drafted in two 18-year-olds, Johan Djourou and Kerrea Gilbert, at the back
Cardiff might have been ahead within the first 30 seconds. Neil Ardley flicked a ball over the head of Philippe Senderos and the highly-rated Jerome scampered through to lift the ball above Manuel Almunia but the effort sailed over the bar.
They would rue that miss. In the sixth minute, Dennis Bergkamp fed Jose Antonio Reyes on the edge of the area. His trickery sent Pires clear on the right. The Frenchman steadied himself and fired a low shot into the far corner.
That lead was doubled 12 minutes later with a beautifully-crafted goal. Van Persie strode through the midfield and waited for Bergkamp to pull away from his defender on the right of the area. The older Dutchman then sent a first-time pass into the path of the onrushing Pires who tucked his shot into the far corner with aplomb.
The visitors were 2-0 down, away from home with just 18 minutes gone. You got the feeling that was that.
Certainly the fire went out of Cardiff. Arsenal seemed to have measure of the Championship side. They were on cruise control.
Gilberto curled an effort just beyond the far post soon after the second goal and, on the half-hour, Senderos nodded wide from Bergkamp's left-wing free-kick. They reached half-time with the game in the palm of their hand.
Reyes had received a buffeting in the first half and needed treatment several times. It was no great surprise with he was replaced by Quincy at the break.
Van Persie's early, long-range effort suggested it might be one-way traffic once more. But Cardiff should have scored in the minutes that followed. First Darren Purse burst through but, off balance, he missed his kick from 10 yards out.
Then Jerome thundered down the right wing and cut the ball back for the unmarked Neil Ardley at the near post. Djourou managed to block his shot from close range.
It was becoming a real Cup tie. Cardiff were need quick goals so they were gambling going forward. It was testing Arsenal but, at the same time, leaving gaps at the back.
In the 58th minute Quincy's pace won a corner. Pires took it and Van Persie steered a near-post header against the bar.
Cardiff continued to have possession but did little with it. Jeff Whitley's cross shot forced Almunia into action with 15 minutes to go but that was the first time he had muddied his gloves.
The tie seemed dead and buried but, against the odds, it came to life four minutes from time. Neil Cox headed on a right-wing corner and Jerome bundled the ball home from close range.
However there was some doubt whether the ball actually crossed the line at the near post before it was scooped out.
Whatever the merits of the goal, it changed nothing in the end.
- Senderos Yellow Card
- Pires Goal! Goal!
- Persie 77
- Reyes 45
- Larsson 77
- Owusu-Abeyie 45
- Loovens 64 Yellow Card
- Whitley Yellow Card
- Cooper 89
- Jerome Goal!
- Koskela 64
- Lee 89