Arsenal and Chelsea ensured that rotation will continue to be a factor for them deep into the closing stages of the Premier League on Thursday.
Both sides won their Europa League quarter-final second legs to book places in the semi-finals of the competition.
Valencia and Eintracht Frankfurt respectively await them in the last four.
For now, we can use Thursday’s games to give us clues about how they will set up in Double Gameweek 35.
Napoli 0-1 Arsenal
Goals: Alexandre Lacazette (£9.4m)
Alexandre Lacazette (£9.4m) added direct free-kicks to his locker on Thursday night as Arsenal enjoyed a comfortable win over Napoli. He was one of the best players on the pitch at the Stadio San Paolo, as per usual, impressing as much off the ball as on it. Not only did he making fantastic runs behind the defence to open up space for his colleagues, he also demonstrated his ability to dispatch free-kicks.
The Frenchman has now been involved in 46 goals in all competitions since arriving at Arsenal, 33 scored himself and 13 assists (not including Fantasy assists). None of his colleagues has more in that time, further proving his ability to be the key Arsenal attacker if game-time is guaranteed.
However, the Gunners’ progression to the semi-finals of the Europa League probably puts that in jeopardy for the rest of this season. Their first leg sits between Gameweek 36 and 37, with the Gunners currently scheduled to travel to Leicester on Monday, April 29 – just three days before facing Valencia. Arsenal then
With Arsenal’s top four places not yet secure, the Europa League is increasingly becoming a realistic route to qualifying for next season’s Champions League competition. The Gunners are certainly capable of beating any of the other remaining sides, so it’s possible that Unai Emery will continue to put a greater focus on the Europa League than the Premier League.
“Now it’s very important for some teams, this competition, it’s one title and gives us the possibility to play in the Champions League next year when in our domestic league a lot of teams are competing for qualification. The Europa League is for me and for us very important, with the Premier League.” – Unai Emery
Accordingly, Lacazette missed Arsenal’s last Premier League match when they travelled to Watford ahead of Thursday’s quarter-final. That may happen again in the last four, especially considering Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s (£10.9m) performance against Napoli. It was hardly an awful display from the Gabon international, it was just another outing where he was unable to be as useful to the team as Lacazette. At the very least, Emery has promised rotation for the Crystal Palace game, further complicating what already looks like an uninspiring Double Gameweek for Arsenal. That should make their midfield especially unpredictable, given that it’s a minefield for Fantasy managers even at the best of times.
“It’s very important now that we have the possibility to do some rotation because of injuries and after the match today we need players with energy and good physical condition. The three points are very important for us. With Sokratis out because he is suspended, some players after the match today can’t play on Sunday. We want to play a lot of matches, difficult matches, in less days. We’re going to prepare well.” – Unai Emery
Emery lined up Laurent Koscielny (£5.4m), Nacho Monreal (£5.4m) and Sokratis Papastathopoulos (£5.1m) in a back-three in Italy. The latter is still suspended for the Palace game, and with Shkodran Mustafi (£5.4m) not playing a minute on Thursday, he is the most likely to come in for the Greek international, although Konstantino Mavropanos (£4.7m) did start at Watford.
That three-man defence, with Lucas Torreira (£4.7m) and Aaron Ramsey (£7.1m) in slightly deeper midfield roles, allowed Sead Kolasinac (£5.0m) and Ainsley Maitland-Niles (£4.4m) to bomb forward and put Napoli on the back-foot. Their performances might inspire some investment in Arsenal’s full-backs for Double Gameweek 35, especially with the two fixtures, but Emery’s comments about rotation warrant caution over these two. If he opts for a back-four at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday afternoon, Kolasinac and Maitland-Niles will probably drop to the bench as they did at Watford, with Monreal and Mustafi used at left and right-back respectively.
Arsenal’s defence should take some credit for recording back-to-back clean sheets against Napoli, one of the most potent attacks in European football. The Gunners did not initially set out to contain their hosts and in the first-half defended largely by pegging them back with attacks. It was in the second half that they backline and deep midfield players showed the maturity to see the game out. They allowed Napoli plenty of possession but restricted them to few chances. In fact, Arsenal’s share of the ball, just 30.3%, was their lowest since posting 25.6% against Bayern Munich in the Champions League back in February 2017. It certainly bodes well for next season’s Premier League credentials that Arsenal now have nine clean sheets in their last 11 games in Europe, conceding just four goals in that time.
Aside from having to produce a decent save to stop Jose Callejon, and Arkadiusz Milik having a goal ruled out for offside, Petr Cech (£4.7m) did not have a great deal to do against Napoli. Their Polish forward was admittedly not at his best, registering not a single shot on target in the game, failing to direct even two free headers towards goal.
“I am proud of the players. We started very well. The first half was good because after we scored we continued not to give them opportunities. We defended well in the second half. In the two matches, we can be happy to win against Napoli. They are a fantastic team who always score a lot of goals, especially here at home, so to keep two clean sheets is obviously something [positive]. It was a very difficult game but we made it look easier because we played really well.” – Petr Cech
Perhaps the only negative to come out of the win was a muscle injury to Ramsey. He was being considered as a potential differential option for Double Gameweek 35, but may well have played his last ever game for Arsenal now, given his scheduled departure to Juventus over the summer. It appears to have been another recurrence of the hamstring injury that has plagued his Arsenal career, so even though Emery is staying positive, it could keep him out for at least a few weeks.
