All teams in the Premiership have played each other and now the reverse fixtures follow.
Our first match in 2014 will be against the newly-promoted Cardiff City. The Welsh side have had a rather turbulent first season in the Premiership and their fans might sweat until the very last day of the season given that they sit just two points above the relegation zone.
It’s hard not to be shocked with their owner Vincent Tan who has changed the colour of their shirts, has sacked a manager that was loved by fans and wants to sign players with the number “8” in their birth-date. Speaking of that number, Cardiff have won just one out of their last eight games and that one victory came against an in-crisis West Brom.
The lack of a goal-scorer and a creative midfielder that can make a goal out of nothing have caused a lot of trouble for the Bluebirds in the final third as they have scored just fifteen goals – only Crystal Palace have scored fewer goals so far. Jordan Mutch has scored four goals and he might be the most dangerous player for us tomorrow. Fraizer Campbell is another one to watch closely – he almost equalized against us with a header in the reverse fixture but Szczesny pulled off an amazing save to deny him. It’s interesting to note that Cardiff City have two experienced Premiership strikers – Craig Bellamy and Peter Odemwingie in their ranks – but still have problems with profligacy.
Their defence has conceded 30 goals so far but only Chelsea have managed to score four against them (and they needed some help from the referees to do so). Former Spud and Cardiff captain Steven Caulker plays in the heart of their defence alongside Ben Turner. Caulker has already scored twice from corners this season and they consequently won both times Cardiff. Speaking of Cardiff’s victories, they have won just once on their travels – against Fulham.
To be honest, I see the biggest issue in this match in our own ranks. It seems that our squad has been under the injury storm. According to Arsene Wenger, it seems that Gibbs, Vermaelen, Monreal, Rosicky, Wilshere, Ramsey, Özil, Giroud and Walcott are either unavailable or under the question mark for the match. Cardiff shouldn’t be underestimated – after all, they have beaten City and drawn against United – but if there is a match which we should be able to win and afford a rest to our key players, it’s this one.
Wojciech Szczesny should be a certain choice between the sticks but he should forget about his exhibitions that look like a poor attempt to play a one-two with the opponents’ striker.
If any of our left full-backs recover, Carl Jenkinson will probably replace Sagna. If not, I can imagine Jenkinson on the left with Sagna on the right.
Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny are our only options for central defenders. They should pay attention to Caulker during set-pieces.
Nacho Monreal is the most realistic option on the left side. Hopefully that poor performance against Manchester City didn’t hurt his self-confidence. Of course, there is another option – Mathieu Flamini has played as a left full-back (he was switched there against Newcastle after Kieran Gibbs’ injury) and he might do it again.
However, due to all those knocks in midfield, Flamini might be more important in the middle. Provided that Wilshere recovers, I expect Flamini and the Englishman in the middle.
Serge Gnabry might get the nod on the right side of our attack. Even if Theo Walcott is not injured, he might need a bit of rest given that he started in all three games that we played last week.
Santi Cazorla will most certainly take his place in the hole and try to add more goals and assists to his statistics. He might perform better given that the creative burden will be on his back.
Lukas Podolski might start on the left side. Now, he did have a great cameo against West Ham but it’s a bit different when you play from the beginning so people shouldn’t expect a spectacular performance from Lukas. I’d be happy with a decent shift crowned with a goal or an assist.
Nicklas Bendtner is the No.1 favourite to start. He has scored once this season as a starter and he might repeat it against Cardiff as well. He might ask his former team-mates from Sunderland for advice as they scored twice on Saturday to claw back after they had been two goals down.
That would mean our formation for tomorrow might look like this:
Sagna Mertesacker (c) Koscielny Monreal
We need a victory tomorrow to keep our top spot and because it would be great to enter the FA Cup clash against the Spuds holding top spot. We mustn’t underestimate the Welsh side as any sort of complacency might have a devastating effect on our results.