Monday, July 25, 2011

Notebook Preview: Arsenal

We're under three weeks until the start of the season so team previews are more than due. In order to save time, I have kept the posts to a scouting notebook style, rather than fluffing them up with prose which doesn't really teach you anything. The aim is to post a couple a day to give everyone time to digest them, ask questions and, more than likely, object to something contained within. First up, a deep source of fantasy talent: Arsenal.

Headlines
  • 72 goals scored ranked second in the league, 2.05 GPG rate on the road better than every other team by over half a goal.
  • Failed to score on only 6 occasions, only bettered by Man Utd (5)
  • Second in bonus points received (142), again only trailing the Champions (154)
  • Sixth in clean sheets (13) overall, but dramatic splits between home (9 - 4th) and away (4 - t8th)
  • Squad depth looks worryingly deep from a fantasy perspective with arguably the best squad Wenger has had since Henry, Pires et al graced the Emirates pitch.
Looking back at last season
  • Van Persie led the team with 8.0 P90 last year. Second on the team? Walcott with 7.1
  • Chamakh scored 7 goals at a rate of 0.34 per 90 minutes. Bendtner's rate? 0.35
  • Over the season, Vermaelen, Koscielny and Sagna averaged between 1.18 - 1.24 goals conceded per 90 minutes played. Johan Djorou's rate was just 0.75. Djorou led the entire team with a P$ rate of 1.079.
  • Only two players logged more than 30 games worth of minutes (2,700) last season. One of them (Gael Clichy) now plays for Man City, the other is Bacary Sagna.
  • Arsenal defenders accounted for four goals and five assists last year. Sagna (one goal, three assists) led the team with Koscielny (2 goals) in second place.
  • Arsenal goalkeepers ranked 6th in total points and 3rd in P$, Szczesny's price this year may negate this value though
  • Arsenal defenders ranked 7th in points at home but 12th on the road. This led to them delivering the 4th worst P$ value in the league.
  • No midfield unit in the league scored as many points (845) as the Gunners including the second most bonus points (95). These rankings hold up at both home and away. A note of caution though, the unit ranked 19th in terms of P$.
  • Up front looks to be an area of weakness as the team ranked just 13th in forward points for the year. However, their P90 score is 3rd showing that a lack of minutes is the root of the problem. Only Man Utd averaged a higher P90 (6.5) from their front men than Arsenal (6.3).
Predicted Lineup (4-5-1)
Szczesny (6.0m), Gibbs (5.5m), Vermaelen (7.0m), Koscielny (6.0m), Sagna (6.5m), Song (6.0m) Wilshere (6.5m), Nasri (9.5m), Fabregas (12.0m), Walcott (9.0m), Van Persie (12.0m)

Safest Picks
Wojciech Szczesny . . . thinks he will be the team's first choice 'keeper and so do the market makers, pricing him out of GK-combo range at 6m . . a reliable unit at home but lacking form on the road . . . might justify consideration for those looking at a premium GK with Hart/Cech out of range.

Bacary Sagna . . extremely consistent . . . can contribute with goals (1) and assists (3) though shouldn't be relied on for either . . . team around him looks fairly settled though replacing Clichy is a big question mark . . . opening three games are very tough . . decent value to open the season though better options probably exist.

Samir Nasri . . . could be unsettled after an off season of speculation . . . majority of points came in the first half last year with a 85:49 split . . . streaky player whose skills and tactical deployment can lead to periods of slow production . . . only logged one assist all season . . . upside is limited for a player of his cost.

Cesc Fabregas . . . most assists per game among all midfielders . . . increase in goals to close to 2009/10 levels would make him elite once again . . . despite a difficult season, still ranked 4th among mids in PPG . . . derives a lot of value from bonus points which could be damaged under new system . . . delivers similar value at home/away . . . sometimes takes penalties and free kicks/corners

Robin Van Persie . . . historic pace last year, on pace for over 300 points . . . averaged 8 points per 90 minutes, only 5 other regulars in the league topped 6 . . . one of 9 players to forecast double digits in goals and assists . . . substantially better last season on the road (7.0 PPG) than at home (8.9) . . . price tag risen by 1m each of the past two years . . . only topped 1500 minutes twice in 5 seasons, topping 1800 just once.

