Arsenal could be in for a rough ride at Cardiff
Gunners may miss victory target
Sky Sports Premier League & Main Event, 1.30pm Sunday
Unai Emery will have done his homework going into his first Premier League campaign, but can any amount of study prepare anyone for a dust-up with the inimitable Neil Warnock?
Cardiff away, this season at least, is going to be a fixture like no other and the Spaniard had better brace himself.
The Bluebirds, rightly or wrongly, were branded “anti-football” in a few quarters last season as they powered their way to promotion from the Sky Bet Championship.
Many of the barbs were unfair, though there is something of a throwback about the Welsh outfit and for a side who don’t travel well – which describes Arsenal perfectly – Warnock’s warriors represent a brute of an obstacle to be overcome.
The bookies say they will and punters seem inclined to agree, but the Gunners may be worth opposing.
Arsenal are being rebuilt by Emery but it’s going to take time.
So far they’ve looked pretty much as open and ill-disciplined as they were under Arsene Wenger. They were cut apart by Manchester City and Chelsea, but even in their 3-1 win over West Ham they were sloppy for long periods.
No team have allowed their opponents more shots on target this season than Arsenal and while Cardiff don’t carry anything like the attacking guile and skill that City or Chelsea possess, that statistic should be ringing alarm bells.
The threat from Cardiff is very different. Forget tiki-taka and sharp, incisive passing. Warnock preaches back-to-front quickly with high, long diagonal passes towards full-backs and winning the second ball, quality delivery from set-plays and a fair use of long throws.
It’s not pretty but it is – or at least it was last season – effective. Those who dislike Cardiff’s tactics will be rejoicing in the fact that they are the only team in the top four divisions who have yet to score a goal.
But they can end that sequence – it’s odds-on that both teams score – against an Arsenal side famed for an unwillingness to track back, even if Mesut Ozil isn’t playing. And the chances are he won’t be.
Cardiff won’t score many this season. Kenneth Zohore bagged only nine last term while his understudy, Gary Madine, hasn’t notched since January.
But that presence at set-plays makes them a threat, especially to a defence as fragile as Arsenal’s can be.
Arsenal have been terrible on the road lately, losing eight of their last nine. They managed only one point away last term at the three clubs who were relegated.
Those stats make dire reading and if they aren’t prepared to roll up their sleeves in Wales they could easily get bullied into submission.
Cardiff have drawn their last two games and it’s 7-2 they complete a hat-trick of stalemates.
1pt 7-2 bet365, Betfred, Betway
Arsenal have won one and lost eight of their last nine away league games.
Aron Gunnarsson is a week away from fitness. Nathaniel Mendez-Laing is out for three months and Junior Hoilett is a major doubt.
Unsettled Mesut Ozil is apparently fit again. Laurent Koscielny, Sead Kolasinac and Ashley Naitland-Miles are crocked.
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