Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff
November 30, 2013; 15:00 GMT
Arsenal FC travel to the Cardiff City Stadium to face the Bluebirds in what promises to be an exciting encounter. The last meeting between these two sides was in the 2009 FA Cup. Arsenal won that game 4-0 with Eduardo scoring a brace, after a goalless draw three weeks back forced a replay. They also faced each other in the 2006 FA Cup and a wonderful brace from Robert Pires handed over a 2-1 win for the home side.
Cardiff have made a good start to their life in the Premier League and at the moment look the most likeliest of the newly promoted sides to avoid the drop. They are currently 15th in the league table – three points above the relegation zone – but it must also be considered that they have already faced the likes of Tottenham, Manchester City, Everton and Manchester United. They have proved that at home they can give anyone a run for their money. Malky Mackay’s side have won against Manchester City and have managed to hold both Everton and Manchester United to draw at their home ground. Kim Bo-Kyung’s late equalizer against the reigning Premier League champions provided them with a well-deserved point in their last game and this will provide them with a lot of confidence ahead of the fixture against Arsenal.
The Gunners have made a flying start to their domestic campaign and currently leads the Premier League points table with a four point advantage over Liverpool. Arsenal bounced back admirable from their defeat at the hands of Manchester United before the international break and grabbed a comfortable win against Southampton at the Emirates. They are coming into this game on the back of a important win over Marseille in their midweek Champions League fixture. That win has taken them a step close to qualification from a group which was labelled as the “group of death” at the start of this campaign. With Manchester United facing Tottenham and Chelsea hosting Southampton, this match provides Arsenal a great opportunity to pull out a good lead over other contenders.
Team news and tactics
Malky Mackay doesn’t have any injury concern to contain with ahead of this fixture. Their only concern Rudy Gestede has joined Blackburn on loan. Mackay is unlikely to make any changes to the side he fielded against Manchester United.
The only blemish from an otherwise outstanding performance from the Welsh side is the way they conceded the two goals against Manchester United in their last game. The first arrived from a sloppy pass, which gave the ball away cheaply in a dangerous area, while the second was due to poor defending from a corner. Patrice Evra should have never been allowed so much space and time at the near post. Malky Mackay will look for better organisation at the back against an Arsenal side who possess one of the most lethal attacks in the Premier League.
Mackay will once again use the 4-5-1 formation as the looks to crowd the midfield. Medel be the key player for Cardiff in this match and he will have to have a good game for the home side to harbour any hope of a positive result. Medel, along with Whittingham and Mutch, will have to press the Arsenal midfield when they don’t have the possession and put them under pressure. Cardiff can’t allow the likes of Ozil and Cazorla time and space on the ball.
Frazier Campbell has looked lively upfront and has already scored some important goals for the Bluebirds. He will be up against a very strong defensive pairing of Koscielny and Mertesacker. Campbell will need Odemwingie to provide him support in the box. Cardiff’s formation almost changes to a counter-attacking 4-3-3 while in possession with Whittingham and Mutch providing the creativity behind the wide forwards.
Arsenal have mostly attacked down the right hand side of the pitch this season, especially with Sagna providing the width. Andrew Taylor at left back for Cardiff will require support from Whittingham and Odemwingie to defend that side of the pitch.
Expected starting line-up: Marshall (GK); Taylor, Turner, Caulker, Theophile-Catherine; Odemwingie, Whittingham, Medel, Mutch, Cowie; Campbell
Unlike Cardiff, Arsenal do have a long injury list at the moment – although things are starting to improve in this font. Abou Diaby, Yaya Sanogo, Ryo Miyaichi and Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain are still out of contention for first team action due to injuries. Lukas Podolski is back in training for the Gunners, but is unlikely to feature in this game. There are doubts about the availability of Kieran Gibbs due to an illness after he missed out on Arsenal’s Champions League clash against Marseille.
Arsene Wenger is expected to make two changes to the side that defeat Marseille in the midweek. Mikel Arteta, who came on as a substitute, will replace Mathieu Flamini in the pivot as he will resume his partnership with Ramsey, while Santi Cazorla will replace Tomas Rosicky on the right of the attack. Theo Walcott has returned to full fitness and has featured as a substitute in the last two games, but with Wilshere scoring a brace, the England winger will have to contain with a place on the bench for this fixture as well.
Arsenal have now kept four clean-sheets in their last five fixtures in all competitions and the pairing of Koscielny and Mertesacker is undoubtedly among the best in England currently. The way these two complement each other has been a big part of their success. While Mertesacker provides the calmness and leadership at the back, along with his big presence, Koscielny adds a bit of aggression and speed to it.
Arsene Wenger will be aware of the threat Cardiff possess at home and look for an early goal in the game to take control of the match. One of the point that has come across and talked about a lot recently is the lack of runners in behind the defence in Arsenal’s attack, something which Theo Walcott has in his game. Wilshere looked to provide those runs in the match against Marseille and he could once again be the key in attack in this game.
Expected starting line-up: Szczesny (GK); Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Arteta, Ramsey; Wilshere, Ozil, Cazorla; Giroud
Player to watch-out for
Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)
The 21-year-old has been a consistent performer since his return from injury and produced a wonderful performance against Marseille in the midweek. The England international, has had to shoulder a lot of expectation from an young age and he is handling it well. Wilshere has been fielded in a new role recently as Wenger placed him on the right wing in the absence of Walcott. He has looked dangerous down the wide areas with his direct running and energy. This has added a new dimension to the Arsenal attack and provided options for the likes of Ozil and Cazorla to feed through. He will once again be the key for the gunners against Cardiff as they look to maintain their momentum at the top.
Cardiff City 1-3 Arsenal
Arsenal will look to score early in this game and take control of the match, Expected them to take a two goal lead by half-time. But Cardiff will respond in the second half and will score a goal as Arsenal’s midweek Champions League clash takes a toll on the players. The Gunners will hold on and are likely score one at the end from a counter-attack as Cardiff push men forward. Arsenal to win by a two goal advantage.