Upside Plays

Kieran Gibbs . . . favorite to win the left back spot though other transfer targets appear to have been discussed . . . team hasn't enjoyed good results in the small sample of games he played (2.3 goals conceded) . . . with limited non-defensive points Clichy was still able to register a 100+ point season so the upside is relatively high . . . 0.5m - 1.5m discount over other Arsenal defenders

Theo Walcott . . . led all midfielders in xP last year, on pace for 269 points, 18 goals and 16 assists . . . sensational on the road (8.5 PPG) where counter attack game suits his style . . . in half a season of minutes, scored as many or more goals than Nani, Cahill and Young with the third best GPG rate after Van der Vaart and Kalou . . . 6 double digit gameweeks in 19 starts . . appeared in all but 3 games in the second half of the season scoring 6.3 PPG over those games . . . remains a lot of competition for minutes which could once again limit his success

Gervinho (9.0m) . . . big name arrival comes with a good scoring record in Lille (28 in 67) . . . price tag is no guarantee of minutes in a crowded front line . . . probably better/safer options to open the season with based on his cost . . . already showed his talent in the pre season, upside is very high

No thanks
Thomas Vermaelen (7.0m) . . . huge injury risk . . . paying for 2009/10 goals which didn't show in a small sample last season . . . 0.5m more than the safer Sagna without much further upside

Johan Djorou / Laurent Koscielny (6.0m) . . . unclear who will partner Vermaelen when everyone is fit . . . Djorou has the superior GPG conceded record (0.75 vs 1.24) but Koscielny was the big name signing just last year . . . Koscielny did contribute a couple of goals but neither bring much outside of clean sheet potential . . . Sagna is safer while starting left back will likely be cheaper.

Andrei Arshavin (9.0m) . . . faces stiff competition for minutes . . . awfully inconsistent and can disappear in games . . . had 3 double digit games but 21 appearances with 3 points or less . . . better, more reliable value can be found in his price bracket

Jack Wilshere (6.5m) / Alex Song (6.0m) . . . derive their value from simply playing minutes as neither can be relied upon for goals or assists . . . new bonus system may reward good players rather than just the top scorers/big names but no proof of that yet . . . presence of Ramsey and Diaby make this pair rotatable . . . higher higher upside to be found with top players on lower profile teams

Marouane Chamakh (8.5m) . . . scored 7 goals at a rate of 0.34 per 90 minutes, substantially below much cheaper options . . . chances may be limited with the arrival of Gervinho and a (hopefully) fully fit Van Persie . . . didn't score well on the road last season (4.4 PPG)

Fixtures
@New, Liv, @MU, Swa, @Bla, Bol, @Tot, Sun
aFix: 4-1-3
dFix: 2-3-3

Assuming Swansea don't become a defensive force, Arsenal get an average fixture list which should see them have success at home, while perhaps struggling a touch on the road (MU, Bla and Tot all averaged a goal per game conceded or less at home). Defensively, the line doesn't look great as Newcastle and Man Utd were the best two offensive teams at home last season while Spurs were pretty good and one can predict an uptick in goals for Liverpool too. Fixtures might not put you off Van Persie or Fabregas totally but they should, as is the case throughout the season, play a part in your though process.

Conclusions
The defense is probably a touch underrated by fans thanks to their soft reputation but the market makers sets the price high for all high profile teams and thus probably price the majority of the Gunners back line out of my recommended range. I would like Sagna's consistency at 6.0m but for that extra 0.5m I would like to see a player on an elite defensive team or a legit goal/assist threat every week.

It's hard imagining having a team which doesn't own at least one Arsenal midfielder over the course of the season such is the depth of quality here. Fabregas and Walcott still rank highly in my pre-season thoughts though I would be more comfortable with both at 1.0m less. After a comparatively slow year, it is surprising to see Fabregas' price so high and on my first glance you struggle to see the extra 2m of value over a Nani, Van der Vaart or Silva.

There are always a couple of players who justify the high price tag and given the way he performed in the second half last year, there's little reason to think it won't be Van Persie this year. Van Persie was able to have success both at home (7.0 PPG) and away (8.9 PPG) and it didn't seem to matter who he played (though he simply shredded weaker opposition). From GW23 on, Van Persie failed to notch 5 points once with 5 double digit games logged over that same period.

Stay tuned over the next couple of weeks for team previews and other features. If there is anything in particular you'd like to see discussed please post suggestions below or @plfantasy.

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