Our last look at the Gameweek just gone includes Arsenal’s resurgent winger, the step up in performances from the Red half of Merseyside and the potential upturn in Fantasy prospects over at the Lane in light of Andre Villas-Boas’ dismissal.
It’s been a long time coming but finally, after 16 Gameweeks of the season, Theo Walcott is back in the Fantasy frame. While the main source of Fantasy discussion from Saturday’s nine-goal Etihad thriller centres around Sergio Aguero’s calf injury, the Gunners wide-man served notice that he’s set to offer us a timely differential prospect for our five-man midfields. Since recovering from abdominal surgery, Walcott had previously chipped in with a couple of assists over four brief sub appearances but his manager’s reluctance to hand him a first start since Gameweek 4 ensured most were happy to steer clear. Until now.
Walcott’s brace at the Emirates wasn’t enough to prevent his side slipping to a stunning 6-3 defeat but you have to put it in context – City had conceded just twice in the previous seven home games under Manuel Pellegrini. As Olivier Giroud continues to toil up top for the league leaders, with two strikes from open play in his last 10 league starts, Walcott’s eye for goal looks vital as Wenger looks to steady the ship – all the more so given that he’s set to welcome Chelsea to the Emirates next weekend.
With Aaron Ramsey finding a place in over 62% of Fantasy Premier League (FPL) sides and fellow Gunner Mesut Ozil also fourth most popular midfielder with an ownership over 27%, Walcott – currently sitting in just 4% of sides – looks an ideal alternative to a template that has barely changed over the season.
Given that both Ramsey and Ozil chipped in with an assist apiece on Saturday, their owners will be happy to hold, allowing those Fantasy managers on the lookout for new blood to benefit from Walcott’s acquisition. After the Chelsea game, it’s West Ham, Newcastle, Cardiff, Villa and Fulham for Wenger’s side – a schedule that could well see the bandwagon pick up speed as Walcott looks to belatedly make a difference to our Fantasy campaigns and keep the Gunners on course for the title.
On Sunday afternoon, Liverpool rolled up to the Lane without their skipper on board for the first time this term. Sidelined for a number of weeks with a hamstring injury, many felt Steven Gerrard’s absence would see the Merseysiders struggle – he has, after all, created more goalscoring chances than any other midfielder in the Premier League so far. The collective lack of faith was summed up by our Captain’s Poll, where Luis Suarez was no more than fifth and, with a single clean sheet in their previous 12 league fixtures, Brendan Rodgers’ side were far from favourites in the eyes of many.
What transpired was a performance so ruthless it left Tottenham without a manager by this time yesterday after Daniel Levy handed Andre Villas-Boas his marching orders. A shift to 4-3-3 saw Joe Allen and Lucas provide a defensive shield in front of the back-four and not only delivered a rare clean sheet, but also allowed Jordan Henderson to forage forward through the middle in support of Suarez and help himself to a goal and assist in the 5-0 rout. At 5.9, Henderson’s new central role has attracted plenty new suitors already this week after his season-high haul of 13 points, while Raheem Sterling (4.9) has now started each of the last four and found the net twice.
With Philippe Coutinho and Sterling supplying pace and trickery out wide, neither Gerrard or Daniel Sturridge were missed as Suarez found the time and space to dismantle yet another top-flight backline and serve up his seventh set of double figures in just 11 appearances. Averaging 12.3 points per game, the Uruguayan has taken our Fantasy expectations to a new level this season –for all his consistency, Robin van Persie managed “only” 6.9 ppg for United last time around – a tally that looks positively paltry by comparison.
It’s fair to say that providing Gerrard was fit, he’d have played on Sunday but a stroke of fate has afforded Rodgers the opportunity to tinker. Perhaps by default, he seems to have struck upon a set-up that affords his side the balance at both ends of the pitch that he’s been striving all season to achieve. Upcoming trips to City and Chelsea will certainly test that theory but it’s becoming more than apparent that Liverpool, like Suarez, are a different prospect altogether this season.
The Talking Point
The dismissal of Villas-Boas, just one day after Steve Clarke’s departure from West Brom, takes the number of clubs to have changed manager already this season to five. Palace, Fulham and Sunderland have, to differing degrees, all benefitted from their decisions to pull the plug on previous managers. Tony Pulis has made a real difference to the Eagles’ defence and has brought the likes of Julian Speroni, Joel Ward , Barry Bannan and even Marouane Chamakh onto our radars. Rene Meulensteen has reignited Dimitar Berbatov as a Fantasy force, whilst Sunderland have defeated Newcastle and City at the Stadium of Light and registered three clean sheets in the last six under Gus Poyet.
Whilst a trip to Southampton this weekend is by no means easy, the following four Gameweeks hand Tottenham the chance to bounce back from Sunday’s mauling. West Brom, Stoke and Palace all roll up to the Lane over that period and hint at a reason for optimism, allowing some of their main protagonists the chance to stake a claim for our consideration once again.
There’s no denying Tottenham toiled in attack but, despite their failings, still managed more shots than any other side in the Premier League in the first 16 Gameweeks. One look at the stats of a trio of their summer signings shows that the club aren’t lacking in firepower– Roberto Soldado scored 59 league goals in three seasons at Valencia, Erik Lamela managed 15 goals and five assists for Roma last year, whilst Christian Eriksen produced 17 goals and 36 assists in his final two seasons at Ajax. A bloated first-team squad led to continual tinkering from Villas-Boas and ultimately ensured that his numerous new acquisitions never had the opportunity to settle as first-team regulars – consistency of selection looks vital of Spurs are to improve.
At the back, it’s easy to forget that Spurs started the season with seven clean sheets in the first 11 matches, conceding just six goals over that period. The floodgates opened at City back in Gameweek 12 in a 6-0 defeat that Villas-Boas failed to properly recover from. With the Portuguese boss now banished, the slate can be wiped clean and potentially reignite our Fantasy interest in Tottenham’s potential as they look to regroup after Sunday’s humiliation at home.