WE SCORED TWO GOALS. That’s right, Cardiff City have shaken the goal drought and after three blanks have finally hit the back of the net in Sunday’s match against Arsenal.

In a game that many thought the Bluebirds didn’t have a chance, Neil Warnock’s men took the game to Arsenal and, in my opinion, deserved a point out of the game.

It was one of the most intriguing games tactically under Warnock, who abandoned his usually 4-5-1- system and made personnel changes too.

What did we learn from the 3-2 loss to Arsenal? Quite a lot, actually. Join Scott Salter for our analysis of Sunday’s match.

Have you read Terry Phillips’ Match Report and Player Ratings


When the team-sheets were released, it initially seemed as though Warnock would line his side up in its usual 4-5-1/4-3-2 with Bobby Reid taking a spot on the right-wing. Even the club’s media team thought so…

Once the game started, it was clear that Warnock had lined his side up in a 4-4-2 system. Junior Hoilett played on the left, while Spaniard Victor Camarasa played on the right of midfield. Up top, Danny Ward led the line, with Bobby Reid dropping behind him.

The visitors lined up in a 4-2-3-1 system, with Alexandre Lacazette leading the line. Aaron Ramsey, the former Bluebirds returning to South Wales, played as the #10, with Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the wings.

What the stats say

Cardiff spent a lot of the match trying to press Arsenal, who saw a large amount of possession. Neil Warnock set Cardiff up to hit Arsenal on the counter attack, so possession was not the most important aspect for the Yorkshire-man. Cardiff’s pressing was effective, making 14 interceptions, and the same number of tackles.

What is interesting is that Arsenal committed 14 fouls compared to Cardiff’s 12. Throughout the match, my view was that Arsenal were the more cynical side and committed a lot of professional fouls – they still say we’re the shithouses though!

Wingers offer key protection

In playing a 4-4-2, instead of a 4-3-3, Cardiff’s wingers were a lot further deeper than they usually would be. Victor Camarasa and Junior Hoilett were often positioned in line with their central-midfield teammates, rather than closer to the striker as we would usually see.

It’s clear that this was a tactic deployed by Warnock to counter Arsenal’s marauding full-backs. All game, Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal would bomb forward in support of the attack, and our wingers played an important role in tracking their runs and supporting the full-backs.

VFTN Analysis: Cardiff 2-3 Arsenal - wingers offer key protection

The example above is a brilliant example of the hard work done by the wingers defensively. On the Arsenal right, Bellerin has made his way towards the final third and has the ball at his feet. Junior Hoilett has tracked back to put pressure on Bellerin, but also to provide support for Joe Bennett should the Arsenal man look to get down the wing.

On the other side, Victor Camarasa has also dropped back to help defensively, although the Spaniard did tend to drift inward due to his natural position being in the centre of midfield. Both wide midfielders dropping back meant that Cardiff were able to create two banks of four and invite Arsenal to break them down.

Width was also key going forward

Whilst the flanks were important defensively for Cardiff City, they were also an important area going forward. With Bellerin and Monreal pushing forward lots, there was space for Danny Ward and Bobby Reid to exploit on the counter attack.

On a number of occassions Ward in particular managed to pull a centre back out wide and spin him to penetrate the space or win a free-kick. This was a crucial tactic for Warnock.

On the right, Camarasa, as mentioned above, liked to drift infield like an inverted winger. By doing this, Camarasa was able to counter the overload in numbers that Arsenal had in midfield.

VFTN Analysis: Cardiff 2-3 Arsenal - Camarasa drifts infield

The Spaniard was a crucial component for the City midfield, offering an outlet to carry the ball and relieve some pressure. He was also able to attract numbers to create space elsewhere. In the example above, Camarasa has attracted three opposition players, but manages to dribble past and distribute the ball out wide.

VFTN Analysis: Cardiff 2-3 Arsenal - wingers overlap

Once Junior Hoilett receives the ball, he opts to run at the Arsenal right-back and deliver a cross. On this occasion it led to nothing, a poor ball from Hoilett drifting over the head of Reid.

This situation was evident throughout the game, particularly on the left-flank. Joe Bennett loves to get forward and he was in support of Hoilett at all times. He’d offer on the overlap and provided the best deliveries of any Cardiff player during the match. This overlap often created a 2v1 situation against the Arsenal full-back, as Mesut Ozil on the right-wing for Arsenal isn’t the best at tracking back.

The Press

I don’t remember a Cardiff side under Neil Warnock pressing as much as the boys did on Saturday. It was obvious early on that Warnock had told his players to press the Arsenal back line, and in particular goalkeeper Petr Cech, who is clearly uncomfortable playing out from the back.

On a number of occassions it proved fruitful for Cardiff, including creating a glorious opportunity for Harry Arter in the opening minutes. Warnock’s system was important in allowing the City press, with two up top giving his side the numbers to press. If Ward or Reid were a lone front man, it would be easy for Arsenal to bypass their press.

VFTN Analysis: Cardiff 2-3 Arsenal - Cardiff's press

The picture above is taken from that Arter opportunity. Bobby Reid has pressed the Arsenal centre-halve, who has played the ball back to Petr Cech. Reid continues his press on the curve, which is important as it blocks the pass back to Sokratis.

With Arter pressing centrally and Ward to the right of Cech, the Arsenal keeper has limited options. He elects to try and find Guendouzi in the centre of the park, but his pass is intercepted by Arter. What is impressive is not only the pressing, but how Cardiff’s front three have created a screen, blocking all options for Cech.

Match of the Day 2 labelled Cardiff’s pressing as passive, but in my opinion (as someone who actually watched the match unlike Wright and Jenas) it was anything but. Cardiff are not a pressing side by nature, but continued to put pressure on Arsenal.

Spare man in the centre proved key for Arsenal

Arsenal are a passing side and looked to build from the back. They set up in a system where their central midfield two often occupied Arter and Ralls, with Aaron Ramsey finding space in between the lines.

For a good 65 minutes, the Bluebirds did well to nullify this threat, but in the heat, they grew tired and their discipline slipped away slightly.

The former Bluebird and German World Cup winner Mesut Ozil continued to find space as the City players grew tired from their continued press. Below, Ramsey and Ozil have both dropped deep to dictate the play, with next to no pressure from Cardiff players. I feel like Warnock should’ve introduced Callum Paterson around this time; the Scotsman’s energy would provided a fresh press on Arsenal’s key men.

VFTN Analysis: Cardiff 2-3 Arsenal - Arsenal find spaceIn the final twenty minutes, Ramsey, in particular, managed to find a lot of space by playing behind Ralls and Arter. It gave Cardiff’s back line a problem as they faced a dilemma of whether to close down Ramsey or stay with their man.

In the above scenario, we see this clearly. Ramsey has found space where the Cardiff midfield has been stretched. He drops into this hole, and makes captain Sean Morrison make a decision about whether to track Ramsey or follow Alexandre Lacazette, who has made a run in behind.

He decides to follow Lacazette, and Ramsey picks up the ball in the hole and turns to run at the Cardiff defence. Cardiff’s lack of a true anchor man proved costly here.