Premier League Preview: Cardiff City vs. Arsenal

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  • Aaron Ramsey has made more tackles than any other player in the Premier League this season (57)
  • This marks the first league meeting since 17 March 1962 – a 1-1 draw at Arsenal
  • Only Manchester United and Aston Villa have gained more points from losing positions than Cardiff’s five

There will be a rambunctious battle in Cardiff this Saturday as the Bluebirds host Arsenal (watch live on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports Live Extra) in front of a sold out stadium in the Welsh capital.

Cardiff have already had a great success at home in their first-ever season in the Premier League as they’ve already beaten Manchester City and last time out they snatched a last-gasp draw with Manchester United.

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Are league leaders Arsenal the next team to suffer at the hands of Malkay Mackay’s side?

Cardiff have had a solid start to life in the big-time and are extremely tough to beat, especially at home. Against the top 10 they’ve won twice and draw twice in seven games as their fight and determination to prove they belong in the PL shines through against the big boys.

source: AP
Cardiff’s players celebrate a late goal against Manchester United.

But Arsenal aren’t going to roll over easy as their new found tough streak will hold them in good stead on Saturday. Their last PL away game was a 1-0 defeat to Manchester United but the Gunners have previously gone on long winning-streaks away from the Emirates and they have the best away record in the PL (W4, D1, L1).

Midfield is where this game will be won and lost as former Cardiff City star Aaron Ramsey returns to face his hometown club. Ramsey, 22, has been in terrific form for the Gunners this season and is arguably the Premier League’s player of the season so far. He will face a stern task against the likes of Gary Medel and Aron Gunarrsson in the engine room.

Injury wise, Cardiff have no new concerns and will likely start with the same side which drew 2-2 with Manchester United last week. Arsene Wenger must decide whether or not to start with Theo Walcott after his return from injury in the last two games from the bench, while Kieran Gibbs is back in the squad.

What they’re saying

Arsene Wenger’s on Cardiff’s never-say-die attitude: “They look to have good solidarity, good togetherness [and] fantastic support as well. They are all on the same wavelength in the team and are very efficient at home on set-pieces. Even on Sunday when they were 2-1 down against Man United, many teams could have thought ‘OK, it’s Man United, we will not come back’. But you always had the feeling that they don’t give up. You could feel that they would come back. They have that special attitude and belief in the side, and that makes them dangerous.”

Malkay Mackay on Aaron Ramsey’s homecoming to Cardiff: “I hope he gets a great reception here and I am pretty sure he will. He is a fine young man, I met him a couple of weeks ago when the Welsh squad were here. He popped in and at that point I said to him to make sure that in a couple of weeks’ time he goes easy with us. It’s good to see a young British player grasping the nettle at Premier League level and actually being one of the main men at Arsenal.”

Prediction

As well as Cardiff played last week against Manchester United, I don’t think the same approach will work against Arsenal. Their pressing, work rate and determination was impressive but they can’t get pushing high up the field against the Gunners because players like Ozil, Cazorla and Wilshere will pick them off to easily. A disciplined defensive display where they let Arsenal have the majority of the ball is the only way the Bluebirds can get something from this. I don’t think they’ll be able to do that, I’m going for an away win with Olivier Giroud to cause plenty of problems.

Celtic’s Griffiths tears into Rangers chairman after “gulf” comments

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Celtic star Leigh Griffiths took the Old Firm bait and promptly swallowed the fisherman.

If you missed it, Rangers chairman Dave King said Celtic should’ve been even further ahead of their rivals given the setbacks handed to Rangers, who finally climbed back to the Scottish Premiership this season.

Celtic went unbeaten, drawing just four of 38 matches and finished 39 points ahead of Rangers on the table.

[ MORE: Fabinho has interest in Man Utd ]

If Celtic won all 38, they could’ve finished 47 points clear of Rangers. So, we guess the gulf could be bigger.

Here’s what Griffiths had to say:

“What was the gulf? 30-odd points. How does he expect that to be bigger? They were touting at the start of last season that they were going to win the league and this and that.

Joey Barton was coming up and saying he was going to be the best player in Scotland – he lasted a few months. In the first [Old Firm] game, they got hammered 5-1 and they got hammered 5-1 at the end of the season. So, the gulf couldn’t be any bigger. This season, they’ll be trying to bridge the gap.

“Ultimately it’s about what we do and if we are at our best nobody in Scotland can live with us.”

