ARSENAL FANTASY PREVIEW
By Eoin & Isacki
74 goals scored, 5 assists, 49 goals conceded, 5 own goals, 13 clean sheets. That crazy set of statistics does as good a job as any at summing up Arsenal’s insane season. A paper-thin squad got off to the most shambolic start in living memory before the new signings clicked into a 4-2-3-1 system whose main aim was to supply fantasy hero Robin Van Persie (no comment on recent events). RVP duly delivered a stunning 30-goal haul which, in the words of the ScoutCast, was “in danger of breaking fantasy football”. Ridiculous scorelines abounded – a 2-8 obliteration by United, a 5-3 comeback over Chelsea, an unforgettable 5-2 thrashing of Spurs, and a 7-1 crushing of Blackburn – it makes you wonder where the 13 clean sheets came from. RVP wasn’t the only fantasy success – Vermaelen finished as the 8th-best defender, with Walcott 4th-best midfielder and an end-of-season must-have. Clearly Arsenal are a side with great fantasy potential – particularly as multiple players have had their FPL prices slashed. But where to look?
We’ll start by taking a look at Arsenal’s defence. Between the sticks we’ve got Wojciech Szczesny who, barring injury, will be Arsene Wenger’s number one goalkeeper choice this season. Many will more than likely be turning a blind eye to the Polish stopper in favour of so-called ‘fantasy proven’ goalkeepers such Michel Vorm and Tim Krul. The duo is valued at 5.5 million apiece which is the same amount of cash that Szczesny’s services will cost you. There must be some reason that Krul and Vorm have a 10.2% and 7.1% higher ownership than the Arsenal man respectively, right? Well, not exactly. It might surprise some, but the truth of the matter is that Arsenal conceded fewer goals than both Swansea and Newcastle last season. With changes at the helm in Swansea and the Europa League coming to Tyneside, there’s every reason to have Szczesny on top of your 5.5 million goalkeeper watchlist. He could be a surprise source of consistent points this season but finding the extra 0.5 million for David De Gea might be a more sensible tactic.
At the time of writing, there have been no major arrivals or departures within Arsenal’s defensive ranks. However, Bacary Sagna is still recovering from injury so a full complement of Arsenal’s defence won’t be available for a while. There have been rumours circulating that the French right-back could be in line for a return before September which unfortunately makes Carl Jenkinson an even shorter term option than originally thought. His price tag of 4.5 million does hold some appeal, though. Currently, the highest owned Arsenal player is Laurent Koscielny. After some great performances in the previous season, it’s looking almost certain that he’ll be favoured to Per Mertesacker. His price tag of 5.5 million is clearly cheap enough for 12.2% of managers. Finally, he may be one of the most expensive defenders in the game, but there’s no denying the quality that Thomas Vermaelen brings to fantasy teams. 6 goals and an assist last season was a huge haul for a defender. His attacking tendencies have led to the Belgian being slapped with a 7.0 million price tag, which is a major obstacle for most of the fantasy managers around the globe.
We start with the midfield two of Song (6.5, 125 points) and Arteta (8.0, 128 points). Despite not being familiar fantasy options, both delivered remarkable returns from central midfield positions. With access to free kicks and corners, Arteta delivered 7 goals and 2 assists, while Song scored once and produced a stunning 13 assists. This placed him as the 11th-best value midfielder in the game, mocking his tag of defensive midfielder. Song is a proven value differential and should Arsenal’s new attack click this season, it’s likely that he would reap some of the points. It should be noted that many assists were lofted passes to RVP – Giroud, being a target man blessed with great aerial ability, may continue this lofty tradition.
Moving into the attacking midfield three, we have our familiar friend Walcott (9.0, 169 points). Walcott’s tireless service from the right-wing yielded 11 assists, while his potent goal threat showed in 8 goals, most of which came from one-on-ones. Walcott’s threat is a product of playing extremely far forward and not too wide. On several occasions he effectively played as second striker off RVP, using his extreme pace to react quickest to through balls. Wenger has also mentioned his intention to convert him into a striker. Despite his reputation as a hit-and-miss player, Walcott regularly produced assists throughout the season. As one of the greatest midfield threats and having regular assists to boot, Walcott is a bona fide elite midfielder – so long the rumours of a Liverpool transfer are groundless.
