Manchester City 1-0 Arsenal
- Goal: Raheem Sterling (£11.5m)
- Assist: Phil Foden (£6.6m)
- Bonus: Sterling, Joao Cancelo (£5.4m) x3, Kyle Walker (£6.0m) x1
Sergio Aguero (£10.4m) made his long-awaited return from injury as Manchester City edged Arsenal at the Etihad on Saturday.
The Argentine was included from the start and given 65 minutes of the Gameweek 5 clash with the Gunners, failing to deliver an attacking return but getting valuable game-time all the same.
No longer spearheading the City attack because of Aguero’s comeback, it was Raheem Sterling (£11.5m) who popped up with the match-winner when he pounced on the rebound from Phil Foden‘s (£6.6m) saved shot.
Aguero Back, Jesus Out for Longer?
Aguero’s 2020/21 debut was a relatively quiet one, with the Argentina international registering just the one effort on goal – a sixth-minute header that flashed over the bar – in his hour-long showing.
That he was even on the pitch from kick-off was a bonus, however, given that he only rejoined full team training last week following a lengthy lay-off.
Pep Guardiola said of the 32-year-old forward after full-time:
We are incredibly happy he is back, for him and for us. It was four months. He is still away from his [best] condition, but he got 60 minutes. On Wednesday we have another game. It is important to have him. We need his goals.
His return further swells the Fantasy Premier League forward pool, in which so many strikers are currently supplying regular returns.
Owned by just 1.7% of Fantasy managers and now available at his lowest price ever, Aguero is a tempting differential given what he has produced in the past.
The powers-that-be at FPL dangled a cut-price Harry Kane (£10.7m) in front of us at the start of the season, perhaps in a bid to lure some us away from the bloated midfield pond, and Aguero is similarly undervalued.
His stock may rise further if Gabriel Jesus (£9.4m) is definitely ruled out for an extended period of time.
Unless he misspoke after the win over the Gunners, Guardiola seemed to suggest that the Brazilian striker would be out for months to come:
Adding in his press conference, Guardiola said:
Gabriel [Jesus]… has had big problems in his quadriceps. We have to be calm and cautious. Still he’s not on the field training.
Gameweek 10 is when City’s fixtures get really good, with home matches against Burnley, Fulham and West Bromwich Albion following in quick succession.
Given Jesus’ absence and Aguero’s track record against the so-called “bigger” clubs, some Fantasy managers might be tempted even before then.
CITY DEFENCE AN OPTION AGAIN?
Quietly impressing over the last two weeks has been Ruben Dias (£5.5m), who followed up a positive debut at Leeds with another composed showing against Arsenal.
City managed to rack up a league-high 17 clean sheets last season despite widespread criticism of their backline, with their keep-ball approach as much of a defensive weapon as anything else.
Should Dias prove to be the answer to their right-sided problem at centre-half, and Aymeric Laporte (£6.0m) be fit enough to string together a succession of starts, then the omens look even more positive this season.
Leadership is something City’s backline has missed since Vincent Kompany’s departure and Dias seems to fit the bill in that regard, as he marshalled Nathan Ake (£5.5m) and the rest of his defence through Saturday’s win.
Guardiola said after the game:
I think both guys, Nathan and Ruben… they don’t make mistakes and we suffer a lot the last season, the amount of the mistakes we have done.
Still we have to improve them some but I have the feeling they are real defenders, so now I have to help them to mae the build-up and create the spaces where we want to play but for that, we need time, time to train. But today, in an important, difficult game, he was there.
The most important thing for Ruben is he is a type of leader. In a short time he will lead the team, the pressure, just 23 years old. We cannot forget he is a central defender for Portugal and when this happens it’s because he is something special. We are delighted so far with what we have seen.
Laporte and Benjamin Mendy (£6.0m) both missed out at the weekend, although the latter is expected back a lot sooner according to his manager:
Mendy will be three or four weeks. Laporte we expect sooner. I don’t know how long. Maybe one week, 10 days.
