It’s baaaack… and it’s relentless!
As we march onwards in these uncertain times, the deadlines keep coming and we are all having to adapt as quickly as possible as we learn about different managers’ strategies, team fitness and who’s come back raring to go.
I’ve experienced all the familiar FPL emotions over the last week and, I have to say, I’m very happy that 22 men are running around after a ball again.
I’ve watched some incredibly poor games (Everton v Liverpool was particularly turgid), experienced the joy of a last-minute winner for my side (take a bow Neal Maupay (£5.7m)) and, of course, experienced a goal for one of my players chalked off by VAR (unlucky Son Heung-min (£9.7m)).
My own FPL team has got off to a decent post-COVID start. Using the Bench Boost in Gameweek 30+ saw me nearly half my rank (up from 165k to 94k) and my Wildcard team looks set to deliver a small green arrow, despite not owning any Liverpool attackers and backing Everton to do a demolition job on Norwich City.
Back in Gameweek 11, thoughts of a top 10k finish looked laughable. But, I feel like I’ve got the wind in my sails a bit and if I can have a strong end to the season, there’s no reason why this can’t be achieved.
I want to use this piece to focus on two teams that I’ve paid particular attention to, for very different reasons.
I mean, this is hardly revolutionary punditry. But, I think it’s really important to consider just how bad Arsenal have been since the restart – even if they did bounce back to winning ways against Southampton.
Arsenal have conceded 30 shots in the box since the restart, which is more than Norwich (21), West Ham (14) and Bournemouth (10). Even accounting for the extra fixture, that’s not great.
At the other end of the pitch, they’re averaging a chance every 11.4 minutes, which puts them in the same company as the likes of Watford, West Ham and Bournemouth.
Mikel Arteta has inherited a mess, there’s no doubt about it, and the team that kept three clean sheets in four pre-COVID games looks like a distant memory.
There are rumours of unrest in the Arsenal camp, with Arteta reportedly unhappy with the attitude of some of his players during the break.
Against City, Arsenal went with a youthful lineup, but to me, the players starting, particularly Matteo Guendouzi (£4.2m), Eddie Nketiah (£4.4m) and Joe Willock (£4.7m), don’t look ready to be week-in week-out regulars.
Combined with a defence that will soon include David Luiz (£5.7m) and be without Bernd Leno (£4.9m) – their chances of a strong end to the season look slim-to-none.
Surely their talisman Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£11.0m), who is 32 next year and likely has one big move left in his career, will be looking to head to the exit door. He did manage seven shots (three on target) against Brighton, which is encouraging, but he again failed to deliver against Southampton and if he repeats that trick against Norwich, I can’t see anyone keeping faith in the Gabonese international.
In my mind, targeting teams playing Norwich looked a strong play from now until the end of the season and after what I’ve seen so far, bringing in those that are playing Arsenal also looks a guarantee of points.
With Norwich heading to the Emirates, it’s almost unthinkable to think that Arsenal won’t get a win – but this could be their last chance to get three points in a while, with Wolves, Leicester, Tottenham and Liverpool all to come in the subsequent four Gameweeks. Eek.
In my view, the most worrying thing about Arsenal is their complete lack of desire to create openings and carve out chances. Dani Ceballos (£5.2m), I’d argue, is their most creative player and is performing relatively well in his new deeper-lying role, but this means he is absent from where they perhaps need him, pulling the strings further up the pitch.
As post-match highlights revealed, despite playing against a high-line City defence, players were reserved in trying to pick out Aubameyang.
Against Brighton, defending for the Seagulls was too easy at times and it took a wonder goal from Nicolas Pépe (£9.2m) for Arsenal to get a goal. It seems to me that Arteta is trying to patch up a frankly horrible defence with more negative tactics, but at the cost of fluidity and flexibility which makes the majority of their attackers avoidable.
I will however be keeping my eye on Bukayo Saka, who at £4.7m doesn’t eat up many funds in your budget, and may be a decent pick against Norwich if you are looking for some ‘coverage’ outside of Aubameyang.
He had two goal attempts against Brighton and I was impressed with him, particularly in the first half. He’s created more goals than any other Arsenal player this calendar year and even managed to hit the post against the Seagulls.
He’s in my line-up for Gameweek 31+ despite my reservations about Arsenal, with my frustrations towards Richarlison’s (£8.3m) uninspiring performance echoing in my mind, and perhaps not enough time to get over it before the next deadline.
