Friday, 29 November 2013

Arsenal's Trip To Cardiff Previewed

Arsenal have bounced back in fine style from their defeat to United a couple of weeks ago by winning their next two games by the same 2-0 margin. I was a little worried with the international break coming right after the United game, but the gap between club games was probably a good thing for the players. They came back in determined fashion and despite not being at their very best they got two important wins.

Next up it's the Premier League again and a trip to Wales to take on newly promoted Cardiff City. On the face of it Arsenal should be going there as table toppers expecting to take all three points but football is rarely that easy unless you're playing your league football in Spain. Like many other teams Cardiff have already shown they're more than capable of putting it up to the big boys by winning at home to City and drawing with United last week.

They haven't quite made the Cardiff City stadium a fortress yet with two defeats in six home games, but no team has had an easy time against them. They pressurise the opposition at every opportunity and set pieces have become crucial to their home performances. Both City and United found that out to their cost late on in their games at Cardiff and I have no doubt they will attempt to do the same thing to Arsenal.

Arsene Wenger has spoken of rotating the team in this game and at home to Hull in midweek and it's probably something he has to do for the good of the players. One of the players most in need of a rest is Olivier Giroud but if he is to be rested I hope it's not against Cardiff. He may be Arsenal's first choice striker but he has become very important at defensive set pieces and will be badly needed against Cardiff. The delivery from Peter Whittingham in particular is excellent and Arsenal cannot afford to be without a player who makes more than his fair share of defensive headers.

Of course the way to stop Cardiff from getting those balls into the danger zone is for Arsenal to hold on to it and that's something this team is very good at. The opposition can't do any damage if they haven't got the ball and Arsenal have the players to play keep ball all day. Even with a couple of changes in midfield I would expect Arsenal to be far superior to Cardiff in that department.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Theo Walcott get his first start since returning from injury last week and his pace could be very useful in this game. I watched Cardiff take a point off United last week and I was impressed with their ability to fight right to the end, but they looked vulnerable to pace to me. If there's one thing Walcott possesses it's an abundance of pace and hopefully Mesut Ozil can pick the passes to play him in. 

They haven't played together much because of Walcott's injury but the game away to Sunderland was a prime example of how they can work together. Walcott might have missed a hatful of chances in that game, but with his shooting boots on I think he can form an excellent and rewarding partnership with Ozil. I am of course assuming that Ozil will play and that's not a given with the squad being rotated.

Some of the bench players from Tuesday night will probably get a chance to show what they can do and there's certainly plenty of ability among them. I don't think Santi Cazorla was dropped for that game but he certainly was rotated and the chances are he will start against Cardiff. His season has been affected by injury so far and he has yet to show his best form but I have no doubt that he will.

I would be surprised if Nicklas Bendtner started a game despite being a permanent fixture on the bench as he clearly would like to be elsewhere. The only reason to hold on to him in January will be if a better back up for Giroud cannot be signed and even if he stays I don't know what he has to offer. If he doesn't get much game time while the squad is being rotated it will be fairly clear the boss doesn't trust him in my opinion.

The team selection could be very interesting in both of these games in the next few days and it could well give a few fringe players a chance to stake a claim for more game time. Players like Serge Gnabry and Thomas Vermaelen will be anxious to get a chance while Nacho Monreal might well think he should keep his place at left back after filling in for the ill Kieran Gibbs on Tuesday night. I think Gibbs will still be first choice, but if he misses many more games he might find he has lost his place due to the performances Monreal puts in.

I think they will go to Cardiff and get a narrow win to continue to put pressure on the teams chasing them, but if they don't it won't be the end of the world. This team look like they have the mental and physical strength to come back from any setback and if they drop any points at Cardiff I'm sure Hull will pay a price for it in midweek. Having said that though I want them to win as a I always do in each and every game they ever play.

Things are pretty good for Arsenal at the moment as they sit four points clear at the top of the Premier League and are on top of their Champions League group with one game left to play. They have won 16 of their 21 games in all competitions so far and the defence seems to be growing stronger game by game. It might all go wrong and Arsenal might end up with the cupboard bare at the end of the season, but the feeling that it won't is growing week by week. As the games pass and the tests are passed one after another the team looks more and more capable of doing something really special this season. 

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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