Who will play in Wenger's best eleven?
It appears that eight spots are pretty much locked down, and will be occupied by the same players barring injury or the occasional rest. These are Almunia (6.0), Clichy (6.3), Gallas (6.6), Vermaelen (6.7) and Sagna (6.3) at the back; Fabregas (10.6) in midfield and Arshavin (10.7) and Van Persie (10.0) in the front three.
The front spot is likely to be occupied by either Eduardo (7.9) or Walcott (7.8) (which would mean shifting Van Persie into the middle). Due to rotation potential I think that as soon as Walcott returns, this pair, along with Bendtner (6.3) become overpriced due to the inability to rely on their appearances. The midfield is even more crowded with Denilson (7.0), Diaby (5.8), Eboue (5.4), Rosicky (6.9), Ramsey (5.0), Song (5.5) and Nasri (7.9) all competing for two places.
All these players except for Walcott, Nasri and Rosicky were available for the 4-1 victory over Portsmouth when Wenger opted for Diaby and Denilson to play alongside Fabregas. I would think that Diaby will be replaced by Rosicky in home games, with Song coming in to add extra defensive bite on the road (as he did in the losses to City and United).
Who do Arsenal play in the next few gameweeks?
In the next 8 weeks Arsenal face trips to Fulham, West Ham, Wolves and Sunderland and have homes game against Blackburn, Birmingham, Tottenham and Chelsea. On a rolling basis over the last 38 games, only Chelsea ranks as a red light defensive game with the other 7 opponents averaging just 1.16 goals per game. Offensively, again it is only Chelsea who rank as a red light opponent (conceding 0.67 GPG) with other opponents conceding 1.74 GPG. Over this period, only Spurs have a better schedule and it is therefore advisable to get at least one Arsenal player in your lineup as soon as possible.
Defense - It simply has to be Thomas Vermaelen who has made a sensational start to his Arsenal career. 3 goals, an assist and 2 bonus points have concealed his lack of clean sheets, the first of which did not come until last week. However, with this schedule one would expect to see at least three or four more in the coming weeks along with another offensive contribution or two. This sort of production should be enough to justify his lofty price tag, especially when you consider the 0.1-0.2m you should make as his price inevitably hits 7m in the next week or so.
It might also be worth tracking Sagna whose chalkboard shows offensive involvement beyond his stats so far this year. While I am not currently a fan of the 6m+ defenders, you can do much worse than Sagna who is available at a cut price due to Arsenal's initial defensive woes.
Midfield - Cesc Fabregas should be considered alongside other premium midfielders, perhaps even in the league of Gerrard and Lampard in terms of value (if not pure points production.) Look at the stats so far this year:
- Lampard - 12.5m, 40 points, 6.67 PPG, 0.533 PPMS
- Gerrard - 12.6m, 39 points, 6.5 PPG, 0.516 PPMS
- Fabregas - 10.6m, 36 points, 9.0 PPG, 0.849 PPMS
- Kuyt - 9.6m, 36 points, 6.0 PPG, 0.625 PPMS
Granted, Lampard/Gerrard will likely end the season with more goals than Fabregas but with 3 in the bag already how far can they possibly beat him by? Even conservative estimates would put Cesc at double digits meaning Lampard/Gerrard would need to eclipse the 15 goal mark for the year, which has only been done once in the combined last 6 seasons by the English pair, in order to justify the extra 2m.
With the top strikers proving so much better than everyone else (excluding Defoe and Bent) that extra 2m is absolutely vital and could prove the difference between a John Carew and an Emmanuel Adebayor or a Dimitar Berbatov and a Fernando Torres.
In conclusion, Fabregas sits in a second tier of midfielders (along with Kuyt and possibly Arshavin) that deliver 90c on the dollar to their expensive brothers in the top category. No such plateau exists for strikers. Excluding Defoe and Bent's hot start to the season you basically get what you pay for, and if you want to compete, you better have a couple of top 6 strikers.
Forwards - I touched on the need to spend big on strikers above, and to wrap this piece up I will focus on another underrated player who should be considered alongside the elite at his position - Robin Van Persie. Van Persie had a disappointing season last year, right? Well, no, not really. If he had scored at the rate he did for 38 games he would have scored 17 goals and notched 225 fantasy points. I concede that staying healthy is a big if, but that's the beauty of fantasy league - we don't really care about a whole season, only small blocks - such as the next 8 games. Van Persie has started slow in the scoring column this year with just 1 in 5 but with 4 assists and 7 bonus points, the Dutchman's production has been solid (.640 PPMS). His 23 shots to date are also encouraging, as is his concession that he needs to be more clinical. Penalty duties should also help boost the goal tally a bit this year. Of the big 6 strikers I would back Van Persie to deliver the best value over the next 8 weeks and as the cheapest of the bunch this should allow flexibility elsewhere in your lineup.
As always thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing from you all as to your views on Arsenal's fortunes for the coming weeks. Please post below or tweet your thoughts.