Arsenal cross the border into Wales to come up against Cardiff City on Sunday afternoon in the hope of getting their second win of the 2018/19 Premier League season.
Last weekend’s 3-1 win against West Ham United broke the duck for Unai Emery at his new club, and now, with a win on the board, building momentum is essential to having a good season.
Arsenal’s slow start has put them at notable disadvantage even at this early stage of the league. For only the 3rd time in the history of English football, 4 teams (Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and Watford) have achieved maximum (9) points from their opening 3 fixtures of the season. This is in stark contrast to Arsenal’s 3 points from 3 games, so continued success is integral to competing.
Neil Warnock managed to bring his Cardiff side up from the Championship through automatic promotion last season, impressively beating out Fulham to 2nd place.
Out of the 3 promoted sides, it is not overly unfair to say that on-paper Cardiff appear to be the weakest side. Nonetheless, in their opening 3 matches, while they have only picked up 2 points – through draws with Newcastle United and Huddersfield – they have showed flickers of promise; fighting hard and trying to make things happen through set-pieces.
Despite this, worryingly for Warnock, the side have yet to score a goal in the league, with both draws coming in nil-nil matches and the season opener being a two-nil loss to high-flying Bournemouth.
Warnock will be looking to get the first Premier League win of the season on the board, and will see - as all managers no doubt will - a transitional Arsenal as a good opportunity to do so.
While it’s been a few years since Arsenal and Cardiff played in the Premier League – 2014 – the Gunners have never lost to the Bluebirds (winning 8 and drawing 5), including a 3-0 victory at the Cardiff City Stadium in their last encounter.
In terms of team news, it looks like Mesut Ozil will be returning for the away side as he has recovered from the illness that kept him out of the game against West Ham.
The injuries at Arsenal remain the same - Laurent Koscielny (Achilles), Sead Kolasinac (knee), Ainsley Maitland-Niles (leg) and Carl Jenkinson (ankle) are missing.
Bernd Leno and Lucas Torreira are both desperate for their first Premier League starts since signing for Arsenal over the Summer. Petr Cech looks nailed on to start his fourth league game of the season, and the veteran stopper has been kept busy this year – Arsenal have had more shots on target against them than any other side in the league (24). Cech will be hoping to keep a clean sheet and continue Cardiff’s goalless run.
Torreira will want to register his first start, especially when fellow new signing Matteo Guendouzi has started each game thus far, and looks very much set to continue that trend on Sunday.
If Ozil is reintroduced, then the side will look possibly the same as it did against Chelsea, with scorer against the Blues Alex Iwobi perhaps the likeliest to make way for the German playmaker. Emery has made adjustments around his midfield already this season, so it could also mean that Iwobi holds onto his place and Henrikh Mkhitaryan starts the game on the bench.
Danny Welbeck, who put the icing on the cake in last weeks win, and Alexandre Lacazette, whose introduction seemed to energise the team in the West Ham win, will likely begin on the bench, but will again hope to make a difference when introduced.
For the home side Nathaniel Mendez-Laing is a long-term absentee while Aron Gunnarsson is unlikely to feature.
Junior Hoilett faces a late fitness test after missing the trip to Huddersfield, but may play some part on Sunday afternoon.
It will be interesting to see how Emery’s free-flowing football combats Warnock’s side emphasis on defence. The Bluebirds are well aware of their perceived status in the Premier League, and have made no secret of the way they intend to face up against sides this season.
Catching Arsenal on the break may pay dividends for them at home on Sunday. While the Gunners are favourites, Warnock will want his team to expose the frailties that have been showcase by Emery’s team in all 3 games this season – especially at the back.
While Cardiff have yet to find the net, they have been unlucky, and it really is just a matter of time. This is a game that has the potential for a lot of goals, and one that represents a potential banana skin for Arsenal.
Nonetheless, this is game that should be won. After the win over West Ham, Emery is very aware of this, with the Spaniard saying in his pre-match press conference:
"I am very, very happy firstly with the three points but then also how the team worked to win this match and how we finished the last few minutes," he said afterwards.
"I want to continue that in the next match against Cardiff, a different game, but just to continue our momentum."
Last season, away matches, generally regardless of the opposition, were Arsenal’s greatest downfall. Cardiff City will not make it easy for the Gunners, but this is the kind of game that needs to have a full haul of points to begin rectifying the mistakes of the recent past.
Arsenal play Cardiff City at the (aptly named) Cardiff City Stadium in the Premier League on Sunday, with kick-off scheduled for 1.30pm.