With the January wildcard just around the corner, we’re focusing on the short-term in this week’s fixture analysis. Looking solely at the next three Gameweeks, then, we begin with those sides whose fixtures offer plenty of festive hope:
A goalless draw against Chelsea means the Gunners have failed to win in the last three but Arsene Wenger has reason for festive cheer as his side travel to West Ham and Newcastle before hosting Cardiff at the Emirates. With Arsenal having shown just as much proficiency on the road as at home, Fantasy managers will be confident of points at both ends of the pitch from such fixtures.
Much of Arsenal’s defensive appeal comes down to the fitness of first choice centre-back Laurent Koscielny. If, as hoped, he is back for the Boxing Day clash with West Ham, both he and Wojciech Szczesny offer great value for money, whilst Per Mertesacker’s added goal threat and bonus point potential can be purchased for a premium. In midfield, those in search of a differential need look no further than Theo Walcott, whose return to form looks set to disrupt the Fantasy monopoly held by Mesut Özil and Aaron Ramsey. Up top, there seems no end to the decline of Olivier Giroud and he’s hard to recommend.
Edging past the Swans on Sunday, Roberto Martinez’s team continues to rake in the points thanks to a kind fixture schedule that won’t abate any time soon. Investment in the Toffees still looks well advised as their next three fixtures gift them two home games against Sunderland and Southampton and a trip to Stoke.
Seamus Coleman’s fourth strike of the season confirmed him as first choice defender in a backline that has kept eight clean sheets already this season. Such a figure makes Tim Howard an attractive goalkeeper and also adds sheen to the prospects of Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka, while Leighton Baines’ return in time for Boxing Day strengthens the Toffees appeal further. In midfield, Ross Barkley notched his first goal since Gameweek 6 to reignite his appeal as a cut-price option, whilst Kevin Mirallas will be looking to continue the form which has harvested three goals and a trio of assists in his last six at Goodison.
A defeat at Stoke leaves Paul Lambert’s side in a precarious position but the midlands outfit have a trio of fine-looking festive fixtures to help lift their form. With back-to-back home games against Crystal Palace and Swansea, followed by a trip to Sunderland, they have every opportunity to return to Fantasy relevance.
Lambert will be desperate for the return of Ron Vlaar to steady a defence that had kept five clean sheets in nine games prior to his injury. Pickings are very slim in midfield but if Christian Benteke remains sidelined with a knee injury up top, Libor Kozak has staked a claim for a regular role and has now scored in three of his last four starts.
Rene Meulensteen’s impact at Craven Cottage has been obvious in the positivity of his team’s play, but a record of three defeats in four highlights the task ahead. Nevertheless, scoring two goals against Man City bodes well and The Cottagers now have a splendid little run of games with trips to Norwich and Hull followed by home games against West Ham and Sunderland. They won’t get a better opportunity to turn their season around and Fantasy managers looking for serious differentials may be minded to punt here.
At the back, Sascha Riether is the most attacking option, though injuries to Brede Hangeland and Philippe Senderos appear to have handed starting berths to Aaron Hughes and Fernando Amorebieta, both kindly priced in the Fantasy Premier League game. Adel Taarabt was handed an opportunity to lead the line against City due to an injury to Dimitar Berbatov but the Bulgarian is poised for a late fitness test and could make a quick return in time for Boxing Day, scuppering the Moroccan’s claims as an out of position prospect.
Hogging the headlines this week is Tim Sherwood’s appointment as interim head coach at the Lane. His team selection against Southampton suggests an approach akin to Kevin Keegan’s in his attempt to win games and, with back-to-back home games West Brom and Stoke – teams who are struggling for goals on the road – before a trip to Old Trafford, Spurs look an intriguing short-term prospect. Vlad Chiriches has an eye for goal in defence, while new boys Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela could be real outside punts, having started at the Saints. It’s the return of the prodigal son – Emmanuel Adebayor – that has Fantasy managers sitting up to attention, though. Two goals on his first start of the season could signal the return of a former Fantasy heavyweight.
The Canaries’ second successive draw hardly helped their attempt to put comfortable distance between themselves and the relegation zone. They do, however, have fixtures on their side to help propel themselves to safety. Two of their next three look winnable – a home game against Fulham and trip to Crystal Palace either side of a visit from Man United. Martin Olsson is the choice in defence while Leroy Fer, Nathan Redmond and Robert Snodgrass all vie for attention in midfield. Gary Hooper has four goals in seven games and makes a strong case as the differential striker of choice.
Four goals at Fulham in their first game without Sergio Aguero bodes well. Manuel Pellegrini’s side are in a goalscoring mood and, with two home games – Liverpool and Crystal Palace – and a trip to Swansea in the next three, the only major question mark concerns rotation over the hectic schedule. Vincent Kompany looks safe enough in defence but few would invest in City’s rearguard after recent events. In midfield, there’s a feeling that Yaya Toure’s physicality makes him immune from rotation in a way that the slight frame of David Silva may not. Up front, Alvaro Negredo may be first choice ahead of Edin Dzeko under normal circumstances but the punishing schedule means rotation could be inevitable, even with Aguero out of the picture. Regardless, City’s free-scoring attack means the potential rewards outweigh any possible risk of reduced game time.