Arsenal will look to maintain their positioning on top of the Premier League table in 2014 when they kick off the New Year against a dysfunctional Cardiff City club.
After failing to pick up a victory in any of their consecutive three matches against fellow title contenders Everton, Manchester City and Chelsea, Arsenal still leave 2013 in first place after defeating West Ham and Newcastle.
But the Gunners still have reason to worry about losing that top spot, as they'll have to play without star midfielder Aaron Ramsey after he injured his thigh against West Ham.
Aaron Ramsey to miss time after straining thigh during Arsenal's win over West Ham. http://t.co/LfgLgaaPoM— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 26, 2013
Entering the matchup with Cardiff City, Ramsey was tied with Olivier Giroud for the team lead with eight goals scored. His absence leaves a dent in the line-up, but one they can fill against a railing, mediocre opponent.
Cardiff gave away two points and a two-goal lead to Sunderland, but their unorthodox owner is gaining headlines by turning his organization into a circus show. How will those distractions affect the team as they look to engineer a monumental upset?
Date: Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2013
Start Time: 10 a.m. ET, 3 p.m. GMT
Where: Emirates Stadium, Islington, North London, England
Watch: Premier League Extra Time (NBC Sports)
Live Stream: Sky Go (subscription required)
Arsenal: 67 percent
Cardiff City: 13 percent
Draw: 20 percent
*Odds according to Bloomberg Sports.
Top Storyline: Can Vincent Tan's Club Get Any Worse?
Vincent Tan is quickly becoming one of the most interesting owners in sports to follow, but for all the wrong reasons.
Anyone who thinks James Dolan and Daniel Snyder set the bar for crazy incompetence are missing out on a gem in Tan, an eccentric businessman whose antics couldn't be more entertaining, yet discouraging for fans, if a Hollywood comedy writer penned the script.
Do Vincent Tan's antics hurt Cardiff City on the field?
Some of the early highlights of his ownership include deciding a team nicknamed the Bluebirds should instead wear red and, if Metro's Jamie Sanderson's report is to be believed, requesting the club only purchases players who have an eight in their birth date.
If you're thinking, "This guy seems crazy enough to boo his own team in clear daylight," pat yourself on the back. On Dec. 28, Cardiff City held a two-goal lead over Sunderland, who occupy last place in the Premier League, with eight minutes to go.
They squandered that edge, instead settling for a draw after allowing the game-tying goal during extra time. That scenario will illicit boo-birds from the paying customers, but typically not the paying owner. That's where Tan is unique.
How much of a toll will his actions take on the field? The players folded without beloved manager Malky Mackay, whom Tan fired days earlier. Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers quickly jumped to his peer's defence, while also questioning the firing of former head of recruitment Iain Moody. In the process, Rodgers said what everyone else was thinking (via The Guardian).
I worked with Iain Moody at Watford, one of the most authentic people you could ever meet. My only conclusion is you have a business guy operating the club who knows absolutely nothing about football. He has obviously been a successful businessman—congratulations but football is like no other business.
When a mediocre team with a minus-15 point differential goes up against an imposing first-place squad, a good coach needs to be there to milk every drop of talent out of his players, who need to not hate their boss' guts.
Who will win?
Cardiff City have scored 15 goals as a team this season. Arsenal's Olivier Giroud and Ramsey have notched 16 scores. Even without Ramsey's eight strikes, the club is one goal shy from doubling Cardiff's total.
The Gunners also get better as the game progresses, posting 52 percent of their goals after the 50th minute, according to PremierLeague.com. If Cardiff City can't keep their composure against Sunderland, what will happen against Arsenal?
Prediction: Arsenal 4, Cardiff City 0
Even that projected score seems conservative. Cardiff have won one of their last nine contests and have yet to locate a new manager. Arsenal, meanwhile, are back on the winning track.
Look for Giroud to find the score sheet in a lopsided affair that allows Arsene Wenger to test out his alternatives with Ramsey out of commission. Another big loss will lower the bar further for Cardiff City.