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CARDIFF CITY

v

ARSENAL

Emirates, London

 January 1, 2014; 15:00 GMT

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Even though this fixture is not the most mouth-watering prospect for the neutrals, it is highly significant for both sides, as it involves a team fighting hard to avoid relegation, and another, who is ‘desperate’ for silverware.

The Bluebirds travel to the Emirates after they were denied three points in devastating fashion as Jack Colback completed a remarkable comeback in injury time for Sunderland. On the other hand, Arsenal have regained some momentum after bagging six points on their trip to West Ham and Newcastle United FC. The Gunners have stumbled in matches against some of the big sides and hence, they cannot afford to drop points in matches against the minnows.

Cardiff city are going through off the field turmoil with their manager Malky Mackay getting the axe after a long ongoing feud with the owner Vincent Tan. But the players have not let this affect their performance and they did put up a good show against Sunderland.

Arsenal FC

Team News and Tactics: After a solid performance against Newcastle and West Ham, the Gunners are upbeat and it seems that this season Wenger is leaving no stone unturned to reclaim the Premier League title.

Arsenal went into the game on Sunday without their two most prolific players this season – Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey. The Gunners started well with a lot of possession and were getting into dangerous areas but the final ball was missing. However, the Gunners managed to grab three points courtesy a Giroud header in the 65th minute. But the biggest positive out of Sunday’s clash was the resilience demonstrated by the Gunners. The mental aspect was top notch especially in the last fifteen minutes when the Gunners had to hold on to the lead.

Arsenal have quiet a few injury concerns in their ranks with Abou Diaby and Alex-Oxalade Chamberlain not fit as yet. Moreover, Aaron Ramsey suffered a thigh strain in the match against West Ham and Mesut Ozil has an inflamed shoulder, therefore, both of them are certainly out of the clash against Cardiff City. Keiran Gibbs was substituted due to calf strain at St. James Park and is not available for this game.

Arsenal are likely to continue with the 4-2-3-1 formation. Arsene Wenger may rotate his squad for this match as he did against Hull City. However, the back five could be the same as Wenger has emphasized on the need to keep clean sheets and hence, has not tinkered with his backline or his goalkeeper unnecessarily. The back five could be Wojciech Szczesny in goal, Bacary Sagna at right-back, Nacho Monreal at left-back, Per Mertesacker, and Laurent Koscielny at centre-back.

At the base of the midfield, Arsenal has three options – Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Flamini and Jack Wilshere. The chances of Arteta and Flamini starting together are bleak as it gives the team a defensive outlook. Therefore, Wenger will opt for either Flamini-Wilshere or Arteta-Wilshere combination.

An injury to Mesut Ozil gives Wenger a chance to play Santi Cazorla in his preferred No.10 role, just behind the striker. Cazorla was at his lethal best last season when he consistently played in that position. Theo Walcott will start at as a right – winger and drift in to play as a second striker whenever needed. On the left wing, Lukas Podolski may get the nod from the manager. He may be subbed at the hour mark, if he is not 100% fit. As far as the striker is concerned, time for Nicklas Bendtner to be recalled into the starting XI. The man has showed some character and in his only start of the season against Hull City, he opened his account by smashing a cross from Carl Jenkinson into the back of the net.

Probable Starting XI (4-2-3-1)Szczesny (GK), Monreal, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Sagna, Flamini, Wilshere, Podolski, Cazorla, Walcott, Bendtner

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Formation

Cardiff City

Team News and Tactics: Cardiff have mustered just one win in nine games and sit 16th in the table, two points above the relegation zone. The Welsh outfit are currently in turmoil as the supporters and perhaps even the players are against their filthy rich owner – Vincent Tan’s decision to sack Malky Mackay.

David Kerslake is set to be in caretaker charge once again at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday. He is hopeful that Cardiff can take some heart from their last game against the Gunners in November and put up a good show on Wednesday.

“We held our own against them,” said Kerslake.

“We know they are one of the finest sides in Europe. We had a good go at them here, so we go there in good spirits.”

There are no fresh injuries for the Welsh side, who already have Craig Bellamy sidelined with a hamstring problem. Cardiff will opt to defend deep and try to catch the Gunners off-guard on the counter attack, using the pace of former Manchester United forward Frazier Campbell, who has scored 4 goals this season. However, the prowess of the Bluebirds during set plays is something that the Arsenal defence will have to take care off. Even though the Gunners are in really good defensive form, they will take Cardiff City lightly during set plays at their own peril.

They will be hoping to defend better than they did against Sunderland on Saturday, as the Gunners are a much bigger threat offensively and Cardiff will have to be switched on defensively for the full 90 minutes if they are to escape unscathed. The Cardiff Goalkeeper, David Marshall, produced some breathtaking saves against Sunderland, and he will have to continue his good form against the likes of Cazorla, Walcott and Podolski. Unless there are surprises, the same XI, which faced Sunderland at home will start at the Emirates. They are likely to continue with the 4-5-1 formation with Campbell as the lone striker.

Probable Starting XI (4-5-1)Marshall(GK), Theophile-Catherine, John, Mutch, Caulker, Turner, Nooner, Kim, Whittingham, Medel, Campbell

Key Facts

  1. City will make their first trip to the Emirates Stadium in almost five years on Wednesday, their first since an FA Cup replay in February 2009.
  2. The Gunners have failed to score in the first-half in four of their last five Premier League games.
  3. The Bluebirds have not scored in their last three competitive outings against the Gunners.

Player to Watch Out For

Theo Walcott (Arsenal FC)

LiverpoolTheo has been in scintillating form since his comeback with four goals and an assist to his name already. His pace and his hunger after a long lay-off will make him a real threat for the Welsh side. Since the departure of Robin Van Persie last season, Theo has taken his game to a different level and has scored heavily for the Gunners.

Prediction

Arsenal 2 – 0 Cardiff City

It shouldn’t be a difficult task for the Gunners to grab three points out of this match. However, they have lacked the finishing touch on several occasions. In such a tightly contested league, it may all come down to goal difference and hence, Arsenal should look to score as many as possible.