Cardiff City-Arsenal Preview

TOM BENNETT (STATS European Football Writer)
The Associated Press

Arsenal start 2014 atop the Premier League table, and they will be hoping to still be there after facing Cardiff City at the Emirates Stadium on New Year's Day.

Arsene Wenger's Arsenal (13-3-3) had a slight dip in their sensational run of form as they went three games without a win in the build-up to Christmas, but they responded with the maximum six points from their two games in the last week to recover their place at the summit of English football.

The Gunners ground out a 1-0 win away at Newcastle United on Sunday thanks to an Olivier Giroud goal, and Wenger believed the game burnished title credentials his squads have lacked in past seasons.

"There is something in the team that is special on the mental front where we have many times been questioned," said Wenger. "We have shown that at West Ham when we were 1-0 down, we have shown that again today when we were a bit backs to the wall in the last 15 minutes. There's a great solidarity and a great spirit in the side.

"In terms of challenging at the top of the table, we believe in ourselves ... I hope it will be enough but there's a long way to go and it's still too early to talk about the title."

Cardiff City (4-6-9) will be without a manager for the trip to London after Malky Mackay was sacked over the Christmas week following his long-running spat with club owner Vincent Tan. The Bluebirds responded with a 2-2 draw against Sunderland to pick up their first point in three matches, and defender Ben Turner believes they need to keep their focus after the recent disruption.

"We have to move on," said Turner. "If we don't then we will get relegated. We have to look forward. It's what we want to do. That's the one thing the old manager would say, once the game is over look to the next one. Whatever's happened, you focus on the next challenge. So we want to look forward and he'd have wanted us to look forward and carry on. We are at the halfway point and we have a good chance of staying up.

"We have not had time to digest it yet because with the Christmas fixtures they are coming thick and fast and we have had to concentrate on the game. Maybe now we will have time to digest what's actually happened over the last few weeks and then we move on to Arsenal away."

Arsenal have fitness doubts over Kieran Gibbs (hamstring), Nacho Monreal (illness), Thomas Vermaelen (illness) and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee), while Mezut Ozil (shoulder), Aaron Ramsey (hip), Yannick Sanogo (back) and Abou Diaby (knee) are out. Cardiff have doubts over Andrew Taylor (knock) and Craig Bellamy (knee).

The Gunners have conceded just one goal in the three matches since being hit for six by Manchester City in mid-December. They are unbeaten in eight at the Emirates, but have drawn their last two at the ground.

Cardiff have won just one of their last nine league matches, and have conceded eight in their three games over Christmas. The Bluebirds' form on the road has been disappointing in recent weeks, gaining just two points from their last six away matches while scoring only one goal in the last five games outside of Cardiff.

The Welsh side have managed just five goals in away fixtures all season - a joint-league low.

Arsenal won 3-0 when these teams met back in November, with Ramsey scoring a brace around Mathieu Flamini's tally. That was the first league meeting between the two clubs for over 50 years. They have met five times in cup competitions in that half a century, with the north Londoners progressing on all five occasions.