Emirates Stadium, London CNN  — 

On nights like this soccer can be a comfort, acting as a balm during life’s tragedies, offering 90-minutes of respite when the emotional fallout is taking its toll, while at the same time providing a reminder of how inconsequential the beautiful game is.

Under the floodlights in north London, Arsenal were the victors, beating Cardiff City 2-1 in the Welsh club’s first game since the aircraft carrying record signing Emiliano Sala disappeared from radar last week.

Yet a Cardiff win would have been of little consolation anyway for those red-eyed with grief.

After the Premier League match, Cardiff manager Neil Warnock admitted there had been occasions over the last seven days when he did not want to get out of bed.

“What’s gone on this week is unprecedented, really. I can’t explain really how it’s been,” he told reporters, keeping his gaze on the desk in front of him.

“You’ve not really wanted to get out of bed because everything was really miserable. Nobody could do anything about it. It’s been really difficult.

“I know we’ve lost a game of football but there are more important things.”

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Players, fans and officals pay  tribute to Emiliano Sala prior to the EPL game at the Emirates Stadium.

There was no escaping the poignancy of the occasion, a match which would likely have been the 28-year-old’s first for the club he joined from French club Nantes for $19.3 million less than a fortnight ago.

Even the sky was weeping as both captains placed floral tributes on the pitch before the match though, at the request of the family, black armbands were not worn as the Argentine striker has not been confirmed dead.

Instead, Cardiff staff and fans wore yellow daffodils, the national flower of Wales and also of significance to Sala’s former club Nantes.

A corner of the Emirates Stadium turned yellow as visiting supporters held aloft daffodil-colored cards prior to kick-off. Argentina flags and Nantes scarves were also raised and, covering the first few rows of the Cardiff section, one banner read: “We never saw you play and never saw you score but Emiliano our beautiful Bluebird we will love you forever.”

A minute’s silence grew into applause as both sets of fans paid their respects to Sala and pilot David Ibbotson. Head bowed on the sidelines, Cardiff manager Neil Warnock closed his eyes.

Warnock would later praise the fans. “On a night like tonight you’ve got to say well done to them,” said the Englishman.

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Fans hold up a banner in the colours of the Argentina flag.
Fans hold up yellow banners and a Nantes scarf.

Throughout the week managers and players reiterated how futile their profession seemed on such desperately sad occasions like this.

In the matchday programme, Arsenal captain Laurent Koscielny, who played for France against Germany in the international friendly which was the target of a terrorist attack in November 2015, admitted it was difficult to play under “tragic circumstances.”

“You have to be professional, but you also feel the emotion, the sadness around you. There are things far more important than football and you don’t know what tomorrow will bring,” the Frenchman said.

Speaking publicly Monday for the first time since it emerged that Sala was on board the plane that disappeared near the Channel Islands, Warnock said he had considered retiring during “by far the most difficult week in my career by an absolute mile.”

With Warnock revealing that several players had undergone counseling over the last week, Cardiff – a club in the relegation zone – still needs time to heal before the focus returns fully to the battle to remain in English football’s top flight.

But under the circumstances, Warnock’s men performed stoically at the Emirates Stadium and in the first half particularly posed problems to an Arsenal side fresh from an FA Cup defeat by Manchester United.

Bobby Reid went close with a header in the first half and Oumar Niasse had a penalty claim turned down. Arsenal may have dominated possession, but they did not overwhelm the visitors who ended the match with 19 shots on target, though just two were on target.

“We spoke about it before kick off [that] we ought to try and put a performance in. I know people would expect us to lay down, if anything they showed what they were made of,” said Warnock, describing his team’s display as “probably” Cardiff’s best of the season away from home.

“If we weren’t mentally in the right place we would’ve got turned over.”

On January 24, Cardiff fans unveil a flag in front of tributes for Sala

A largely insipid match only came to life in the closing stages.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored from the spot in the 66th minute after Sead Kolasinac had been felled by Bruno Ecuele Manga – a challenge Warnock described as a “stupid tackle” – and a surging run by Alexandre Lacazette ended with the Frenchman firing into the corner to double Arsenal’s lead.

With just minutes remaining, substitute Nathaniel Mendez-Laing cut inside from the edge of the box and aimed a curling effort into the far corner to halve the deficit.

“I don’t think we were expecting any points as such, but I’m disappointed we didn’t get three let alone one,” concluded Warnock.

The Bluebirds will now forever wonder what would have been had their recently acquired 6ft 2in striker, scorer of 12 goals in 19 appearances in France’s Ligue 1 this season, been on the pitch leading the line, holding up play, testing a notoriously frail Arsenal defense.