Arsenal secured a hard-fought win over Cardiff on an emotional night at Emirates Stadium as the Bluebirds played for the first time since the disappearance of striker Emiliano Sala.
The 28-year-old Argentine forward and pilot David Ibbotson were on board a light aircraft that disappeared from radar over the Channel Islands while travelling from Nantes following Sala’s club-record £15m move to Cardiff.
Tributes were paid to Sala before the game from both sets of players, club officials and supporters.
Neither side had a shot on target in the first half, but Arsenal went ahead through Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s 66th-minute spot kick after Bruno Ecuele Manga had clumsily brought down Sead Kolasinac.
Alexandre Lacazette doubled Arsenal’s lead with a fine low strike into the bottom corner, although substitute Nathaniel Mendez-Laing pulled one back for Cardiff in added time when he curled a shot past Bernd Leno.
However, it was not enough for Cardiff as the Gunners’ win takes them to 47 points, the same as fourth-placed Chelsea.
Before the game, Cardiff boss Neil Warnock said it had been “by far the most difficult week” in his 40-year managerial career and admitted he had contemplated quitting following the disappearance of Sala.
He said: “There’s more important things, aren’t there? It takes something like that to make you realise.
“It’s probably hit me me harder than anyone else as I’ve met the lad and talked to him for the last six to eight weeks.”
At the Emirates, both captains brought out a bunch of golden daffodils and placed them near the centre spot before the game started, with Cardiff’s fans also holding up yellow signs to make a mosaic – matching the colours of Sala’s previous club Nantes.
Fans in the away end also held up a banner that said “We never saw you play and never saw you score but Emiliano our beautiful Bluebird we will love you forever more” with an on-field tribute involving all the players.
Warnock’s side had the better of the opening 45 minutes, with Bobby Reid shooting just wide then heading over from 10 yards out,
The away side also thought they should have had a penalty when a combination of Nacho Monreal and Kolasinac bundled into Oumar Niasse, but referee Mike Dean waved away the protests.
Callum Paterson had a chance after the break but shot well wide before his side conceded the first of Arsenal’s two goals.
Mendez-Laing finished impressively in the 93rd minute but there was to be no equaliser.
There was a surprise in the Arsenal line-up as Mesut Ozil made his first Premier League appearance of 2019 and was handed the captaincy by Unai Emery.
Earlier this month, Emery said he was not thinking about the 30-year-old World Cup winner leaving the club, but wanted more consistency from the German midfielder, who is also the Gunners’ highest-paid player.
But Ozil did not create any chances and was replaced after 76 minutes as Aaron Ramsey came on to face his former club.
Nevertheless, the Gunners picked up three points with a much-improved performance in the second half after they had been frustrated by a well-organised Cardiff side in the opening period.
Their struggles were illustrated by the fact Aubameyang did not touch the ball in the Cardiff penalty area in the first 45 minutes.
The Gabon striker did however later score his 15th Premier League goal of the season midway through the second after Manga’s foul on Kolasinac.
Lacazette, who had a shout for a penalty turned down in the first half after going to ground under Manga’s challenge, scored Arsenal’s second in the 83rd minute, shooting past away goalkeeper Neil Etheridge after a forceful run in from the right touchline.