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The Week Ahead, Part 2 - Player Picks

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Dude, Sylvie says she'd like to keep you on her fantasy team but you'll have to do better than you did against us two weekends ago. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Dude, Sylvie says she'd like to keep you on her fantasy team but you'll have to do better than you did against us two weekends ago. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Today's pre-analysis rant is going to focus on what comes after Wenger whenever that particular day comes. The two obvious glamour names that will come into the picture will be Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola for obvious reasons - they have been incredibly successful and they may both be available in the near future. This is not a Wenger-must-go column (I'm sure you can find plenty of them elsewhere if that's what you're interested in). Rather this is a meditation on who might make sense as a replacement this year, next year, or in a few years depending on when his run at Arsenal comes to a conclusion.

Before we get to specific names I'll let you know that I'm basing my analysis on the following assumptions:

  • Arsenal like their current image as fiscally prudent in the back office and offering an attractive passing game on the field.
  • I will try to be realistic about the attractiveness of the job given the first assumption.
Here's a quick breakdown of some potential candidates:
  • Jose Mourinho - Let's get this one out of the way first. He will NEVER manage Arsenal. His style is completely at odds with the image of the club. His arrival generally coincides with some huge investments in star players in their prime when he arrives. He will command an ton of money for himself before new players are even considered. Does any of that sound like Arsenal? Didn't think so. Moving on.
  • Pep Guardiola - He certainly fits the profile doesn't he? He manages a style that Arsenal aspire to. He has a history with the successful development of youth players that Arsenal also profess as a core value. He is unlikely to want to manage another, lesser team in Spain and there is no way that Real Madrid would hire someone so tied to Barcelona - the mere hiring would be an admission of defeat in the eternal war between the two Spanish powers. I am dubious of his arrival at Arsenal in the near future for two reasons - the price of acquiring him (he'll presumably be REALLY expensive) and his interest in reviving an organization seemingly at a crossroads. On the first count, I expect that a team like Manchester City (who seem as likely to fire Mancini as keep him in any given year) would be willing to pay him more to come. On the second count, if he is interested in the Premier League then potential openings at Manchester City (always a risk), Manchester United (they're going to have to replace SAF one of these days), and Chelsea would seem to be more attractive as far as offering a collection of premium talent that is ascending or already in their prime. I wouldn't rule Arsenal out on Pep but the timing would have to work out perfectly that there aren't better jobs available.
  • Other Continental "Big Names" - This is obviously a pretty broad category but it is hard to see Arsenal hiring an Ancelotti, Capello, Erikson, or Big Phil style brand name manager. This isn't to imply that those guys aren't talented at what they do and potentially worth the investment but Arsenal seem to have created an "Arsenal Way" that tends to shy away from two things: 1) spending a lot of money; and 2) taking the obvious route to anything. As a result, my suspicion is that Wenger's successor will be someone who is managing a "big" team for the first time.
  • Up and Coming Continental Managers - I'm sure there are some worthy candidates from this pool who are probably stronger contenders than I am aware of. I focus the majority of my attention on the Premier League so this analysis will be lacking a little bit here. If there are some promising candidates from this pool that you guys are aware of, I'd be curious to know more.
  • Current Premier League Managers - I saw an article on Football365 recently suggesting that Norwich's Paul Lambert would be a strong candidate to replace Harry Redknapp if when he takes over the England job. It was honestly the inspiration for this analysis. There's no way that Arsenal dip into the MON, Mark Hughes, David Moyes layer of managers who have had some level of success but seem to have been stuck just at or above mid-table for years and years. Of that group, Moyes seems the most likely but his preferred playing style doesn't seem like a great fit for the Gunners. Paul Lambert would be an interesting choice as well given his success in seeing Norwich promoted multiple levels with a roster that has been assembled on a budget and plays better than the collection of talent on hand. There are two questions about Lambert: 1) does his preferred style match with that of Arsenal? 2) can that style extrapolate well if the level of talent improves? 3) Can he expand his scouting to find better bargain players outside of England? I can't say I know the answer to any of those questions but taking a step up to competing for a Champions League place would require a fair amount of confidence that the answer to all three is "yes".
  • My Favorite - For me, the obvious choice for the job (again, whenever it becomes available) is Brendan Rodgers. He doesn't come without risk as he wasn't a success at Reading. What he does bring is experience developing youth (at Reading and Chelsea) and a passing style that is compatible with the players Arsenal have at both the first team and youth levels under Wenger. The other virtue he brings is an ability, seemingly lost by Wenger in recent years, to identify undervalued players who fit what he wants to do. In Danny Graham, Scott Sinclair, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Michael Vorm, Angel Rangel, etc. he has assembled a team that looks very much at home in the Premier League on a very modest budget. The other thing about that work is that it represents a breadth of search frequently absent in Premier League managers outside of the "big" clubs. It is possible that he won't be able to unearth an improved type of bargain player at the next level of competition but his experience at Chelsea has likely given him a fairly strong international network as opposed to someone like Paul Lambert who hasn't had a ton of contact with the continental game since he was a player at Dortmund.
So there you have it, I'll be the first to jump on the Rodgers-for-Arsenal (eventually) bandwagon. Remember you heard it here first (unless I missed an outcry from other quarters in the past).