We are then left in a rotation conundrum for the other two attacking midfielders. Arsenal never settled on a central attacking midfielder. After a long spell with diminishing returns, Ramsey was dumped for Rosicky who enjoyed a mini-renaissance towards the end of the season. Unfortunately, being injured until September and aged 31, they will have to look for another replacement. This is where Oxlade-Chamberlain (7.5, 40 points) comes in. Despite starting off as a winger, Wenger has mentioned that he sees Ox’s future in the centre, inviting comparisons such as “The New Rooney” as opposed to “The New Walcott”. In theory, if Ox could nail down the CAM spot, he would be an outstanding pick, having produced 2 goals against Blackburn and 1 assist against United in very limited gametime last season. However, this lack of gametime suggests the obstacle: Wenger is unlikely to give him such responsibility at such a young age. he may share gametime with Ramsey or another player.
On the left wing, Gervinho (7.5, 86 points) is in a similar situation. WIth his role not even secure last year, the addition of the left-sided Podolski and Ox’s ability to play on the left make it impossible for him to be nailed on. Gervinho’s fantasy appeal is also reduced by his role, with his off-the-ball runs opening up the defence, and he generally played deeper and narrower than Walcott.
This brings us onto Arsenal’s two new strikers and their roles within the team. We start with Podolski (8.5). The Polish-born Germany striker needs little introduction thanks to his international exploits. Having been a regular for Germany since 2004, he has produced a stunning 44 goals in 101 games, despite being played on left wing instead of his favoured club position of centre forward. Despite having a century of caps, he is still only 27. Indeed, he is in danger of being one of those players who is so well-known that his abilities are taken for granted. In addition to being named Best Young Player at the 2006 World Cup, he was named as one of the best players of Euro 2008, and finished second highest German scorer in 2010 World Cup qualification with 6 goals.
At club level, Podolski is well known for his single-handed attempts to save struggling club 1. FC Köln from relegation, producing 79 goals in 169 games, primarily from the center-forward position. This haul is impressive considering the lower quality of service. The only blip on his record is an underwhelming stint at Bayern Munich where he competed for gametime with the likes of Miroslav Klose and Luca Toni. Podolski has admitted the transfer to a big club may have come too early for him at 21, but his equally great record playing with both relegation strugglers and international world-beaters still stands. Primarily left-footed, he is often played on the left of midfield when the centre-forward position is occupied, which may be the case at Arsenal.
In contrast to Podolski’s versatility, Giroud (9.0) is firmly a centre-forward target man. He should not, however, be confused with the rugged physical specimens found hustling their way through lower league matches. Giroud’s touch, close control and elegance mark him out as a classic Arsenal player. A relatively late starter at the top level, Giroud delivered 33 goals in 71 games for French Ligue 1 side Montpellier over two seasons, driving them on to the League Cup final in his first season. His second season was a resounding success with 21 goals and 9 assists bagging Montpellier the League title and himself the title of top scorer.
Highly suggestive of his fantasy prospects, Arsenal scout Gilles Grimandi recently admitted that Giroud was signed as an RVP replacement. The comparisons end there, though, as while RVP likes the ball played to feet and often drops deep to help create opportunities and assists, Giroud is renowned for his aerial ability and stays firmly glued to the box, producing fewer assists relative to goals. He is a classic goal poacher. In this respect, Giroud’s single-mindedness could be fantasy gold.
CAN FRANCE WORK WITH GERMANY?
The big question is how Giroud and Podolski work together. Both have experienced playing as the main striker, but Podolski is the only one suitable for playing in other positions. It seems very unlikely that Giroud will be asked to play the unfamiliar role of creator. Hence, expect Giroud to be played as center-forward and Podolski in a support role. This role could be the obvious one of left winger, or even in the hole, given Arsenal’s shortage in that position, and his familiarity with playing in the centre. Expect Giroud to play as target man with Podolski playing around him. It is also possible that Wenger may take advantage of his increased striking options by playing a 4-3-3 with Podolski and Walcott playing as wide forwards and Giroud as the target man in the middle. Whatever the configuration, it looks like Giroud is the fantasy player to prefer.