The usual five talking points ahead of today’s Premier League match at home to Cardiff.
Putting Football Into Perspective
This will be Cardiff’s first match since the tragic loss of their new signing, Argentinian striker Emiliano Sala, in the air accident near the Channel Islands. Doubtless there will be a minute’s silence before the game kicks off and Arsenal have informed us that Cardiff fans will be handing out daffodil badges to the home fans as a mark of respect for Sala, and ask them to accept them in the right spirit. Who knows whether or not the recent events will have any influence on Neil Warnock’s players. Sala met with the squad when he was at the training ground for their medical, but obviously they did not have the opportunity to get to know him properly.
Why Cardiff needed Sala
The Bluebirds sit in the relegation places, having scored 19 goals in 23 Premier League matches. On the road, they have scored just six of those, winning once and drawing twice in 11 trips. Not only are they having trouble scoring, their defensive record is the second worst in the division. 44 goals conceded puts the Gunners’ defensive record (32 against) into some perspective.
Arsenal’s defensive options
The fit defenders Unai Emery has to choose from are Mustafi, Mavropanos, Monreal, Kolasinac, Maitland-Niles, Lichtsteiner and Jenkinson. In theory, he can play a back four or a back five from the pool without playing anyone out of position (if one accepts that Monreal has played as one of a three in the centre on several occasions). It will unquestionably be an unfamiliar combination though. Given the quality of the opposition front line, the real question about the defence is whether or not Sokratis will be fit to travel to Manchester City on Sunday. One imagines the broken jaw of Koscielny will delay his own return for longer.
Is it already curtains for Mesut?
Mesut Ozil got (injury time included) half an hour to influence the game against Manchester United. He was heavily involved, but unable to make the difference required against a resolute United defence. Cardiff at home should be the kind of match that suits the German, and there is an argument to play him purely on grounds of rotation. If he is on the bench once more, frankly, it is difficult to see him start again in anything but low priority cup matches under Unai Emery. The reality is that Ozil is the kind of player you build a team around, and the head coach is not going down that road. Systems are more important to him. However, should the number 10 be given a start, we could see another performance like the one against Leicester.
Arsenal’s Top Four Chances
The defeat by United was a setback psychologically after the boon of the victory over Chelsea. But looking at the table, all is not lost. Arsenal are three points behind Chelsea, and seven points behind Spurs. Spurs could well suffer from the loss of Harry Kane and Dele Alli. Granted, a resurgent Manchester United are level on points with the Gunners, but there are 15 fixtures left for all sides. A lot can happen. Arsenal need to put a run together, no question about that, and in fairness probably have to accept a reverse this coming weekend at Manchester City. After that, the remaining 13 matches feature a trip, almost certainly to Wembley, to face Spurs and another visit of Man United to the Emirates. The other 11 matches are against non top-six sides. Assuming Arsenal can take three points against Cardiff this evening, gaining 33 points out of 39 from the post Manchester City matches will give them a season end total of 80 points. That would allow for six points dropped, although if the dropped points were not against Spurs and United it would help their cause even more. Last season, 75 point secured 4th place. There is still plenty to play for, but Arsenal need to start chalking up wins both home and away against the lesser lights. Draws are probably not going to be enough.
If Arsenal, even with a makeshift defence, cannot beat Cardiff, then I think it’s fair to say their focus needs to shift to the Europa League. However, they should take the three points this evening, regardless of the emotions surrounding the fixture for the opposition. The bookmakers, unsurprisingly have Arsenal as heavy favourites to win, on which note, don’t miss these free bet offers for UK customers if you fancy a punt on the match. My advice would be to back both teams to score, as I do believe Cardiff will breach the Gunners’ defence. But Arsenal will win, and I have this one down at a 3-1 home win. Here’s hoping…
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