It was absurd talk from King, who doesn’t need to amp up one of the world’s best rivalries and also doesn’t have a leg to stand on considering the dominant season from the Bhoys. Wow.

San Jose adds Designated Player from Legia Warsaw

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Valeri ‘Vako’ Qazaishvili is the latest MLS Designated Player, as the Georgian will hit the pitch for San Jose this season provided his visa and ITC go through.

Qazaishvili comes from Legia Warsaw after five seasons with Vitesse in the Eredivisie. The 24-year-old attacking midfielder has been capped 24 times, and scored in Georgia’s 2-2 draw with Moldova earlier this month in World Cup qualifying.

[ MORE: Fabinho has interest in Man Utd ]

Equally adept at right or left wing, Qazaishvili posted a goal and two assists for Legia following his transfer from Vitesse. He scored 28 goals and added 13 assists in 121 matches for the Dutch side.

From SJEarthquakes.com:

“We were looking for a player, a younger, offensive player, that really excites the fans and has the possibility to stay with us for a long period of time. That’s what we found with Vako,” said Earthquakes general manager Jesse Fioranelli. “We wanted a player that knows how to take on a defender one-on-one, that sees the goal and that also wants to bring a spark to our game.”

San Jose sits seventh in the Western Conference table, and only two teams — Colorado and DC — have scored fewer goals in MLS. Jahmir Hyka and Cordell Cato have been fine, but San Jose needed a better chance creator.

Qazaishvili, in theory, fits the bill. If he has half the impact of fellow Legia export Nemanja Nikolic, San Jose is cooking with gas.

Transfer rumor roundup: Van Dijk to Chelsea, Ox to Anfield

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More and more players are being linked with Manchester United, but — believe it or not — the Red Devils aren’t the only club seeking talent.

DiMarzio is reporting that Antonio Conte is close to securing the services of Southampton center back Virgil Van Dijk, insisting the Dutch back is Conte’s top choice ahead of Juventus power house Leonardo Bonucci (which isn’t to say there isn’t room for both). The price? An eyebrow-raising $77 million.

[ MORE: Confederations Cup scenarios ]

Meanwhile, Conte is selling talented Bertrand Traore outside the Premier League. A solid season on loan at Ajax upped interest in the 21-year-old striker, and L’Equipe says it’s a $22 million move to Lyon for Traore.

How much do you think Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is worth? Liverpool may think his value is as high as $32 million, as The Independent reports that Arsenal is prepared to sell the Southampton Academy product to the attacker-heavy Reds.

Meanwhile, Serge Gnabry‘s wild journey looks to have another stop despite a purchase from Bayern Munich this summer. Gnabry was one of Germany’s heroes at the Olympics and left Arsenal for Werder Bremen last summer. He thrived, and earned a deal to Bayern, but Kicker brings quotes from a Hoffenheim player that are hopeful of a loan for this season.

Messi offers to pay $558,000 to avoid 21-month jail sentence

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Lionel Messi has offered to pay an additional fine of 500,000 euros ($558,000) to ensure he avoids a 21-month prison sentence for tax fraud that a judge is expected to suspend, a Spanish state prosecutor said Friday.

State prosecutor Isabel Lopez Riera told The Associated Press the fine-for-time deal was presented by Messi’s lawyers to the judge who will rule on whether to suspend Messi’s sentence – as is widely expected. Lopez Riera said she has told the judge that her office is not opposed to the deal.

[ MORE: Fabinho has interest in Man Utd ]

Lopez Riera said Messi’s lawyers have made a similar offer for the Barcelona player’s father, Jorge Horacio Messi. He is offering to pay 360,000 euros ($402,000) to avoid his 15-month sentence for helping his son cheat on his taxes.

In Spain, prison sentences under 24 months for first-time offenders can be suspended by a judge.

The government attorney representing Spain’s Tax Office in the case will also be able to weigh in on the proposed deal. As state prosecutor, Lopez Riera is impartial in the case as a defender of the public interest.

Last year, a court in Barcelona found Messi and his father each guilty of three counts of defrauding tax authorities of 4.1 million euros ($4.6 million) from 2007-09. The unpaid taxes were from money made through endorsement deals, not Messi’s salary paid by Barcelona.

Messi was fined 2 million euros and his father 1.5 million euros. Both were originally sentenced to 21 months, but his father’s sentence was later reduced to 15 months.

In the last two weeks, Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo and former Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho have been accused by a Madrid-based state prosecutor of having defrauded Spain’s Tax Office of millions of euros (dollars) in unpaid taxes.

Both have denied wrongdoing.