The FourFourTwo Preview: Arsenal vs Cardiff
A chance to see style guru Vincent Tan wear his chest-high trousers with Cardiff’s delicious Royal Blue away shirt. Fabulous darling.
The knack of winning when not playing well is the hallmark of champions – a quality Arsenal have lacked in previous seasons – but on Sunday the Gunners were far from their fluent best yet still found a way to grind out a crucial win against Newcastle at St James’ Park.
- Newcastle 0-1 Arsenal (Prem)
- West Ham 1-3 Arsenal (Prem)
- Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea (Prem)
- Man City 6-3 Arsenal (Prem)
- Napoli 2-0 Arsenal (CL)
- Cardiff 2-2 S'land (Prem)
- Cardiff 0-3 So'ton (Prem)
- Liverpool 3-1 Cardiff (Prem)
- Cardiff 1-0 WBA (Prem)
- Palace 2-0 Cardiff (Prem)
With Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey missing through injury, the slick, razor-sharp football that has seen Arsenal rip through Premier League defences was absent. Instead, a cagey, disjointed 90 minutes unfolded. Unable to get their red-and-white passing machine functioning, the north Londoners did what all pragmatists do best – they scored from a set-piece. Theo Walcott whipped in a free-kick and Olivier Giroud glanced a header past Tim Krul to end a seven-game run without a goal.
Newcastle surged forward in the final 15 minutes in search of an equaliser – a wave of pressure the Arsenal of old might have crumbled under – but they defended stoutly and saw out the victory to claim three points and return to the top of the table.
This victory didn’t come against relegation-threatened no-hopers – it was against an in-form Newcastle side that had beaten Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United. Is this victory a sign Arsenal are genuine title challengers? Wenger refused to get carried away, but made a point of praising his team’s unfashionable qualities.
While the Gunners are winning ugly, there’s something hideous taking place in south Wales. After his despicable treatment of former manager Malky Mackay, Cardiff's controversial Malaysian owner Tan was seen booing his own side after they surrendered a two-goal lead against Sunderland to draw 2-2.
Hundreds of supporters staged a pre-match protest against the club’s owner before the 3-0 loss against Southampton on Boxing Day – Mackay’s final game in charge.
His handling of Mackay’s sacking was disgraceful, but that doesn’t hide the fact that the Bluebirds are on a terrible run of form: they've won just once in their last nine games, losing five and drawing three.
Tan wants former Manchester United star and current Molde manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to be Cardiff’s new boss. It’s unlikely that he or any other candidate will be named as the new manager before Wednesday, though, so in the meantime caretaker boss David Kerslake will remain in charge.
By the time Tan hires a manager, Cardiff could find themselves in the bottom three. The new gaffer will be shown little patience with the fear of Championship football hanging over them. He’ll be standing on a trapdoor, with the Malaysian’s leather-gloved hands twitching above a red button.
The Gunners have been hit by a spate of injuries – Kieran Gibbs, Ozil and Ramsey have joined Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Abou Diaby and Yaya Sanogo in the treatment room. Nacho Monreal and Thomas Vermaelen have been struck down by illness and may be unavailable for the game.
Craig Bellamy and Andrew Taylor are still out for Cardiff.
Player to watch: Tomas Rosicky (Arsenal)
Playing alongside the likes of Ozil and Santi Cazorla, Rosicky rarely finds himself in the spotlight, but in their absence he stepped up against Newcastle and put in a man-of-the-match performance.
The 33-year-old set about dictating the tempo with his tireless running into advanced positions and tracking back to support the defence. Only Cheick Tiote and Jack Wilshere made more passes at St James’ Park, as the Czech schemer completed 55 of 64 attempted exchanges.
With Arsenal’s creative sparks missing, Rosicky took responsibility in the final third, finding a team-mate 20 times in Newcastle territory. He tried to deliver an end product to his approach play by creating 2 goalscoring opportunities and sending 2 shots goalwards. The 33-year-old also claimed possession of 8 loose balls – the fourth-best record on the day.
The Czech Republic captain is in the final year of his contract and has expressed a desire to finish his career at Arsenal. If he continues to play like this, he might just get his wish.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- C'diff 0-3 Arsenal (Prem, Nov 13)
- Arsenal 4-0 C'diff (FAC, Feb 09)
- C'diff 0-0 Arsenal (FAC, Jan 09)
- Arsenal 2-1 C'diff (FAC, Jan 06)
- C'diff 1-3 Arsenal (LC, Oct 82)
“There is something in the team which is special on that front, on the mental front when many times we have been questioned,” said Wenger after the win against Newcastle. “We have shown that at West Ham when we were 1-0 down, we have shown that again today when we had our backs to the wall in the last 15 minutes. There’s a great solidarity and a great spirit in the side.”
The Arsenal manager senses something special is happening with his team, and if history is anything to go by they could be on course for their first major trophy since 2005.
Seven of the last nine clubs to head into the New Year at the top of the Premier League have gone on to win the title in May. The Gunners are currently in pole position.
Cardiff’s caretaker manager Kerslake was quick to rule himself out of the running for the permanent role, saying he loves being a coach (translated: I don’t want to work for Tan).
His first game in charge looked to be heading towards a much-needed win, with Jordon Mutch and Fraizer Campbell giving the Bluebirds a 2-0 lead against Sunderland. But the Black Cats staged a remarkable comeback and goals from Steven Fletcher and Jack Colback earned them a point. If he were able to get a draw at the Emirates there would be no booing from Tan, just an evil laugh and a rub of those gloves.
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- Arsenal are unbeaten in the last 12 matches in all competitions against Cardiff, winning 7 and drawing 5.
- Cardiff are unbeaten in 3 league trips to Arsenal (W1 D2), though the most recent of these came back in 1962.
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Cardiff are in disarray, Arsenal have won two difficult away games on the bounce. The Gunners to win 2-0.