If managers build teams which are a reflection of themselves, Neil Warnock succeeded admirably. A dour, gruff Yorkshireman, his Cardiff mob hasn’t scored in the Premier League yet this season. How I bet he wishes they faced us on the opening day of the season.
It’s a match we’re expected to win. We are the Arsenal, and even a misfiring one is heading for three points. We’ll work hard for them, make no mistake, but we’ll win. Just as we did last season; over-confidence, at the moment, is misplaced. This is going to be hard work. Not because Cardiff are a good side, but because we’re not entirely sure what we’re doing.
Indeed, Warnock is doing all he can to hamper Cardiff’s survival. His tactical masterplan is to target Aaron Ramsey and “rough him up a bit”. All delivered with the laddish grin and a laugh, with a gruff “Only joking lads, I’ll be ‘ere all week. Which is more than that Mourinho fella can say! Eh? Eh? Oh, Eh!”.
There’s no guarantee Ramsey will play. With the expectation of a tough midfield battle, surely this is the time for Torreira? The Uruguayan, paired with Xhaka, offered a good balance last week against West Ham. The Swiss, for one, looked a lot more settled with someone to take on the defensive burden.
Which leaves the third midfield spot. Guendouzi or Ramsey? A strong case for including either can be made. The Frenchman is quick to use the ball while Ramsey is quick to move forward in support of the attack. I can’t see Iwobi being dropped so assume Aubameyang is staying central.
We lack numbers in attack which is where Ramsey’s inclusion becomes inevitable, I think. Unless he’s played on the right to offer more protection to Bellerin.
Star Man, Waiting On The Bench
Or do both play with Mkhitaryan missing out? Emery seems to prefer a narrow midfield with the full-backs providing the width. It’s tough on them but will Ramsey offer more defensive protection than the Armenian? It’s that balance we’ve yet to strike on the right.
Bellerin is criticised for leaving gaps but the midfield who should be filling them get off scot-free because of the chasm in the centre of the pitch. There’s a lot of work to be done before we’re good at compressing the play which is the quality Emery’s scheme relies upon to be successful.
All of which is tough on some players. Mesut Özil will be on the bench, despite training all week. Just in case there’s a recurrence of his sickness bug which periodically strikes. Alexandre Lacazette? More influential than Aubameyang but if we’re playing on the counter is not as quick as the Gabonese. Not that much slower, however.
It’s nice to have some uncertainty about it all. There’s nothing predictable about the line-up bar the defence and goalkeeper at the moment. The mistakes we’ll make are entirely predictable but not the players doing it.
Ultimately, we’re looking for this match to give us three points but reassurance that the plan is progressing is equally important. I said in yesterday’s belated post that we need to get back to being flat-track bullies; this is as flat a track as you could wish for.
We were humbled and humiliated away from home last season. Finding the travel sickness cure is a giant step toward challenging for the top four. At the moment, it’s an unrealistic prospect for us this season. We’re on a steep learning curve with inevitable faltering steps along the way. This can’t be one of them, surely?
And They’re Off!
The line-up I’d expect to take the baby steps is:
Cech; Bellerin, Mustafi, Sokratis, Monreal; Guendouzi, Torreira, Xhaka; Iwobi, Ramsey; Aubamyang
The XI, flexible between a two-man barrier and a trio, is good enough to win. Can they put us into the international break with three points? I expect a low-scoring narrow win for us to be honest. Anything more than by 2 – 0 is a bonus.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.