Fantasy EPL Player Picks: The Week Ahead

Shouldn't the economist be better with the wage bill? - Jamie McDonald

With Swansea and Liverpool having already played their match we survey the 9 matches that will make up Match Week 27 in the Premier League with particular focus on attractive match-ups for Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham, and Everton.

As I was watching Arsenal get dismantled by Bayern Munich and writing the first part of our Fantasy MLS Preview I saw a Tweet that shocked me given the results I was seeing on the field. It also gets to the root of the Arsene Wenger problem at Arsenal. The Tweet indicated that Arsenal and Bayern Munich have identical wage bills. The Tweet went on (if indeed you can "go on" in 140 characters) to indicate that over recent seasons there is a £100 Million gap in transfer spending between the two clubs. My sense is that the Tweet was meant to be an indictment of Arsenal's refusal to spend in the transfer market and their inability to hold onto their best players - both solid points but ones that we, as outsiders, have a hard time evaluating since we don't know what players they could have realistically acquired on the open market or if there was any way to keep Fabregas, van Persie, et al.

What the point SHOULD have been is that for all of his thrift in the transfer market, Arsene Wenger spends WAY too much money on wages. If you line up the players up and down the rosters of Arsenal and Bayern Munich there's no reasonable way to conclude that those two sets of players should be making the same amount of money. It isn't like Bayern is stocked with a bunch of precocious kids who just haven't gotten to the point in their careers where they can demand big salaries. Philipp Lahm, Manuel Neuer, Thomas Muller, Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Mario Gomez, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mario Mandzukic, Jerome Boateng, and Javi Martinez are established internationals who have started major tournaments and command big salaries. Toni Kroos and David Alaba are still young and may not yet be on big wages while Claudio Pizarro and Daniel van Buyten are aging and may also have seen their salaries cut to some extent as they have aged.

The question is, if you're willing to pay enough to have a roster that boasts this sort of quality then how is it that Arsenal don't have the sort of talent that makes you feel that they, like Bayern's current group, will be perennial threats to win the Champions League?

Who, exactly, is making all of this money? It may be that Wenger still has an eye for finding reasonable bargains in the transfer market but it would appear that he's overpaying them once they arrive or striking out on too many expensive players who are ineffective (Andrei Arshavin, Sebastien Squilaci), injured (Abou Diaby, Tomas Rosicky, and Kieron Gibbs), regressing before their time (Thomas Vermaelen and Bacary Sagna) or just not quite good enough (Per Mertesacker, Aaron Ramsey, Gervinho and Laurent Koscielny). This isn't including a few young players who are (hopefully) not on large contracts yet (Wojceich Szczesny, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere) and the new acquisitions who haven't been around long enough to fully judge (Nacho Monreal, Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski, and Santi Cazorla).

Until Arsenal start getting value for the money they spend on wages, it is foolish to talk too much about spending on the transfer market.

It's been a while since I went on a full rant before getting to my player picks, feels good to be at it again:

The Schedule

Arsenal have been bad the past two matches but home to Aston Villa represents what they have managed over the last 8 trophy-less years, the opportunity to stay in the race for a Champions League spot. At the same time, Tottenham (@West Ham) and Everton (@Norwich) have relatively easy match-ups (albeit on the road) for their parts in the race for fourth. Manchester United also looks tantalizing with the one caveat that their trip to Loftus Road offers the opportunity to rotate some players after a big match in mid-week against Real Madrid.

Forwards

Olivier Giroud - He didn't start against Bayern but he did have a cracker of a chance that ended up going right at a moving Neuer. Bad luck for sure but it makes you feel good about his chances assuming he's back in the starting line-up (as he should have been for that match).

Robin van Persie - If he plays, there's every chance he'll do great. Isn't this about the time we'd love a definitive statement from Sir Alex? The same rotation worry applies to Rooney, Welbeck, and Chicharito which doesn't make things any easier.

