It is only during occasions of sorrow like this that the pre-match activities can supersede a match itself. A fiercely-contested game between two Premier League sides had plenty of drama and plotlines, but the truth is that none felt particularly significant on a night that will be remembered more for those who were not here than those who played.
This was Cardiff City’s first match since the disappearance of their new striker, Emiliano Sala, and pilot David Ibbotson days after the forward joined the club from Nantes. It should have been his debut for the club, but instead it became a night when tributes were paid for a 28-year-old who is missed by his old colleagues and new team-mates, his family and his friends.
Amid it all, as the first-half rain turned to doleful snow, it must have been a relief of sorts for Cardiff’s players to return to competitive action. They certainly embraced the challenge of facing a fearsome Arsenal attack, launching themselves into tackles, countering with speed and generally playing with a confidence that belied their lowly league position.
They were sloppy in their finishing, though, and they were exposed for clumsy defending in the second half, when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette struck to send Unai Emery’s Arsenal on their way to victory. A consolation goal from Nathaniel Mendez-Laing did nothing to change the outcome for Neil Warnock’s side, still in the relegation zone, but there were few in blue who were thinking about league position given the events of the past eight days.