Ole is indeed at the wheel, and currently, he’s at the wheel of a Ferrari rather than the Reliant Robin we saw him driving earlier in the season.
It has been two very different games for Manchester United so far: a more tactical battle against Jose Mourinho’s Spurs, followed by a swashbuckling display against a patched-up Sheffield United. But, it’s hard to argue with four points from these games, the first hat-trick for a United player in the post-Ferguson era and some decent defensive displays (despite a couple of individual errors that nearly broke Roy Keane).
When I decided to Wildcard, getting three United players was always the priority. As I went through the options, it was encouraging to see just how many players that I could feasibly consider.
Bruno Fernandes (£8.7m) was a shoo-in. The highest-scoring player since he signed, he was averaging more points than even Mohamed Salah (£12.7m) per game. He’s exactly the kind of player I like in my team, one who has the monopoly on set pieces, looks to play killer balls and isn’t afraid of a shot. He’s everything I wanted James Maddison (£7.5m) to be, but the quality difference between the two is clearly vast.
Fernandes was unlucky not to get a couple of assists against Sheffield United, too. I did consider pairing him with Paul Pogba (£8.3m), but with no penalties and rumours of a more deep-lying role (look at those long passes he can deliver), I decided against it.
I also wanted to tap into the backline. Pre-COVID, United had really turned a corner in terms of their defence. They now have five clean sheets in their last seven games. The hard decision was knowing who to get.
I tend to avoid centre-backs as I prefer more attacking full-backs, so that was Harry Maguire (£5.3m) out. Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s (£5.3m) stats hardly inspired confidence and so it fell, against all odds, to David de Gea (£5.3m).
The more I think about this move, however, the happier I am with it. A back three of Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.8m), Matt Doherty (£6.3m) and Serge Aurier (£5.0m) gives me a perfect blend of form and fixtures until the end of the season and helps me get involved with the Red Devils’ backline.
I also decided after the Spurs game to go with Marcus Rashford (£9.0m), who I thought looked dangerous, if a bit rusty. I was hoping some of that rust would have worn off by the Sheffield United game but alas, two glorious chances wasted.
He still came away with two assists, however, and for those (like me) that went with Rashford over Anthony Martial (£8.1m), I urge patience. The two are matching each other in terms of penalty area touches (14 vs 13) and are very close in terms of goal attempts (four v six). The key difference? Martial has been clinical with a 50% goal conversion. If the two keep getting the chances they are getting, I expect both players to be strong options until the end of the season.
So why am I not dropping Rashford for Martial, who is playing ‘out of position’, gets an extra point for a goal and even a clean sheet point too? The reasoning is just as it was pre-Wildcard: Martial is one of the most infuriating to own players in the game. When you think he’s going to do well, he doesn’t. When United need a spark, he’s often missing. When you watch a match wanting your players to get on and demand the ball, he can leave you hanging.
The first half of the Spurs game was a perfect example of the frustration that I have experienced owning Martial in my team in the past. He touched the ball nine times, the fewest of any player on the pitch. He comes too deep at times, and often looks laboured at getting back into the box.
Despite constant calls from Solskjaer that he wants him lurking more predatorily, certain games are going to see him falling back into these habits and United will not have an easier game this season than they did against Sheffield United.
When you compare Rashford and Martial over the season, in terms of averages per appearance, Rashford is ahead on just about every metric. I know it can be tempting to switch to “flavour of the week”, but to me, Martial is exactly that sort of player – great one week, awful the next. I’m sticking with Rashford.
If you’re rocking less than three United players, you could do a lot worse than using a transfer on Martial, but with games coming thick and fast, your transfers are more valuable than ever. Use them wisely.
As we head towards the final straight of the season, however, I think the most important bit of advice I can give you is: play your own game.
If you disagree with me, triple up on Arsenal v Norwich and hand Martial the armband. If you’re watching as much football as I am, you’ll be making your own minds up on who to target. Now isn’t the time to play it safe – attack the Gameweek, trust your gut, use the Members’ Area to compare stats post-COVID to pre-COVID and extract as much as you can from this crazy end to a season which I doubt we will ever see the likes of again.
But above all else, keep yourselves and your loved ones safe and healthy out there – and see you in the pub when this all blows over.
Az has been a contributor to the site and Scoutcast guest for many years. The Brighton and Hove Albion supporter has three top 10k finishes to his name in a long Fantasy career, the best of which was a rank of 817 in the 2017/18 season.