As the Premier League season passes the halfway point Arsenal have confounded pre-season expectations to sit top of the league. Key to the Gunners’ ascent has been their remarkable defensive solidity, shown again in the 1-0 win at Newcastle and consistently at home.
After a 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa on the opening day raised Arsenal fans’ worst fears, the league leaders have conceded just three more goals at home – winning every match before being held to draws by top four rivals Everton and Chelsea in December.
In fact, since the loss to Villa Arsenal haven’t been behind at the Emirates in the league. Not having to chase the game has allowed Arsenal to defend through possession: the Gunners have averaged 54% possession this season, losing the possession battle at home less often than Manchester City.
New Year Day’s visitors Cardiff City are the joint lowest scorers away from home, along with fellow strugglers Crystal Palace, having scored just five goals in England this season.
Cardiff have led away for a less than 25 minutes after an early Jordan Mutch strike at Stamford Bridge, their only win coming at Craven Cottage where the midfielder grabbed the winner in the 92nd minute.
In the reverse fixture earlier this season, Arsenal won 3-0 with a brace and a man of the match performance from former Cardiff player Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman is likely to miss the first game of 2014 with a thigh injury, as is marquee signing Mesut Ozil.
Cardiff can also draw comfort from the performance of caretaker managers so far this term in the Premier League relegation battle.
Crystal Palace ended a streak of ten games without a clean sheet by keeping out Everton and Hull while Keith Millen was in charge while West Brom broke a four game losing run to stay unbeaten in three under Keith Downing.
However, interim Sunderland boss Kevin Ball could only improve performances, not results when facing top six sides Liverpool and Manchester United.
Expect temporary Cardiff boss David Kerslake to be unable to stop Arsene Wenger’s side from resuming their win to nil habit and take all three points without conceding at home for the fifth time this season.
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