We didn't have league matches this weekend and the transfer window has been about as underwhelming as I can remember a window being (even with the understanding that the bulk of activity generally happens in the last 24 to 48 hours) so I've turned to the weekend's FA Cup action for some inspiration to write a column. My motivation had been lacking for the week following Arsenal's dismal loss to Manchester United last weekend. It didn't help that we're in the middle of year-end performance reviews (I have to give a bunch) and planning for 2012 (which I'm involved in) at my day job.
It wasn't so much that Arsenal lost, I wasn't really expecting them to win. The disappointment was the method of their loss. The second Wenger substituted Arshavin in for Ox you just KNEW that was the critical decision of the match. Whether it is a lack of ability, a lack of conditioning, or a lack of confidence Arshavin can't seem to do anything right these days. Call him a poor man's Fernando Torres (he was never as good and he hasn't fallen as far but you get the idea). On multiple occasions this season he has conspired to transition his inability to contribute where he should be contributing (going forward) to helping the opposition score. Whether he is unwilling or unable to defend well is really sort of beside the point. His results are poor. I would have much rather seen Yossi Benayoun or Rosicky or just about anyone else brought into the match at the point when it happened. As it turned out, the story line played out the way Robin van Persie expected when he made the face he made on Arshavin's introduction. Arsene Wenger's reaction is not helping - he used to be famously called out in the press for saying he didn't see fouls that his own team committed. Apparently now he is refusing to see the shortcomings of his side.
Even a fairly strong fantasy weekend last weekend with Craig Bellamy, Wes Brown, and Antonio Valencia helping balance out the Tim Krul disaster didn't knock me out of my Arshavin-induced malaise. Fortunately, having some matches to watch today has helped a little bit. Here are some observations from what I saw and heard on FA Cup Saturday and how they may impact your fantasy choices this week:
- Donovan Quandry - Landon Donovan showed his quality on Friday against Fulham. With two assists he had a match-changing impact and it would have been a good fantasy match as well had it been in the league. The problem, of course, remains that he doesn't have a great deal of huge upside as a fantasy player. If he were listed as a midfielder, you'd be thrilled with the cheap option. As a forward you're judging him against matches like Bellamy's 20+ pointer against Bolton or the potential of RvP, Rooney, etc.
- Santon Impressive - I'm writing this as the Brighton-Hove vs. Newcastle match is going on and in the early going Davide Santon looks extremely impressive. His fantasy performances have been solid and with what I saw I can understand the reputation he had early in his career. Getting regular playing time seems to be doing him a world of good.
- Ramires Injured - Toward the end of Chelsea's match at Loftus Road Ramires went down and stayed down for quite a while. It doesn't look good for the Brazilian as the rumors coming out early were that he had injured his medial collateral ligament. Even if it is just a sprain that could mean a month minimum with a tear meaning much more. In spite of the announcers here in the US calling a Romeu for Ramires swap "like-for-like" (it isn't) it opens a spot in Chelsea's midfield, quite possibly for Essien who is working his way back. Since Ramires plays a more attacking role than Romeu/Mikel it means Essien might have a little more fantasy potential than if he were playing a more dedicated holding role.
- Buszaky Muted - With Adel Taarabt away on ACN duty Akos Buszaky has had two strong fantasy weeks in a row. He showed us some potential with a 9.5 in his first start of the season two weeks ago and then went crazy with a 28 this past weekend. Well, he wasn't that good against Chelsea. Hard to know whether it was him or his teammates because QPR were really poor overall but Buszaky certainly didn't distinguish himself on the big stage of the FA Cup against a "big" opponent. If you have him at a deep discount then by all means keep the faith but he now represents a pretty huge risk at his current price of 12.35.
- O'Neill > Hughes - I was expecting QPR to experience a bump in form and confidence similar to that experienced by Sunderland once Martin O'Neill came in as manager. I don't have anything against Neil Warnock but Hughes has shown himself to be more successful over time and, like Sunderland, there is some talent on hand at QPR. Even in the matches that Sunderland have dropped points since MON has arrived they've looked more lively. That was not the case today for QPR who were really just bad against a Chelsea team who haven't been exceptional. Not sure what's going on there but it isn't a good sign for the early days of the Mark Hughes reign at Loftus Road.
- Carroll = Torres - Supporters of Liverpool and Chelsea have been looking for any sign of hope that their high priced flops are getting ready to (in best Gerrard Houlier voice) "turn the corner". Torres seems to have had his chances and it just isn't happening for him (and today seemed to represent a regression from even his recent OK-but-goalless form). Your interpretation of Carroll's day will depend on how much you WANT him to turn things around. If you are a Carroll-half-full sort of person then you'll look at his assist on the winner and his header off the crossbar seconds later as a serious sign of life. If you're a Carroll-half-empty type then you'll note that he didn't do a d@mn thing before those two contributions and only one of the two actually produced any results. I lean slightly toward the latter camp (I don't have anything against either Carroll or Liverpool but I don't think he's that good a player). I do have to wonder though, with all the attention paid by Liverpool on the statistically based acquisitions of players like Adam and Downing who are supposed to be able to cross the ball, there weren't a ton of crosses that looked like clear chances for Carroll. I can't argue with the strategy behind the acquisitions (we have a gigantic forward that we've paid a lot for so we should build a team to get the ball to him), but the execution certainly doesn't seem to be living up to the strategy.
- Bellamy Rested - Important news for those (like me) who are holding Craig Bellamy while Suarez is suspended comes in the form of Bellamy starting the FA Cup tie against Manchester United on the bench and only coming on late. He played in the league against Bolton and then in mid-week against Manchester City in the Carling Cup. The rest against United means he should be set to fill in for Suarez for one last time before the Uruguayan returns.
- Norwich Keep Getting Results - Unlike Swansea who feature a few players who you're pretty sure will be getting come hither looks from bigger clubs at some point, Norwich continue to win matches despite a roster of players who really don't inspire much reaction from anyone even as they continue to march on in the FA Cup (against a fellow Premier League opponent in West Brom) as well as holding on to their top half spot. That the match happened away from home makes it all the more impressive. Just an impressive all around showing.
- Eth Injured - Stoke's solid victory over Derby County would have been a happier thing for their supporters if it hadn't come with an odd injury to the oft-injured Matty Etherington. There didn't appear to be any contact that caused it which makes me worry more than if it were a collision. No word yet on the prognosis but you should watch closely if you were thinking of picking up any of Stoke's attackers as Eth is critical to their attack.
- Brighton's Stadium is SWEET - Of all the newer stadiums I've seen in person and on TV, this one is among the nicer ones out there. Visually, it is far more impressive than any of the Premier League venues I've been to (Emirates, Highbury, Stamford Bridge, Etihad, Craven Cottage) or even some of the newer MLS venues like PPL Park in Philadelphia that are probably more similar in size. If Washington, DC ever figures out where to put a stadium for DC United I hope they hire the architects who did the Brighton stadium to do the work.