“It is a muscular injury. Normally it will be some weeks out for him. But we have other players and we can find a performance and rotate players. I don’t know (if he has played his last game for Arsenal).” – Unai Emery
Arsenal XI (3-4-1-2): Cech; Monreal, Koscielny, Sokratis; Kolasinac, Xhaka (Elneny 61′), Torreira, Maitland-Niles; Ramsey (Mkhitaryan 34′); Aubameyang, Lacazette (Iwobi 68′).
Chelsea 4-3 Slavia Prague
Goals: Pedro x2 (£6.3m), Olivier Giroud (£7.7m)
Own Goals: Simon Deli
Assists: Giroud x2, Pedro x2
Despite beating Slavia Prague 4-3 on Thursday night, Fantasy managers were shown the worst of their defensive assets once again. Just days after collapsing early on in the second half against Liverpool, it was a similar story at Stamford Bridge in the Europa League. Coming out of the interval with a 4-1 lead, they conceded two quick-fire goals to set-up a nervy final 30 minutes of the tie. With away matches at Manchester United and Leicester City between now and the end of the season, Chelsea’s frailties at the back probably means we’ve seen the last of investment in their defenders in 2018/19.
“We played very well in the first half, but as usual in the last two months, we started very badly in the second half. Probably at the end of the first half we thought we had qualified and against this opponent it was not true. At half-time I told them to start with the same application as they started the first, but we didn’t do it. It’s not easy to understand. I could try without going in the dressing room at half-time if I could solve the problem. We need a solution but I’m really really happy because we played well in the first 45 minutes and we are in a European semi-final which is very important to us.” – Maurizio Sarri
“It is a mistake we are making very often and we are conceding early goals in the second half of games. We were 4-1 up but they put us in trouble and we were risking it. We were suffering until the end. It is not the way we want to win the trophy but we are in the semi-final and hopefully we can get through.” – Cesar Azpilicueta
Pedro (£6.3m) continues to show great potential in the Europa League, which is rarely fulfilled in the Premier League. He has just one start in the last four Gameweeks, but he has nailed down a regular spot in continental matches. Against Slavia Prague, Pedro was the key player, much as he was the last time Chelsea played in this competition at Stamford Bridge. He scored twice and recorded two more assists, one of which the shot that forced Simon Deli’s own goal.
Likewise, Olivier Giroud (£7.7m) continues to go from strength-to-strength in Europe without being able to carry points potential across into the Premier League. He has just one start in the last five Gameweeks but has arguably been the Blues’ best player on the continent this season. Giroud has now been involved in 13 goals in his last nine Europa League outings, scoring 10 himself and assisting another three (not including Fantasy assists). That also makes him the first Chelsea player to score 10 times in a single European campaign. But Giroud’s chances of starting against Burnley on Monday evening are still slim, simply because Gonzalo Higuaín (£9.1m) remained on the bench against Prague.
As usual, this was another continental match for Chelsea that told us more about the next FPL Gameweek by who didn’t play rather than who did. Neither one of Ruben Loftus-Cheek (£5.2m) and Callum Hudson-Odoi (£4.2m) was in the starting XI, the latter coming on as an 87th-minute substitute. That boosts their chances of earning a fourth consecutive start in the league on Monday.
Meanwhile, Eden Hazard (£11.0m) got himself a rare start as Chelsea get closer to the latter stages of the tournament. With the Blues’ place standing in the race for the top four taking a hit in Double Gameweek 34, the Europa League is increasingly becoming the more realistic route into the Champions League for Maurizio Sarri’s men. Therefore, we may see Hazard and Higuaín given more game-time on the continent, and maybe less in the Premier League, in the coming weeks.
“To win it will be very difficult, of course. We need to think to the semi-final, we need to study our opponents. We want to get to the final. We want to win the competition of course, but it will be difficult. Eintracht are a great team with a wonderful striker, Jovic. In the other semi-final (Arsenal vs Valencia) there are two very good teams. I am not happy Napoli are out. If the final was Chelsea vs Napoli I am sure at the end of the match I am really very happy. So I am not happy with that result. For me, I think it is very important to play the final. This time I don’t want to just play the final, I want to win.” – Maurizio Sarri
Hazard did have to come off in the 65th minute after taking a knock to the ankle. Sarri does not sound too worried but is concerned enough to suggest he will have to work to recover in time for Monday night.
“No, nothing serious I think. Only a knock. A strong knock. I think he needs to recover for Monday.” – Maurizio Sarri
Chelsea XI (4-3-3): Kepa; Emerson, D Luiz, Rüdiger, Azpilicueta; Barkley (Jorginho 70′), Kovacic, Kanté; Hazard (Willian 65′), Giroud, Pedro (Hudson-Odoi 87′).