I've had a busier-than-usual week this week so we're going retro for a single, consolidated Week Ahead column combining some schedule analysis with the "main course" of player recommendations. Since this is already likely to go long, I'm going to dispense with the usual long and winding intro. Instead, I'm just going to give you a few thoughts from my viewing of Arsenal's Champions League road win in France yesterday:
- Winning Ugly - Not really their stock-and-trade but they have been making it work for them in the Champions League thus far. A point in Germany (that could have been 3) and a win in France and neither of them have been works of art.
- Poor Passing - In this new world of statistical analysis of the beautiful game we are slowly learning that the stats can lie. If you just read the stats in the morning you would have seen that Arsenal completed a strong percentage of their passes (a percentage well into the 80s which would be deemed strong). What those statistics wouldn't tell you is that those passes were a shadow of Arsenal's fluid past. The next statistical innovation that needs to happen is that the notion of a "successful" pass needs to be refined. There is the kind that technically finds its target but leaves that target with a lot of work to make a productive next move/pass/shot and then there's the kind that creates flow and opportunity. Arsenal made a lot of the former variety and not many of the latter.
- Santos is Terrible - When he wasn't testing the referee's resolve to not hand out a red card he was generally making a turnover in his own end with a poorly thought out pass. Maybe you could accept this sort of behavior if he was showing Bale, Baines, Kolarov, or GJohnson like skills going forward from a defensive position but he didn't really show anything going forward this time around. Choosing to go after Santos rather than finding a way to win Jose Enrique's signature over the summer is proving to be a major miscalculation.
- I'll Still Take It - While the analyst side of me can find a lot of holes with Arsenal's performance, the fan in me is happy to see them starting to turn things around and get results even when they are not at their elegant best as a passing team. Wins at home against Sunderland and on the road at Marseilles isn't exactly Manchester United and Barcelona but it is certainly an improvement over losing to Liverpool at home and Rovers on the road so...baby steps forward but at least it is forward progress.
Home Teams - we always prefer our fantasy players to be playing at home and here are the most likely home teams to do well:
- Liverpool vs. Norwich - The extent to which you think Liverpool will dominate depends entirely on what you believe about Norwich. Are they what the table says they are? A solid mid-table team capable of threatening Manchester United at Old Trafford. Or are they relegation strugglers disguised as a mid-table team because they have capitalized on an easy early schedule? The only indications that they could be a solid mid-table team are the scrappy loss at Old Trafford and a home draw with Stoke. My sense is that Liverpool will win but it won't be as much of a mismatch as fantasy managers might hope. Given that Norwich have only been held goalless on the road once this season (@Old Trafford), I'm guessing that Liverpool's attack will do well but their defense will let one in. Verdict: Advantage to Liverpool's Attack.
- Newcastle vs. Wigan - Wigan aren't very good while Newcastle have been feasting on mid-table and lower opposition to open the season. It is hard to see a phantom point extravaganza from the Magpies because it isn't really what they do but you could easily see an efficient 2-0 win for the home side. The problem is figuring out which attacking players beyond Demba Ba might get you some points. Verdict: Advantage Newcastle Defenders.
- Bolton vs. Sunderland - Bolton got a lot of bad press but if you start to peel the union away they really haven't been bad when confronted with opposition that they have a reasonable expectation of beating. Their problem is that the schedule-makers have only presented them with three such opportunities over 8 matches (and they're 2-1-0 in those three matches). With Sunderland definitely being a match that they have a chance of winning, I expect good things. I'm not ready to believe they'll be airtight at the back but I think there will be some attacking value here. Verdict: Advantage Bolton Attackers.
- Arsenal vs. Stoke - Arsenal's attack really isn't firing on all cylinders (see above) but with Szczesny strong at the back and Stoke not the most compelling attacking force in the league, I think there is some potential for Arsenal's defense to make some fantasy managers happy this weekend. The caveat is (as always) the injuries. If Gibbs and Jenkinson are both still out it could be ugly as Pennant could easily make Santos look bad down the right of the Stoke attack and ditto Eth on the left if Djourou is the one he's facing off with. Verdict: A Potential Advantage for Arsenal Defenders.
The Away Teams - we don't love away teams but from week-to-week there are the occasional away teams that are worth taking the risk on and here they are for Week 9: