The result may have been meaningless as Arsenal again crashed out of the Champions League in the last 16, but the performance was anything but. The Ox was hugely impressive...
Manuel Pellegrini's side must seek an early goal that will cause panic amongst home supporters (and then hopefully players) in the Camp Nou. It may be a thankless task...
Never did we think we could run out of superlatives to describe Aaron Ramsey. The midfielder was simply magnificent on his return to Cardiff, scoring his 12th and 13th goals of the season to fire Arsenal seven points clear at the top of the Premier League and add further conviction to the Gunners' title credentials.
Arsene Wenger's pre-match comments now look rather prescient, given Ramsey's all-action display against the team for which he made his professional debut. "The first time (he returned) it affected him, he wanted to do so well that he missed a lot of passes at Cardiff," said Wenger of a 2009 FA Cup tie. "Now he takes that in a more positive way."
The manager also carried a warning for Arsenal, which was clearly heeded by his team as they produced a dominant display and stemmed Cardiff pressure at the start of the second half. "They beat City at home and they played a very good game against Manchester United where possession was 50-50, so that is the challenge for us - to do better than these teams," said Wenger on Friday. "You could feel that they would come back (against United). They have that special attitude and belief in the side, and that makes them dangerous."
Indeed, only two teams have picked up more points from losing positions than Cardiff, with fightbacks against City and United giving the Bluebirds' home the feel of an elephant's graveyard. Not for Arsenal, however, who were more than up to the
tusk task on Saturday, led by another superb contribution from the Premier League player of the season so far.
Ramsey embodies Arsenal's remarkable resilience, which shows little sign of cracking despite desperate attempts to undermine their achievements this year. While the 22-year-old has shown incredible grit and determination to make a mockery of those who wrote him off as he struggled to get over his harrowing leg break, Arsenal have done the same, albeit over a shorter period of time. Andre Villas-Boas spoke of a 'negative spiral' after Spurs' 2-1 victory over their rivals at the start of March but, as the Portuguese now finds himself under mounting pressure, Arsenal are celebrating a 25th victory in 33 matches since that gruelling Sunday in spring.
Given the speed of Arsenal's transformation it is perhaps difficult to comprehend quite how far they have come in such a short space of time, with many preferring to focus on the 1-0 loss to United as a sign that things will soon change at the top. However, this is a team full of keen students, coached by a manager who may have let his hand slip on the tiller last season, but is now 'more concentrated, more conscious', as Santi Cazorla said last week.
As Bayern Munich tore Arsenal apart with embarrassing ease in February, only three days after the Gunners' were knocked out of the FA Cup by Blackburn and two weeks before that loss to Spurs and the dreadful defensive display that came with it, it seemed that the current cast at the Emirates would never learn. But then came that night in Munich - the only match in which Bayern have failed to score since April 11, 2012. It was a strange game that taught us little that we didn't already know about Wenger and his team, and yet the result has galvanised Arsenal in a way few would have imagined.
There are still questions as to whether the Gunners can consistently produce their best performances in the 'bigger' tests, with Wenger pointing to 'nerves' in the defeat to United, but the idea of a brittle core is crumbling. Arsenal have not lost in the last 24 Premier League matches in which both Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny have completed 90 minutes, Wojciech Szczesny underlined his improvement with a fine save from Fraizer Campbell on Saturday, while Mathieu Flamini has added steel and a winning mentality - two qualities Olivier Giroud now boasts on a weekly basis. Mesut Ozil brings a dash of panache to go with the new-found gristle.
This is a team that were thoroughly out-thought in a 2-1 home defeat to Borussia Dortmund in October before adapting their approach to leave the Westfalenstadion with a priceless 1-0 win just two weeks later. After successive defeats at the Emirates to Dortmund and Chelsea, Liverpool were ruthlessly put the sword by a confident and intelligent display that somewhat mirrored Dortmund's drive through the centre. Napoli and Spurs have also been brushed aside, while wins over Southampton and Cardiff are worthy of great praise given the context.
The gap at the top was not seven points on Saturday merely because Arsenal have been by far the best team in the country this season, but also because of their ability to bounce back from disappointment, both as a group and as individuals. Ramsey is the prime example, of course, but Jack Wilshere also answered his critics with a match-winning display against Marseille in midweek. Ozil provided two assists in the victory at Cardiff to refute claims of a loss of form - "at any moment he can kill you with a pass" said Wenger on Saturday - while Sagna has now firmly banished the memories of his hapless performance in January's 2-1 defeat to Chelsea.
It is getting harder to raise the long-standing concerns over Arsenal's ability to challenge at the top. The mistakes are gradually disappearing; the soft belly has become firmer while doubts over a small squad are alleviated somewhat by Theo Walcott's return and Lukas Podolski nearing fitness. Arsenal are evolving to the point at which it will soon be difficult to judge them by previous standards. They are a new beast, a different proposition entirely this season and, as talk of an implosion appears increasingly unlikely, their rivals face a hard task to stop them.
Matt Stanger - he's on the Twitter.