Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsene Wenger's team visit Cardiff City for the first time in the Premier League on Saturday, to find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and journalist Steve Tucker.
Cardiff City’s statistics from home matches this season don’t really make sense. They’ve conceded the most shots in the division, attempted the fewest, and yet have a perfectly respectable record of two wins, two draws and two defeats from their six matches at Cardiff City Stadium.
Their previous two home matches have been a famous 1-0 victory over Swansea City, and a last-gasp 2-2 draw against champions Manchester United, so Malky Mackay’s side should be full of confidence for the visit of Arsenal.
Mackay has generally played a cautious, structured and disciplined 4-1-4-1 system so far this season, and following the fine performance against United last week, it’s difficult to envisage him making too many changes.
"Arsenal should dominate possession, but they’ll have to be particularly careful about Cardiff’s counter-attacking speed"
Goalkeeper David Marshall, the four defenders Kevin Theophile-Catherine, Steven Caulker, Ben Turner and Andrew Taylor, plus tough-tackling defensive midfielder Gary Medel and striker Fraizer Campbell should retain their places.
The question is about the four runners in midfield, where Mackay has often rotated his side this season. In the centre, Cardiff’s most frequent midfield partnership has been Kim Bo-Kyung and Aron Gunnarsson, but last weekend Jordon Mutch and Peter Whittingham played excellently.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Mackay move Whittingham out to the left flank, enabling him to play an extra midfielder, with Peter Odemwingie dropping to the bench.
But Odemwingie could also play on the right flank, as could veteran Craig Bellamy. Don Cowie has established himself on the right in recent weeks, but Mackay will want pace on the counter-attack, and converted forwards Bellamy and Odemwingie could be highly useful.
Arsenal should dominate possession, but they’ll have to be particularly careful about Cardiff’s counter-attacking speed, and their habit of scoring goals from set-pieces and crosses at home to big sides.
Another interesting feature of Cardiff’s play is their discipline. They’ve committed the fewest fouls in the division, and have been fouled the second-fewest times, so it’s unlikely Arsenal will get a physical battering in Wales this weekend. Mackay will instead ask his players to focus upon remaining positionally disciplined.
STEVE TUCKER, SOUTH WALES ECHO
I think people are very content with the way things have started for Cardiff City this season. At this point in time they have probably exceeded expectations. They are still quite close to the bottom three but there have been some big performances and some very good wins against Manchester City and Swansea City.
On Sunday the Bluebirds got a deserved point against Manchester United and arguably did enough to get more than a point.
Malky Mackay's stock is very high at the moment. He secured promotion for the first time in more than half a century for Cardiff with relative ease last season. They've not looked overawed by anybody they have faced. They have become very tough to beat. It's not always the most beautiful football but it's been effective. Mackay has got them really well-regimented and very difficult to break down.
"Mackay has got them really well-regimented and very difficult to break down."
The player that has caught the most headlines since the start of the season has been Gary Medel. The Chilean international was the club's record signing and he's impressed a lot of people. He sits in front of the back four and likes to break things up, and his passing is excellent. Steven Caulker has made a real difference to the defence since arriving from Tottenham in the summer and then up front Frazier Campbell has scored some big goals.
I think Mackay will keep the same side from the one that started against United on Sunday and I think they will approach the game with a very similar mindset to that one and the game against Man City. They will try and press up the pitch if they can.
I think a lot of people would say Arsenal, with the season they are having, will be Cardiff's toughest test so far. They will be cautious on Saturday and will be aware of what Arsenal can do on the break. I think what they will set out to do is frustrate the Gunners and keep things level. The thing for Cardiff is set-pieces - most of the goals they have scored this season have come from corners or free-kicks in and around the box.
Following the performance and the result against Man United, Cardiff will go into this game with no fear. These players are starting to believe they belong in the Premier League and they can match the big sides.
I'm expecting a close game and will go for a 1-1 draw.
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