Our series of pre-season Great Expectations articles, focusing on those players we reckon will make a difference next time around, gets underway with Stoke’s enigmatic playmaker:
After his career at Werder Bremen had come to a standstill, a summer move to Stoke offered Marko Arnautovic the chance to start afresh. In his first year at the helm, Mark Hughes trusted the former Inter player to supply the creativity as he looked to bring about a change in playing style after years of direct football under Tony Pulis.
Initially, Stoke struggled to adapt – eight Gameweeks into the season, they’d scored four goals and won twice. Arnautovic also toiled in spite of a security of starts and by the turn of the year, the big Austrian had produced just one goal and a couple of assists and had dropped from 5.5 to 5.1 in price.
As the Staffordshire outfit started to click, Arnautovic became more pivotal to their attacks and, stepping up in consistency over the last few months, ended the campaign with four goals, 10 assists and eight bonus points – second top scoring Stoke player in the FPL game, with 116 points to his name. Last month Hughes was quick to acknowledge the Austrian’s series of displays which reportedly have Spurs and Newcastle, in addition to Liverpool eyeing up his services:
“He’s come into an environment that appreciates him, appreciates what he can do for the team, and his personality is different and players enjoy being around him. It’s not easy to come in and have an impact, certainly as a creative player. It’s easier for defensive-minded players. When you are a creative player the onus is on you to win games and that’s more difficult. But once he’s got to grips with it, the second half of the season has been good for the team and good for him.”
- Arnautovic’s end of season form certainly gave us hope that he’d finally become a reliable Fantasy prospect. Delivering returns in six of the final nine Gameweeks, he served up three goals, five assists and seven bonus points in a run which saw him play a part in eight of his side’s 16 goals – furthermore, he produced more shots (31) than any midfielder in the league over the final nine Gameweeks and was second for efforts on target (10). Stoke won six and drew one of those fixtures on their way to a ninth placed finish and the results show how Hughes’ side flourished after they became more accustomed to his change in style and could be worth considering if they continue that momentum into the new campaign.
- Mainly stationed on the left of a 4-2-3-1, Arnautovic’s versatility offers Hughes alternatives in any of the attacking positions. The recent return of Oussama Assaidi saw Hughes trial a 4-3-3 with the Austrian shifted to the right, though at six foot three, he’s also capable of playing through the centre if Hughes is looking for a target man alternative to Peter Crouch. At a time when Jon Walters and Charlie Adam have fallen out of favour and reduced our Stoke midfield options, added to the fact that Peter Odemwingie is classified as a forward, Arnautovic is staking a claim as the best route into Hughes’ ever-improving side.
- In spite of his impressive finish to the season, a price hike across the Fantasy games is debatable. Arnautovic’s 116 point over 30 appearances, with just four goals to his name, is the type of performance which may creep under the radar when the Player Price List is rolled out later in the summer – there’d be no surprise if he even stayed at 5.5 in FPL, with 6.0 likely to be the ceiling. Given that he ended the season with less than 1% ownership, his impressive showings over the last couple of months failed to catch many managers’ eyes, though, and hints that the Austrian could enter the new campaign as a differential.
- The recent omission of Walters and Adam from the Stoke starting XI has elevated Arnautovic in the spot-kick pecking order. With both of the former two on the bench when Hughes’ side were last awarded a penalty – at Cardiff in Gameweek 35 – the Austrian stepped up to convert and, bearing in mind the likes of Crouch and Odemwingie were on the pitch, it seems he would go into the new season as the Potters’ first-choice taker.