Ahead of an expected rush of Wildcards in Gameweek 31, Anna Woodberry analyses which players stand the best chance of beating Mikel Arteta’s rotation policy at Arsenal.
Arsenal sit second of our Season Ticker over the next five Gameweeks when clubs are sorted by ease of fixture. Mikel Arteta’s side face the four bottom Premier League clubs over this period, with a tough home match against Everton sandwiched in the middle.
For Fantasy Premier League managers on their Wildcard, or those looking to maximise their transfer(s) this Gameweek, these fixtures could yield good returns.
That said, Arsenal’s form this season and their quarter-final matches against Slavia Prague must be considered when choosing which assets to go for.
We have weighed up their credentials in this latest article by considering recent performances as well as investigating which players are the most likely to play consistent minutes in the Premier League between now and Gameweek 38.
Arsenal have not impressed as many would have expected during Arteta’s reign. The Gunners had a particularly poor start to the league and found themselves languishing in fifteenth place after eleven Premier League matches. However, Arteta has managed to pull them back up during the second half of the season, where they are now flittering between ninth and eleventh position.
This is in spite of a tough run of fixtures in their last ten games, which saw them play both Manchester clubs, Leicester City, Tottenham, West Ham and Liverpool. They picked up 12 points from a possible 30 from these matches: winning three, drawing three and losing four.
Yet they only managed one clean sheet during this period (and have zero in their last six) while conceding 15 goals in total, six of which came in their last two matches against West Ham and Liverpool.
On the flip side, though they only netted 14 goals during the same period, the team scored two or more goals in four of the ten games and are in the top five for goals scored over the past six matches. Given that their upcoming fixtures are against bottom-half clubs with poorer defensive records, this is something FPL managers will be hoping Arsenal could replicate over the next few Gameweeks.
The biggest headache for FPL managers, however, will be factoring in Arsenal’s Europa League campaign. Their quarter-final first leg against Slavia Prague takes place on Thursday evening, three days before their Gameweek 31 match against Sheffield United. Meanwhile, the second leg is scheduled for the following week, in between Gameweek 31 and Gameweek 32 (Fulham).
If they get through this quarter-final, the semi-final fixtures are pencilled to take place in and around their Gameweek 34 and 35 matches against Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion, meaning the Gunners are facing the prospect of nine games in 30 days. So, while Arsenal are playing the four bottom Premier League teams, this is happening in amongst their European campaign, raising concerns over how much Arteta might rotate his squad to cope with this demand.
This concern is increased when considering which competition the Spaniard might favour going into the final part of the season as the Europa League arguably represents the best chance for the club to make it into the Champions League next season.
The Gunners are ten points off fourth place with eight Premier League matches to go but are battling a host of rivals to get there. Aston Villa, Everton, Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea are all above Arteta’s team, so the odds are stacked against them to win a European qualifying spot through domestic channels.
This could have ramifications for Arteta’s team selection in the Premier League over the next few Gameweeks. He utilised fringe players in the group stages of the Europa League, keeping his main stars – Kieran Tierney (£5.3m), Alexandre Lacazette (£8.2m) and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£11.4m) – for the league. This may change now we are reaching the latter stages of the competition, especially if this is Arsenal’s best chance of playing in Europe next year.
TIME FOR THE ‘BIG GUNS’
If we compare the Arsenal players’ minutes for the group-stage and knock-out matches of the Europa League this season, we can already see a shift towards the more experienced group. 14 players – Bernd Leno (£5.0m), Tierney, Hector Bellerin (£5.0m), Gabriel (£4.9m), David Luiz (£5.4m), Thomas Partey (£4.9m), Martin Odegaard (£6.0m), Dani Ceballos (£4.7m), Granit Xhaka (£5.2m), Emile Smith Rowe (£4.2m), Bukayo Saka (£5.2m), Aubameyang, Gabriel Martinelli (£4.9m) and Willian (£7.5m) – have all featured more in the knock-out stages than they did during the group matches.
This is also reflected when looking at the starting line-ups. Leno, Bellerin, David Luiz, Gabriel, Xhaka and Aubameyang have started all four knock-out games so far, with Tierney, Ceballos, Saka, Odegaard and Smith Rowe starting three. Therefore, we would expect Arteta to turn to these players again for the two legs against Slavia Prague.
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE PREMIER LEAGUE
The issue this poses for FPL managers is whether these players will feature in the Premier League games either side of those quarter-final matches. Though hard to predict, we can see which players started a high number of league games in and around the Round of 32 and Round of 16 matches against Benfica and Olympiacos in February and March.
Leno, David Luiz, Tierney, Xhaka, Saka, Odegaard and Aubameyang were the only players to start four or more games in the league, suggesting they would be the best bets to play against Sheffield United and Fulham. In contrast, stalwarts Bellerin and Gabriel only started two games each, so might see their league minutes similarly restricted if they play on Thursday.
However, injuries could change this completely. David Luiz looks set to miss the next couple weeks after undergoing knee surgery, leaving Gabriel (£4.9m) to shoulder the principal centre-back burden. In his absence, Arteta could turn to either Rob Holding (£4.2m) and/or Pablo Marí (£4.4m) to partner Gabriel in the Europa League and Premier League games. Both are budget-value defenders who could easily fill the fourth or fifth spots in any FPL team.
In addition, Arsenal fear that Tierney could be ruled out for a similar period to Luiz after limping off in the first half against Liverpool in Gameweek 30. If true, this leaves Cedric Soares (£4.6m) and Saka as the Gunners’ left-back options since Sead Kolasinac went on loan to Schalke in January. With this uncertainty, it means Leno is probably the most reliable way into Arsenal’s defence.
In terms of midfield and attack though, Odegaard and Aubameyang are the safest picks, but whether they represent the best value for money compared to other players in those price brackets remains to be seen. They could be good differential picks if they start though.
For FPL managers feeling a bit risky, Nicolas Pépé (£7.6m) and Eddie Nketiah (£5.4m) were frequently used in the group stages of the Europa League to give the more established players rest. Arteta could utilise the two again but in the league this time, especially if the tie against Slavia Prague is still close after the first leg.