League leaders Arsenal travel to the Cardiff City stadium this weekend to take on Cardiff. The Bluebirds held Manchester United to a 2-2 draw last weekend with a last gasp equaliser. The home side will be in high spirits; but, so will the Gunners who are currently four points clear at the top of the Premier League. The Gunners beat highflying Southampton 2-0 last weekend in a tricky game at the Emirates. This was followed by a comfortable 2-0 win in Europe midweek against Marseille. Cardiff will rely on their set pieces, which has been a dangerous weapon for them since gaining promotion to the Premier League. They will need to stop Arsenal’s midfield, which has been in rampant mood.
Cardiff currently only have one player injured. Striker Rudy Gestede is out with a knee injury with no confirmed return date. The Bluebirds are likely to field an unchanged side against the Gunners, but Kim Bo-Kyung could start after his equaliser last weekend. Arsenal have long term absentees in Abou Diaby (Knee), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Knee), Lukas Podolski (Hamstring), Yaya Sanago (Back) and Ryo Miyachi (Hamstring). Kieron Gibbs missed Arsenal’s midweek game with illness so Nacho Monreal could deputise again. Santi Cazorla and Theo Walcott could be in line for starts after starting as subs in midweek. Tomas Rosick could drop to the bench.
The teams have never met in the Premier League, and have not met in a league fixture for fifty-one years. In that time they have met in cup fixtures in which Cardiff have lost four of their last five. The Gunners are undefeated against the Bluebirds in their last eleven, a run that stretches back to 1961. Bacary Sagna, Kieron Gibbs, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere all played for Arsenal the last time the teams met although the latter was an unused sub. Peter Whittingham is the only survivor from the Cardiff City team, coming on as a substitute.
Peter Whittingham is Cardiff’s longest serving player. He joined from Aston Villa in January 2007, and has been a mainstay in the side ever since. Whittingham’s delivery is one of the best in the league, demonstrated by Cardiff’s equaliser against Manchester United. The midfielder has created twenty chances for his teammates this season, and has contributed three assists. He has also managed to score once and as a midfielder who once scored twenty league goals in the Championship, he will be hopeful that he can contribute more goals for the Bluebirds. Set pieces will be important for Cardiff, and Whittingham will have to ensure that his delivery is at its very best against the Gunners.
Many believed that Arsenal need to sign a new striker during the summer. Whilst some may still hold this opinion, many Arsenal fans have been convinced that Olivier Giroud is the man to lead the line for the Gunners. The Frenchman scored twice last weekend, taking his tally to seven league goals this season. Giroud has also contributed four assists, all from open play and has become known for his intricate link play in and around the box. Giroud has attacked the near post well this season, with many of his goals coming from him gambling on a cross in this area. If the service is there, Giroud has shown this season that he can deliver. Being backed up by Arsenal’s talented midfield players, Giroud has shown his best from this season.
Cardiff have been resilient at Cardiff City Stadium this year, beating Manchester City and holding Manchester United. Despite these results, this is the type of fixture that Arsenal have thrived in during 2013. The Premier League has been unpredictable this season, as those at the top have been struggling against those at the bottom. Arsenal are the one team that have not succumbed to this trend, but as Cardiff have shown, they enjoy playing the big boys. Arsenal’s midfield strength should be too strong for Cardiff however, so my prediction is a 2-0 Arsenal win.