Newcastle underline their fine home form, while also showing up Arsenal’s wretched away record, in a 2-1 win that highlights the risks of opting for Gunners assets over Gameweek 35’s reduced set of fixtures.
Rafa Benitez’s side made it four straight wins to all but secure their Premier League place for next season, with goals coming from the in-form Ayoze Perez and Matt Ritchie.
It was also their fourth consecutive victory on home soil; a run under early threat when Alexandre Lacazette opened the scoring from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s assist.
The latter had been sold by 217,000 Fantasy Premier League (FPL) managers ahead of Gameweek 34 due to Arsenal’s single fixture, but the transfer tide is already turning in preparation for next weekend’s schedule.
Some 12,000+ managers have moved for the Gabon international as the Gunners have what had looked to be a plum home match-up against West Ham, making him the sixth most popular purchase of next weekend.
Aubameyang certainly has the form – he has now returned points in five successive Gameweeks and has six goals and two assists in eight matches since arriving at the Emirates.
But coach Arsene Wenger chose to station him on the left flank at St James’ Park, handing Lacazette another chance to up his match sharpness ahead of the Europa League semi-final as Aubameyang is ineligible to play in the competition.
He still looks sure to start domestically, but if Lacazette continues to get the nod as the Gunners’ central striker, Aubameyang’s appeal will lose some of its shine ahead of both Gameweek 35 and his side’s Double Gameweek 37, which involves a visit from Burnley and a trip to Leicester City.
At least those with the Free Hit chip to employ next week can bring in Arsenal assets without having to fret over their wretched form on the road, with Wenger’s team playing three of their final four fixtures away from home.
They’ve now lost five straight league away matches and haven’t kept a clean sheet on their travels since Gameweek 17.
Lacazette played the full 90 minutes at St James’ Park and has now scored in two of three Gameweek appearances since returning from injury.
He could potentially retain his starting berth for Gameweek 35 as the match is four days before the first leg of the Europa League semi-final with Atletico Madrid.
But Wenger has consistently rested his big hitters prior to European action, and Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil, Laurent Koscielny and Hector Bellerin didn’t even make the squad for today’s match.
Nacho Monreal did feature on Tyneside, but he and his fellow key assets will likely have their minutes carefully managed, if they feature at all, against West Ham next weekend, leaving us with few concrete options to exploit Arsenal’s appearance in the six-fixture Gameweek 35.
Geordies nearly sure now
The same cannot be said for Newcastle, who are as good as safe in 10th place and could provide some decent differentials for a run-in, like Arsenal, that also involves a fixture next week and a Double Gameweek 37.
Their schedule (eve WBA wat tot CHE) is promising, particularly if Chelsea reach the FA Cup final and rest key players in Gameweek 38 as a result.
And their form is excellent, with that fine run at home augmented by an overall record of just one defeat in nine Gameweeks.
Perez (2.0%) has now scored in three successive matches, having netted twice in the first 30 Gameweeks of the season.
In fact, he has a goal and an assist from his last two fixtures and, at 5.3, could come into consideration as a budget striker.
Strike partner Dwight Gayle’s pitch-time now looks threatened by Islam Slimani, whose impact off the bench helped them to the points against the Gunners.
The day’s other goalscorer, Ritchie (1.8%), has been overshadowed by Kenedy’s recent form on the opposite flank, but he has now scored in three of Newcastle’s last four home matches.
On the downside, both Gameweek 37 clashes are away; a fact offset somewhat by their home fixtures involving West Brom and a cup-chasing Chelsea showing erratic form.
Defensively, the Magpies have conceded just six times in seven Gameweeks since goalkeeper Martin Dubravka arrived – only Liverpool (four) are more resilient.
So for those still with Wildcards, Florian Lejeune (4.3) and DeAndre Yedlin (4.4) have an assist each to go along with two clean sheets from their last four starts, with the American recording only his second attacking return of the season in Sunday’s victory.