31 December 2013

Arsenal vs. Cardiff: Who's available? Poldi and Gnabry! Mmm, maybe Bendtner...

Going into Wednesday's clash with Cardiff, the injury-list numbers an even-dozen, with long-time injured players joined by a number of players facing late fitness-tests. Among those definitely out are Giroud, Gibbs, Özil, Ramsey, Sanogo, Ox, and Diaby. Facing late fitness tests are Wilshere, Rosický, Walcott, Monreal, and Vermaelen. A few of those might end up playing, but, at the risk of slighting the Dragons—er, Bluebirds—this is the best chance we've had in a while to rest the likes of Giroud, Ramsey, and Özil.

So who's left? The defense looks pretty stable, with Monreal, should he be fit, slotting in for Gibbs. We got by with Flamini filling in at left-back against Newcastle, but I'd much prefer a dedicated left-back over playing Flamini or, say, Vermaelen out of position. Without Wilshere or Ramsey, it looks like we'll return to the Flamini-Arteta defensive midfield, but it's at the offensive end that we'll have to make changes. Giroud is out, which is about the best injury-news we could get—I believe that this is the first match he hasn't played in since the September 25th league-cup match against West Brom.

So let's see Bendtner come in. He showed a glimmer of intensity towards the end of the Newcastle match, when a quick throw-in from Jenkinson could have given Bendter a clear shot on goal with Tim Krul still racing back to his line after looking to score from a corner-kick. Too bad that Jenkinson, either following orders to kill time or oblivious to the situation on the pitch, had turned his back. At any rate, playing Bendtner at striker has worked well enough in the past; in his most-recent start, he did score against Hull, and netted at the Etihad only to have the goal wrongly disallowed for being offsides. If we can play Podolski on the left and Gnabry on the right, Bendtner should see plenty of chances whipped in from either side. Their willingness and ability to stay wide should also present Santi Cazorla, playing centrally for the first time since we defeated Fulham 3-1 in late August, space to work off the dribble, creating chances for those ahead of him as well as for himself.

Cardiff have done admirably well in my estimation, but there's been such off-the-pitch turmoil that it's hard to notice. First, of course, is the controversial re-branding, switching the home-kit colors from blue to red, a bizarre betrayal of tradition. Second came the surprise "resign or be sacked ultimatum" to manager Malky Mackay. Mackay emerged from the fiasco with dignity and will almost certainly be re-hired sooner rather than later, and his dismissal, regardless of how it happened, seems harsh given that the newly promoted club have beaten Man City, drawn with Everton, beaten Swansea, and drawn with Man U, and they sit two points above the drop-zone, ahead of long-time Prem sides Fulham, West Ham, and Sunderland. if owner Vincent Tan expected better results, he might have done more to equip Mackay with a few more signings. The summer did see £35m of new additions, but of them, only the £12m signing of defensive midfielder Gary Medel sent any real signal of intent.

Cardiff come into the match wounded and potentially dispirited after conceding two goals to Sunderland in the last five minutes of Saturday's match, but they have too much team-spirit to be written off.  They'll probably sit deep and clog the midfield with a 4-5-1 set-up, so there may not be much space to work with. We could probably dominate possession, but to little effect, and I might even encourage conceding possession a bit to draw them forward to give ourselves more space to work with. With the relatively fresh legs that Podolski and Gnabry could bring, we could pour forward and strike with speed, rather than trying to pick the lock of a side that will try to keep ten men between the ball and their goal.

Assuming Arsène both peruses this site and weighs my recommendations, I see a 3-1 win (we like those this season, it seems), one goal coming from Bendtner and two from Podolski. Szczesny will prove that the third time is a charm by playing a clearance directly into an opposing striker's face, and this time, the ball rolls in. Make your predictions in the comments-section below. Thanks, as always, for your visit!