Liverpool Forwards - After Liverpool's route of Swansea last weekend prices are sky high - pick and choose carefully. I'm sticking with Daniel Sturridge at 8.52 but that's about it from a Liverpool point of view. We're getting late in the season to be taking too many zeroes. If you have Suarez at a pretty crazy discount then the same logic applies but the discount has to be even better because of the percentage of your budget that you'd be tying up. At least Sturridge is relatively cheap.

Kevin Mirallas - I have a hard time with Anichebe at over 12 and Jelavic given his dismal performances/rotation concerns and that leaves Mirallas as the forward option for the Toffees. He hasn't been spectacular since returning from his injury but if you buy into the notion that it takes a little time to get back - especially for players who play at pace - then he should be just about rounding into form.

Emmanuel Adebayor - K2 hasn't done much this season but he's fallen under 10 and he's going to get a chance as the only recognized forward that is healthy. Gareth Bale can't score ALL of Spurs' goals (can he?).

Midfielders

Yohan Cabaye - Southampton are playing better but they have never been extremely solid at the back so the Newcastle playmaker is a very solid bet to make good on his premium price.

Sylvian Marveaux - If you are frightened off by Cabaye's price then Marveaux should be a cheaper alternative that is likely to start with Yoan Gouffran questionable coming off the deep gash he sustained the last time out in the league. Watch the Friday Team News and substitute Gouffran as a reasonable bargain over Marveaux if it looks like the former is going to recover in time to get the start.

Theo Walcott - With few premium options not named Bale available with strong match-ups this weekend, Walcott should have a chance to rebound against Villa's extremely questionable wide defenders.

Gareth Bale - Hard to recommend him at retail - he's just too expensive at 32+ but you do feel like you have to mention him and make a comment of some sort given how impressive he's been over the last month or so. And it isn't like he was doing poorly before that.

Lewis Holtby - He was in the middle of a lot of action but couldn't get his shots on target. While that is frustrating in the short term, it bodes well for his ability to produce over the long term. If you need an enabler, he should be your guy.

Leon Osman - Unlike his taller and better coiffed teammate Maruoane Fellaini, Osman doesn't tend to put up negative numbers and he has been consistently churning out solid efforts. Fellaini is the high risk/high reward pick but given his high price that's a lot to ask right now. Osman just seems a bit more sensible even if he's less likely to score a goal.

Hope Akpan - With 3 assists in four matches, Akpan has been a nice January addition to Reading's cause. With Wigan coming to town there's reason to believe he can add to his early totals.

Shinji Kagawa - Seems like about time he gets a start, don't you think? The price is certainly right.

Defenders

Nacho Monreal - He has produced in both matches he's played in the league so far and his price isn't too high yet.

Johnny Heitinga - An inexpensive option with a good match-up if you need one but you're always concerned about the potential yellow card.

Stanislav Manolev - Another new arrival with a chance to do the damage we'd hoped for out of Sascha Reither.

Stephen Kelly - Still very inexpensive and the match-up is a solid one. This is the time to pick a guy like this - especially if you're trying to get to Bale.

Leighton Baines - If you have the money and you're looking to construct your "I can't afford Bale" strategy.

Goalkeepers

Tim Krul - Can Newcastle regain the momentum they had coming out of the transfer window? If so, Krul is a great bargain play in a week that boasts no fantastic goalkeeping options for fantasy managers.

Tim Howard - Everton have been surprisingly poor at the back this season (4 clean sheets in 26 matches for Howard) but the match-up makes him worth looking at for a week where there are no exceptional options at retail.

Adam Federici - He doesn't excite me but home matches against Wigan do so he makes the list.

Brad Guzan - If you believe in the Arsenal slump (that it is going to continue that is) then Guzano is a nice gamble at a reasonable price. You KNOW he'll see a fair number of SOTs and if you think Arsenal will continue to put those shots on the keeper rather than where he isn't then he could be in for a big afternoon. I'm not saying I believe in this but it is worth mentioning for those who aren't as in the bag for Arsenal (flaws and all) as I am.

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