Fantasy Premier League managers were given more clues about transfers to make for the Blank Gameweeks after Thursday’s Europa League action.
Arsenal’s problems were exploited by French side Rennes as their assets continue to lose their appeal.
Meanwhile, a 3-0 win for Chelsea has helped point us in the right direction for the options available at Stamford Bridge.
Rennes 3-1 Arsenal
Goals: Alex Iwobi (£5.4m)
Assists: Nacho Monreal (£5.4m)
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang‘s (£10.9m) chances of starting Arsenal’s Gameweek 30 meeting with Manchester United now hang in the balance, just like the last time the Gunners were in continental action. The forward had to start Thursday night’s Europa League last-sixteen first-leg tie in Rennes with Alexandre Lacazette (£9.5m) still seeing out a suspension. He played 79 minutes before being replaced by Sead Kolasinac (£5.1m) in a less than impressive performance.
Perhaps as a result of that missed penalty against Spurs in Gameweek 29, Aubameyang look devoid of confidence in France and was criticised by the local press. He was unfortunate at times with the balls played into him, but the former Borussia Dortmund man should have done better with his first touch. At this point, it has become clear that Aubameyang seriously struggles when playing away from home, having found the net just twice on his travels in all competitions since November 25.
Aubameyang was benched for the following league match the last time he played a Europa League tie in Lacazette’s absence, featuring only as a second-half substitute against Southampton in Gameweek 27. For that reason, and the fact that he played quite poorly, there does seem to be a chance that Lacazette will lead Arsenal’s attack against Manchester United on Sunday afternoon, having had the week off from competitive action.
Alex Iwobi (£5.4m) continues to prove his worth as Arsenal’s most appealing midfield option as he put in one of his best performances for the Gunners. A rare shining light for Unai Emery’s men on Thursday night, he scored their only goal and nearly set up a second shortly after. The only reason he was unable to push Arsenal on in the second half was because of their man disadvantage…
Once again, it was defensive issues that cost Arsenal. This time it was Sokratis Papastathopoulos (£5.1m) who was the chief culprit as his accumulation of fouls led to a second yellow card in the 41st minute. The first booking was for a clumsy tackle on Hatem Ben Arfa, the second for a pull-back on Ismaila Sarr, meaning a third red card in four weeks for Arsenal. Even worse, the resulting free-kick from the foul on Sarr was what led to Benjamin Bourigeaud’s stunning equaliser. Emery’s response to Sokratis’ dismissal, and Rennes subsequently dominating the game, also raised some eyebrows.
“(Asked if Arsenal have a discipline problem): No. We can analyse individually these three red cards.” – Unai Emery
For the second match in a row, centre-half Shkodran Mustafi (£5.4m) was deployed at right-back. He did not play too bad defensively but offered very little pushing on into offensive positions. In fact, the local press likened his efforts to join Arsenal attacks to an episode of Dancing On Ice. However, Mustafi’s stint on the flanks did not last long as it made sense to tuck him back into the middle once Sokratis had been sent off. However, in making that switch, Ainsley Maitland-Niles (£4.4m), a natural wide defender, was surprisingly left on the bench by Emery.
“(Asked why Maitland-Niles was left on the bench): Mostly because we were coming from Southampton with a big performance with this back four. After the red card, I wanted to keep the positioning with the players, we needed the players fresh to help in offensive moments, to take chances and options.” – Unai Emery
Instead, right-back duties fell to Henrikh Mkhitaryan (£6.8m), which stunted what he was able to offer offensively. The Armenian has been in fantastic form of late, two goals and three assists in his last three Premier League outings, but playing in defence was an unfamiliar role for him. To his credit, Mkhitaryan did not disgrace himself at right-back, although the final goal did involve a Rennes’ break down his flank.
“They really didn’t create a lot of chances to score the second goal. Mkhitaryan worked well, there was no problem with him. His 50 minutes playing as right-back, he played well. We only had three changes. We needed to decide who were these changes. Mkhi is playing well. If he was not playing well maybe he could have come off.” – Unai Emery
While Sokratis will be held responsible for putting Arsenal at a disadvantage, Nacho Monreal (£5.4m) was at the heart of Rennes’ second and third goals. The French side took the lead in the 64th minute when the Gunners’ back-line switched off to a ball threaded out to the right, where Mehdi Zeffane, operating in Monreal’s left-back zone, was afforded too much space. His cross into the box was then deflected into the net by the Spaniard.
It was even worse for Rennes’ third and final goal as they broke on a late Arsenal attack. Substitute James Lea Siliki was dispatched down the left flank and his cross into the back-post was converted by Sarr, who had all the time in the world to line up his diving header. Replays showed that left-back Monreal was around the half-way line at this point, Aaron Ramsey (£7.1m) desperately racing back in vain to cover for him.
Arsenal now face a tough task at the Emirates Stadium to get through to the next round of the Europa League, which they will have to take on without Sokratis and Lacazette through suspension. That could be positive news for their attacking assets as the season winds to a close. A European exit next Thursday would mean they have no more commitments outside of the Premier League, which could see less rotation of Aubameyang or Lacazette for appealing fixtures between Gameweek 32 and 38.
