Cardiff City: Play For The Win & We Could Catch Arsenal On The Back Foot
It is difficult to criticise what Cardiff City have done tactically this season under the orchestration of Malky Mackay. Often they have been playing with the same intensity and fighting spirit that won them the Championship last season and although that strategy probably won’t win as many games as it did then it has at the very least turned them into a competitive outfit.
Up until now one of the few shortcomings of this side has been that these gritty and valiant types of performances haven’t been offering much in return as far as points are concerned. This, after all, is what will keep Cardiff City in the Premier League. However, November has seen a slight turnaround in fortunes with performances beginning to be rewarded. Arguably the catalyst for this was the dogged and fierce performance that resulted in a sensational win against rivals Swansea City to which was built upon with an historic performance against Premier League title holders, Manchester United. When watching the game it was difficult to tell which team had won which championship last season.
In the same relentless fashion that British football fans have become so accustomed to with the Premier League this Saturday sees another title challenging side make its way to the Cardiff City Stadium. Arsenal’s title credentials are spreading from spectator to spectator wilder than November’s seasonal winter cold and not before too long could be too far ahead to tag. When talking to Arsenal.com this week Arsene Wenger said: “They look to have good solidarity, good togetherness,” adding that Cardiff City are a side who are “all on the same wave length.” If the Bluebirds are going to take any points off this side then there are a few things they will need to do, and do well.
This is arguably the area in which Cardiff are strongest. Honing this skill to the degree that they have not only shows their hard work on the training pitch but it also speaks very highly of their relationship with each other off of it. Good tactical discipline requires 11 players all talking to one another, knowing each other’s role almost as well as their own and the willingness to track back should a team mate slip up. A case could be made that this is as much a testament to Malky Mackay’s former head of recruitment, Iain Moody. A sound relationship throughout an entire squad doesn’t happen by accident.
The home side will hope that this will count for something when Ozil, Wilshere and the mesmerising Aaron Ramsay begin to link up and Arsenal start to shift through the gears. Whether or not Arsenal’s quality becomes too much to handle for a team as well-organised as Cardiff remains to be seen.
Don’t go to sleep
When the referee’s watch meets the 70 minute mark and Cardiff City’s legs begin to tire after valiantly keeping out Arsenal for over an hour, in front of the Canton Stand Aaron Ramsay will play a one-two with Carzorla and break his former team’s hearts as he slides the ball into the bottom right hand corner. Arsenal will spend the rest of the game picking off the gaps in the Cardiff defence and end the game with a flattering score line and Wenger’s game plan will have been executed masterfully. Cardiff City can’t allow this to happen. Aside from a 25-yard screamer this could likely be the avenue to another three Arsenal points and it is imperative that the back four captained by Steven Caulker maintain complete concentration for the entire 90+ minutes.
Just as losing concentration at the back is arguably Arsenal’s best chance of nicking a goal, a set piece could be Cardiff’s best chance of seeing the ball in the back of the net at the other end of the pitch. Goals as classy as Fraizer Campbell’s last Sunday have been few and far between for the South Wales club but their effectiveness from a dead ball situation has often been highlighted as their best attacking ploy. Blessed with the delivery of a host of players, namely Peter Whittingham, Cardiff City will have to make this count and out the sword to Arsenal’s sometimes questionable zonal marking strategies. Expect Turner and Caulker to make their impressions felt in the 18 yard box come 3pm however; a fairy tale awaits a certain 6ft 4in Danish centre forward who has just returned from a lengthy spell from the side-lines. The gloriously named Andreas Cornelius is in the hunt for his first Cardiff City goal and may come sooner rather than later.
Keep it tight, but play for the win!
One of the most impressive elements that Cardiff City took away from the draw with Man Utd was that the game finished with both sides sharing possession almost 50/50. This was because the home team took the game to a United side who so far this season have looked out of their comfort zone under Moyes. Now, Arsenal are a different outfit but if Wenger’s comments this week are to be believed that last Sunday’s result has “set alarm bells ringing” then there’s a chance that the Bluebirds could catch the away team on the back foot.
Mackay has realised that sitting back and defending for the entire game whilst hoping for a bit of luck at the other end isn’t utilising his side’s biggest strength; the home crowd. Pressing high up the pitch and going forward with intent when in possession will raise the roof off the Cardiff City Stadium which so far has been enough to stifle the two Manchester titans. Will it be enough to scare off the Gunners?