Last night, Arsène Wenger was given some of the evidence he needs to feel the rest of the season could be fruitful. Yet, with Eduardo's successful comeback, he may have had a wistful feeling too of what might have been, for it was the Croatia striker's injury a year ago that effectively derailed Arsenal's challenge for the league title and deprived them of all momentum in the season's last three months.
Alisher Usmanov has always played down his intention actually to buy Arsenal but the Russian oligarch moved a small step closer yesterday to that when he raised his stake by less than one per cent, taking his holding to exactly one quarter of the club. It prompted Ivan Gazidis, the new chief executive officer of Arsenal, to request a meeting with Usmanov to sound him out further about his ambitions.
As Arsenal ponder their future as a club, Eduardo was at last able to contemplate his future properly as a first-team player for the Gunners. The Croatia international dislocated his ankle and suffered a fractured leg almost exactly a year ago – 23 February, to be precise – in a tackle with Birmingham City defender Martin Taylor in a 2-2 draw at St Andrew's. The fears at the time, and during the early stages of his recovery, were that he might never regain full mobility, but the 25-year-old played for his country in a friendly in Romania last week, proving to Wenger that his Brazil-born forward was finally ready for first-team action. Given that Arsenal lost Emmanuel Adebayor to injury last week and the Togo forward will be out for another fortnight, and that they play in the Champions League next week against Roma, it is a timely return to action.
Eduardo scored 12 goals in all competitions last season, his first campaign for Arsenal after his move for £7.5m from Dynamo Zagreb in the summer of 2007. When his name was called out before kick-off he received a standing ovation. The cheer would have been even greater had his flicked header from Nicklas Bendtner's cross after 13 minutes beaten Tom Heaton at his far post.
But the forward, and the home fans, did not have to wait much longer for his goal. Seven minutes, in fact. Eduardo gave Carlos Vela a pass and, from the Mexican's chipped cross, he headed past Heaton. The emotion and pain of the last 12 months were obvious on his face, as he stayed on his knees while being mobbed by his team-mates.
Heaton, the goalkeeper, who is on loan to the Bluebirds from Manchester United, was not at fault and showed why he thinks he can replace the three ahead of him in the pecking order at Old Trafford with a string of saves inside the first quarter of an hour. First, he repelled an effort by Vela and recovered immediately to kick Bendtner's goal-bound strike out for a corner. A minute later, he was at the far post, keeping out William Gallas's close-range header. Less impressive was the fumble from Samir Nasri's shot that almost crept over the goal-line.
Despite Heaton's efforts, a fairer reflection of play arrived 11 minutes before the break when Nasri curled a corner for Bendtner to jump, unchallenged, and head inside the far post.
Wenger rested three first-team players and lost Johan Djourou to illness just before the start, leaving him one short among his substitutes, as William Gallas moved up from the bench to partner Kolo Touré in defence.
Snow in London two weeks ago had meant the postponement of this fourth-round replay, although Arsenal already knew who they could play in the quarter-finals. The way they were playing, refinding their touch, swagger and goals, made it look as if they were in a hurry to get there.
Arsenal were bringing the best out of Heaton, who pulled off a brilliant double save in the last minute of the first half, with his goal frame also intervening. He blocked Vela's shot from eight yards, Bendtner then hit the post and from the rebound Heaton was there again to deny the Dane.
Cardiff are fifth in the Championship although their focus is more on the play-offs than automatic promotion, given they are nine points behind Birmingham City in second place. Having held Arsenal to a goalless draw in the first match at Ninian Park, they were being comprehensively outplayed at the Emirates.
After 59 minutes Arsenal were out of sight and eyeing up a fifth-round tie at home to Burnley. Gavin Rae leant too heavily into Eduardo, who picked himself up and slotted his penalty low to Heaton's right, and then celebrated by hugging his fitness coach Tony Colbert.
Eduardo even had a chance for his hat-trick, but saw his shot blocked, and was then substituted by Wenger to save him for matches to come, against Sunderland this Saturday and Roma next week.
In the penultimate minute, Robin van Persie, on as a substitute, was set up by Bendtner's through pass to shoot through Heaton's legs.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Fabianski; Sagna, Touré, Gallas, Gibbs; Nasri (Ramsey, 67), Song, Denilson, Vela (Bischoff, 74); Eduardo (Van Persie, 67), Bendtner. Substitutes not used: Almunia (gk), Wilshere, Clichy.
Cardiff City (4-4-2): Heaton; McNaughton, Purse (Blake, 68), Johnson, Kennedy; Burke, Rae (Scimeca, 74), Ledley, Parry (Whittingham, 68); McCormack, Bothroyd. Substitutes not used: Sak (gk), Capaldi, Johnson, Comminges.
Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).
Eduardo's long road to recovery
*It has been a long road to recovery for Eduardo since his horrific injury when his left fibula was fractured and ankle dislocated after a tackle by Birmingham's Martin Taylor on 23 February, 2008. Eduardo went back to his native Brazil after surgery to begin his recovery.
*He returned for the reserves in December, playing a half against Portsmouth and played his first full 90 minutes a month later.
*Last Wednesday he played his first senior game, for Croatia – he took Croatian nationality in 2002 – against Romania, setting up the decisive goal in his country's 2-1 win.
*His goals last night were his first for Arsenal since scoring against Manchester City last February.
FA Cup Sixth-round draw and replay dates
Saturday 7 March or Sunday 8 March
Arsenal v Burnley
Fifth round replays
Tuesday 24 February
Coventry City v Blackburn Rovers
Fulham v Swansea City
Middlesbrough v West Ham United
Thursday 26 February
Hull City v Sheffield United
Blackburn/Coventry v Chelsea
Swansea/Fulham v Manchester Utd
Arsenal/Burnley v Sheffield Utd/Hull
Everton v West Ham/Middlesbrough
Matches to be played Saturday 7 & Sunday 8 March (except tie involving Arsenal/Burnley)
Semi-finals Saturday 18/
Sunday 19 April (Wembley)
Final Saturday 30 May (Wembley)Reuse content