With Laporte having suffered a succession of niggles and Ake able to deputise in his stead, perhaps Dias will become the rotation-proof route into the City backline that we Fantasy managers crave for.
While no longer leading the line for City, Sterling was still positioned centrally on Saturday.
The hosts seemed to be in a fluid, Bielsa-esque 3-3-1-3 for a large chunk of the game, with the England winger playing just behind (and sometimes alongside) the right-to-left front three of Mahrez, Aguero and Phil Foden (£6.6m).
Sterling’s versatility is a huge asset when it comes to FPL, as his ability to play and shine anywhere across the frontline stands him in good stead when it comes to regular starts.
This was by no means a vintage attacking display from either player or team – Kevin De Bruyne‘s (£11.5m) absence was perhaps keenly felt – but Sterling’s knack of popping up in the right areas led to the only goal of the game, with Foden’s saved shot falling kindly at his feet 12 yards out.
WILLIAN FALSE NINE
Mikel Arteta also sprung a tactical surprise at the Etihad, deploying Willian (£7.9m) as a false nine and omitting both Alexandre Lacazette (£8.5m) and Eddie Nketiah (£5.7m).
The Arsenal boss continues to resist playing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£11.8m) centrally and the Gabon international was again peripheral, registering fewer touches of the ball than any other starter in this fixture – although he did set up the impressive Bukayo Saka (£5.3m) for the Gunners’ one big chance of the match.
While their current run of fixtures is tough, and with the obvious acceptance that Arsenal are making strides (particularly defensively) under their current boss, a lack of creativity remains a concern and only two Premier League clubs are averaging fewer chances per game in 2020/21.
Arteta even acknowledged the issue himself, saying:
We need to have the versatility to play in different formations, occupying different spaces. I believed it was a game for [Willian], the way City plays and the way they track the opponents and the spaces that can be used. He was really convinced as well.
It was obviously really hard to leave two strikers on the bench but it was a tactical decision.
In the first half, there were moments where we had to defend deep and they were getting a lot of players behind the ball, playing with false attacking midfielders, false nines, everybody really close to the ball without really creating much. It’s upsetting to see your team so deep.
In the second half, we were really aggressive, we played in the opponents’ half, they had a lot of issues to get out of our pressure. We could have created more, I think, in the final third.
Elsewhere in Arsenal news, Rob Holding (£4.5m) picked up a hamstring issue in the warm-up ahead of Saturday’s game and will require further assessment.
New defensive midfielder Thomas Partey (£5.0m), not likely to be much of an FPL asset himself but still someone who could make an impact on those around him, was only a substitute at the Etihad, with Arteta saying:
We will see how quickly we can make it with him. I think we have to respect that process and that timing for him because he only trained for a day really and there’s a lot of new information and different game models for him to understand, and we have to respect that. But I think when he came on he looked good.
Manchester City XI: Ederson, Walker, Dias, Ake, Joao Cancelo, Bernardo Silva, Rodri, Foden (Fernandinho 89′), Mahrez, Aguero (Gundogan 65′), Sterling.
Arsenal XI: Leno, Luiz, Gabriel, Tierney, Bellerin, Ceballos, Xhaka (Partey 83′), Saka, Pepe (Nketiah 83′), Aubameyang, Willian (Lacazette 69′).
LESSONS LEARNED FROM FPL GAMEWEEK 5
- Everton 2-2 Liverpool
- Chelsea 3-3 Southampton
- Manchester City 1-0 Arsenal
- Newcastle United 1-4 Manchester United
- Sheffield United 1-1 Fulham
- Crystal Palace 1-1 Brighton and Hove Albion
- Tottenham Hotspur 3-3 West Ham United
- Leicester City 0-1 Aston Villa
- West Bromwich Albion 0-0 Burnley
- Leeds United 0-1 Wolverhampton Wanderers
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