Arsenal XI (4-2-3-1): Cech; Monreal, Koscielny, Sokratis, Mustafi; Xhaka, Torreira; Iwobi (Guendouzi 53′), Özil (Ramsey 70′), Mkhitaryan; Aubameyang (Kolasinac 79′).
Chelsea 3-0 Dynamo Kyiv
Goals: Pedro (£6.3m), Willian (£7.1m), Callum Hudson-Odoi (£4.2m)
Assists: Olivier Giroud (£7.7m), Ruben Loftus-Cheek x2 (£5.2m)
Fantasy managers looking to sign Eden Hazard (£10.8m) or Gonzalo Higuaín (£9.6m) ahead of Blank Gameweek 31 were given the all clear after they both had the night off in Chelsea’s latest Europa League win. Their involvement in the tournament this season has been minimal, which should mean neither get any minutes in the second leg next Thursday either, with the Blues already 3-0 to the good.
Last night’s victory did give us some helpful pointers as Chelsea prepare for fixtures against Wolves and away at Everton in the Blank Gameweek.
Pedro (£6.3m) was in exceptional form against Dynamo Kyiv, scoring an excellently worked first goal and very much at the forefront of every attack. In all honesty, he probably should have scored more than just his one goal as he had four shots on target that all looked certain to end up in the back of the net. However, whether the Spaniard is the right option to sign for Gameweeks 30 and 31 is another question.
“He played very well, also in the defensive phase. He missed two or three goals, but he played a very good match.” – Maurizio Sarri
With Hazard and Higuaín to make up two-thirds of Chelsea’s attack over the next two Premier League matches, there is just one spot up for grabs in the front three. Having played 90 minutes on Thursday, and benched in two of the last four domestic matches, Pedro looks likely to miss out to Willian (£7.1m). The Brazilian has also only started two of the last four league outings for Chelsea but was taken off in the 78th minute in the Europa League, perhaps in preparation for Wolves’ visit to Stamford Bridge on Sunday afternoon.
Maurizio Sarri continues to crush the dreams of Fantasy managers hoping that Callum Hudson-Odoi (£4.2m) will get regular game-time in the Premier League. For the third consecutive Europa League match at Stamford Bridge, the youngster found himself on the score-sheet, despite limited game-time. Every time he has come on as a substitute in this competition he has hugely impressed and Chelsea fans continue to call for his inclusion in starting line-up more often. However, Sarri insists Hudson-Odoi is still not ready for that, despite strong interest from Bayern Munich.
“He has to do anything to convince me. He has convinced me he is a very great player. I have my opinion. He cannot be at the top yet. He needs to improve because he can arrive at the top only at 22 or 23, like every other player. So I now think we need to improve without the pressure of the media, without the pressure of the fans, without the pressure of the club. But he is in my mind for every match. In England, I think he’s the only to be born in 2000 to have played 16 times. I don’t know. He’s very good in the dressing room and in training, really very good. I think it’s very dangerous, at 18, to have this pressure. You have to improve, tactically, mentally and physically, at that age. So it’s dangerous for you. I don’t like to speak about him for this reason.” – Maurizio Sarri
Central midfielder Jorginho (£4.7m) did well in the space that was afforded to him against Dynamo Kyiv but there is still little to endear him to Fantasy managers. It was rare for him to have so much space and it has become a staple of their Premier League matches for him to be put under pressure. Even against Kyiv, he did not track back particularly well in the moments when the Ukrainian side got behind him.
It is now three back-to-back clean sheets at home for Chelsea in all competitions, although this was another that was secured fairly easily. Just as was the case against Huddersfield in Gameweek 25, Kepa Arrizabalaga (£5.4m) was practically a spectator. Wolves and Everton may ask a lot more of the Chelsea defence than Huddersfield or Kyiv did.
“We were able not to concede a goal at home, which is very important in this competition. So it’s okay now. We have to be careful. We have to play the second leg and go there with a very good level of attention and application because we want to qualify.” – Maurizio Sarri
David Luiz (£5.9m) has been considered by managers building squads for the Blank Gameweeks and he showed his attacking potential again on Thursday night. While he had little to do from a defensive perspective, Luiz put his stamp on the game with his exceptional delivery. Direct diagonal balls to the front three are starting to become an important part of his game and he could have come away from the 3-0 win with an assist after threading Pedro for one of his chances.
Meanwhile, Marcos Alonso (£6.4m) is not showing enough to convince us to go back to the left-back for these Blank Gameweeks. Against Kyiv, he offered little going forward after a blocked shot in the first half and did not have much to do defensively. As already explained, Wolves and Everton might get in the only thing he could offer right now in clean sheets.
Chelsea XI (4-3-3): Kepa; Alonso, D Luiz, Christensen, Zappacosta; Barkley (Loftus-Cheek 62′), Jorginho (Kanté 62′), Kovačić; Willian (Hudson-Odoi 78′), Giroud, Pedro.