Cardiff manager Neil Warnock revealed his pride despite losing 2-1 at Arsenal on Tuesday as the Welsh side returned to action for the first time since a plane carrying the club’s record signing Emiliano Sala disappeared over the Channel Islands.
Sala never got the chance to play for the Bluebirds as the aircraft carrying the Argentine and pilot David Ibbotson lost contact when on its way to the Welsh capital on January 21 just two days after completing a £15 million move from Nantes.
Ahead of the game Warnock described the past week as the toughest of his career, but admitted the return to action was a relief and it showed as Cardiff performed admirably in the tragic circumstances.
“I know we’ve lost a game of football but there are more important things. Tonight in the circumstances, we’ve only worked on the system, for 24 hours, they couldn’t have given me anymore and I’m really proud to be their manager. I can’t explain really how it has been this week. But you’ve not wanted to get out of bed because everything was miserable. Nobody could actually do anything about it. It’s been really difficult,” said Warnock.
Bobby Decordova-Reid volleyed wide and then headed over with two big chances as Cardiff ultimately were made to pay for not making the most of being the better side before half-time.
“In the first-half, if one team deserved to score, they did,” admitted Arsenal boss Unai Emery.
A minute’s reflection was held before kick-off and visiting Cardiff fans unveiled a banner reading: “We never saw you play and never saw you score but Emiliano our beautiful bluebird we will love you forever more.”
The captains of both sides also laid a bouquet of flowers on the pitch before kick-off, while Argentina shirts and flags were waved among the visiting support.
“Above all our thoughts are with Emiliano Sala, his family, his friends, his club now Cardiff and his ex-club Nantes. I understand, above all for the coach (Warnock). He spoke with him before he signed with them and it is very difficult to prepare in this situation. It was a very emotional match today, they worked hard in their hard moment and we can only say to them our thoughts are with them,” added Emery.
Emery surprisingly not only recalled Mesut Ozil to the starting line-up in the Premier League for the first time since Boxing Day, but named the German captain.
Ozil, though, failed to make an impact before being subbed 14 minutes from time as Arsenal again relied on the firepower of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette to get them out of trouble.
After Lacazette had two penalty claims waived away before the break, Arsenal finally clicked into gear and got the penalty they wanted midway through the second-half when Bruno Ecuele Manga tripped Sead Kolasinac as the Bosnian burst into the box.
Aubameyang coolly slotted away the penalty for his 15th Premier League goal of the season to move to within one of the division’s top scorer Mohamed Salah.
Lacazette sealed a vital three points in Arsenal’s bid for a return to the Champions League next season seven minutes from time when his angled shot had too much power for Neil Etheridge.
The Gunners remain in fifth on goal difference, but move level on points with Chelsea, who are in action at Bournemouth on Wednesday.
Cardiff on the other hand remain rooted in the bottom three, but did at least grab a consolation their efforts on the night deserved when substitute Nathaniel Mendez-Laing curled home in stoppage time.