And with that, we'll proceed to our usual player picks for Match Week 26:

Forwards

  • Sergio Aguero - With Manchester City having the strongest match-up this weekend and the title race still balanced on the razor's edge you have to figure that Mancini will play his best to ensure the three points and Aguero is that. His price is high though so the decision isn't as easy as it would be otherwise.
  • Other City Forwards - The problem here is figuring out who else might play at forward for City. Their last three matches (2 Europe League and 1 Premier League) have seen them line-up with only one forward (Aguero twice and Balotelli once). Dzeko has entered twice as a sub with Kun subbing in at Porto for the winner. I guess what I'm saying here is that there is a ton of risk with the City forwards. If you have Kun cheap you're not giving him up but I see a lot of risk in investing in Balotelli or Dzeko unless news arrives tomorrow signaling some intent to start one of them.
  • Demba Ba - The obvious competition for the Aguero spot if you're paying retail and, at least to my eyes, the stronger bet to start. If you can afford both then Aguero and Ba would be a great strikeforce this weekend.
  • Papiss Cisse - Hard to figure out what to make of him. His price went up quickly so he isn't a huge bargain. In his two matches he's scored 16 and 3 points with 10 of those points in the first match coming on something of a wonder-strike. Hard to tell if that was a rarity (remember Hatem Ben Arfa did something similar early in his pre-injury time at NUFC and got us all excited) or if it is something real. The hope this weekend is that the advantageous match-up will improve his chances of returning his value or more. Consider me not sold overall on him yet but willing to recommend him strongly as an interesting potential value play this weekend based on playing at home and the match-up.
  • Daniel Sturridge - I'd really love to recommend Juan Mata here but his price has climbed far too high given his performance. Sturridge averages more fantasy points per match and he costs almost 4 less than his Spanish teammate to acquire. The definition of buying value.
  • Wait and See on the Man United Forward Situation - With Wayne Rooney absent from the Europa Cup clash with Ajax due to illness, we'll have to wait to see what his prognosis is (and thus the prognosis of others) before making any decisions here. If you are feeling uneasy about Rooney or it turns out that he's unavailable then Adebayor or Saha going up against Arsenal may be strong alternatives.
Midfielders
  • Beware Cabaye - The dirty secret about Yohan Cabaye is that after a very consistent start to the season, he's been extremely up and down since Match Week 10 (he only had one bad match up to that point). There are a lot of potential explanations and I'm also not averse to the argument that this might be one of his "up" weeks given the match-up. My mission with this paragraph is to make sure you realize that he may not be who we thought he was going to be (a fantastically consistent performer) early in the season.
  • Yaya Toure - David Silva is the better bet but given the current prices of both, Yaya is the better value play. If you have Silva cheap or can afford him at retail then I'd recommend taking him but if you're looking to maximize your roster and buy guys like Ba and Aguero at retail then I'd recommend Yaya over Silva.
  • Jean Beausejour - A better bargain in the 2s last Match Week or on the Barn Door than at his current 5+ price but playing at home against an adequate-at-best Villa team, he's a nice potential answer to "How do I replace Valencia at a discount?" or "What do I do if I'm nervous about The Ox being benched in favor of Theo and Gervinho?"
  • Adel Taarabt - He's been strong over the two matches since he's been back from the ACN and he's playing at home against a poor road team (even if the "road" is a short one from Craven Cottage to Loftus Road).
  • Ramires - I'm not a big fan at his current price but he's back and has a strong match-up so I thought he deserved a mention for those who believe.
  • Stephane Sessegnon - Still having nightmares about that guy from Arsenal's FA Cup loss to Sunderland. He's playing away but I'm hardly daunted by West Brom's defense and I don't think Sessegnon will be either. Amazingly, he's Sunderland's 3rd most expensive midfielder.
Defenders
  • Taye Taiwo - Still waiting for a big breakout match but he's still one of the few affordable defenders who has upside as an attacker. That he seems to be playing at left midfield is an added bonus.
  • Sebastian Bassong - PhysioRoom.com has him returning on Saturday and I don't expect he'll be GREAT value but if you need an enabler it isn't too tough to come up with 2 points (you'll pardon Daniel Ayala owners for shaking their heads in unison at this point as the counter-argument).
  • James Perch - We'll have to see how the NUFC team sheet projects as they readjust after Tiote's return to the holding midfield role but Perch is inexpensive and has started the last two matches (and come on at halftime in the one before that). If he looks like he's going to start then he could be a great source of cheap clean sheet points. Even in the 5-0 drubbing by Spurs he picked up 4 points adding CS points and some actual defending to that total and he could look like solid value.
  • Branislav Ivanovic - Hard to bet on a Chelsea defender at this point but that match-up does make it look enticing doesn't it? Helps that his price has dipped to 7.23.
  • Rafael - Every time I recommend one of the twins I hate myself for doing it. Why? Glad you asked because there are two reasons. First, I really despise their body language on the field - it's like somehow both Rafael and Fabio are Brazilian for Ashley Cole. Second, they never seem to do anything positive for me when I buy them. There ends up being a freak injury or an unpublished/unrumored rotation or something. The good news for fantasy owners is that I'm not buying in to this particular recommendation so there's hope for you.
  • Vincent Kompany - If you're buying premium and want the surest bet at a solid but not spectacular return.
Goalkeepers
  • Tim Krul - If you haven't been burnt beyond coming back after a few recent ugly outings including last Match Week in the Spurs drubbing then he's far and away the best combination of low price and potential production.
  • Joe Hart - Wow has he gotten expensive but like Kompany it is as close to a sure thing as you're going to find this weekend.
  • Petr Cech - If you want some middle ground between the two choices above and you're willing to bet that Bolton on the road are worse than Chelsea at home right now then this is a solid potential investment at just over 9. Oh how the mighty have fallen.
  • Paddy Kenny - If, on the other hand, you're looking for a real cheapo then Paddy Kenny at home against road-shy Fulham for the low-low price of 1.34 is your bet. No, I'm not going to do it but I could see the logic. Especially after Mark Hughes has had two solid weeks with his new team to whip them into shape a bit.