Cardiff City vs Arsenal
Venue: Cardiff City Stadium
TV: Sky Sports Main Event
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Arsenal travel to Wales on Sunday lunchtime looking to build on Emery’s first win as Arsenal boss against a Cardiff side still looking for their first goal of the campaign.
The Emery era finally got off the ground last week with a stuttering win against West Ham and the Spaniard will look to build on that in an intriguing looking match in Wales. Cardiff have proven a dogged if uninspiring side so far in the Premier League. An opening day defeat to Bournemouth was followed by two nil-nil draws against fellow relegation battlers, Newcastle and Huddersfield.
Arsenal have traditionally struggled in away games of this ilk and it will be fascinating to see if Emery and his sterner approach will stiffen up Arsenal’s approach in tricky away games of this magnitude. The Gunners have conceded first in all three games so far but responded well in all three, even in their two defeats to Manchester City and Chelsea. This suggests a slight change in mindset already in the Arsenal camp, which could bode well for the team on the road.
Cardiff haven’t scored a league goal since April and the pre-season worries that Warnock and Cardiff wouldn’t score enough goals seem to be coming true in very quick fashion. They have the fifth worst xG in the league and taking their first three opponents into consideration, this is a huge worry; especially given both Newcastle and Huddersfield held out against Cardiff for the last half hour with ten men. A game against Arsenal isn’t the game to try and open up their goal scoring account but long term seems to be a must. It is more likely Cardiff will adopt a similar approach to the one that left Pep Guardiola unimpressed after a FA Cup tie earlier in the year.
The Bluebirds enter the match with injury worries to Anar Gunnarsson, Junior Hoilett and Nathaniel Mendez Laing and all three are unlikely to be risked this side of the international break.
Warnock may opt to recall Bobby Reid in a bid to boost the goalscoring department which is becoming desperate. A goalless game on Sunday would see Cardiff replicate Crystal Palace last season who were also goalless after four matches and subsequently sacked their manager as a result. The same fate is unlikeky to befall Neil Warnock just yet but the Yorkshireman will have to prove Cardiff can score enough goals if he is to avoid yet another relegation.
At least Warnock can rely on his goalkeeper, Neil Etheridge, who has made two penalty saves already this season and could be the key to success on Sunday afternoon. Etheridge will be protected by Sol Bamba, a defender rated better than Virgil Van Dijk by Warnock. There’s a reason Warnock is both derided and adored as “a bit of a character.”
Unai Emery has injuries to defensive quartet Maitland Niles, Koscielny, Jenkinson and Kolasinac, all of whom will be out until November.
There is also the ongoing mystery of Mesut Ozil who either had another illness last week or if rumours are to believed, a disagreement with Emery that meant he was left out of the victory over West Ham.
Given Ozil’s lack of form this year a more pressing issue for Emery maybe how to get the best out of Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, who after notching ten goals in thirteen games last season, is goalless so far this season. The Gabonese has often found it easier operating from the left wing and had struck up a partnership with Alexandre Lacazette in patches last season as well as pre season. Lacazette impressed in all three of his substitute appearances this season and created the winning goal against West Ham trying to link up with Aubameyang. Arsenal’s comeback was also sparked by Lucas Torreira’s introduction whose composure added a different level to the Arsenal side.
Predicted Starting XI’s:
Cardiff: Etheridge; Bennett, Bamba, Morrison, Manga; Ralls; Murphy, Arter, Camarasa, Reid; Zohore
Arsenal: Cech; Bellerin, Mustafi, Sokratis, Monreal; Torreira, Xhaka; Mkhitaryan, Ramsey, Aubameyang; Lacazette
Score Prediction: Cardiff City 1 Arsenal 4
Although Cardiff are yet to hit the back of the net this season, a goal against Arsenal would really boost their confidences going into the international break. However, Arsenal should posses too much for Warnock’s side and should breeze past the Welsh opposition.