I have to admit it, it has been more than 48 hours and I'm still both in a little bit of disbelief and a lot giddy over the outcome of the Arsenal vs. Spurs match on Sunday. Maybe it's because otherwise the weekend went pretty much to expectation. Big teams (Manchester City and Chelsea) beat bad teams (Rovers and Bolton). Manchester United beat a scrappy mid-table team playing at home in Fergie Time. The Premier League team beat the Championship side in the Carling Cup final. The only other modest surprises were the second half at St. James' Park and the extent to which West Brom beat Sunderland at home.
The notion of expectation is exactly what brings us back to Arsenal. It being late-February/early-March the recent script would dictate that it is time for an Arsenal meltdown. The losses at Milan and Sunderland certainly reinforced the notion of the yearly crash-and-burn. The miserable nature of the first two early Spurs goals certainly made it seem like it was going to be another one of those days. I certainly wouldn't want to count on an opponent gifting Arsenal THAT many opportunities again (it was 5 goals but it could easily have been 7 or 8) but the fact that they took them in a pressure-packed situation. Throw in the fact that Sagna, who has been mediocre going forward for about 18 months, and Rosicky, who has been a shadow of the player we expected for far longer than 18 months, were key contributors and I guess the reason everything else had to turn out as expected was that all of the unexpected story lines for the weekend ended up on one match.
In lieu of the usual Monday column "First XI" format, I'm going with some less structured comments on the week that wrapped up on Sunday along with some new analysis sure to be interesting to the geekiest of fantasy managers.
Click past the jump for more:
- First a Promotional Announcement - The SBNation.com mothership is launching a YouTube Channel later this week and I encourage all of you to subscribe. There isn't any soccer content just yet but we'll be aiming to make that happen later this year. In the meantime, we'd love for you to support the cause and check out the first offerings premiering on March 1.
- Rosicky Rising? - For anyone who has been watching Arsenal matches regularly, you will have realized that Tomas Rosicky's contributions have been increasing in the real world even if his fantasy contributions haven't been. With his 16.5 points against Spurs representing almost half of his total for the season, fantasy managers will wonder if it is worth having him at his BD price (2.65) or even his new retail price (7.01). My sense is that his value is on the rise and he's a solid value at 2.65. At 7.01, I'm concerned that the others not named Fabregas who have filled that role in Arsenal's attack recently (Wilshere, Ramsey, etc.) haven't been big fantasy contributors. Especially for the upcoming matches against @LIV and home against NUFC I'd stay away and hope his price drops a little before I considered him a valuable enabler. (And as an Arsenal supporter, I hope I'm wrong about the paragraph I just typed but we don't play favorites here at the blog and the smart play is to avoid him at retail)
- Theo, Yossi and The Ox - Sounds a bit like a children's story or something like that but it is something of a conundrum for fantasy managers. Even with Arshavin finally heading off to snowier pastures the team's success with Yossi Benayoun and Theo Walcott supporting Robin van Persie in Arsenal's 4-3-3 mean that fantasy managers holding Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should probably stop. Theo's brace and Yossi's solid play on Sunday plus the presence of Gervinho (who hasn't been spectacular but has probably been Arsenal's second best attacking player) means that The Ox will likely revert being a "change of pace" off the bench.
- Paul Scholes, Quality Enabler or Not? - The seemingly ageless Paul Scholes is a tough one to figure since his return from his half-season of retirement. He has played six matches. He has done well in half of his matches (two times managing 12.5 and the other a solid 8) and done absolutely nothing the other half of the time (literally a net of 0 points across those three matches). I recognize that it is a small sample size but fantasy managers who jumped on the BD bandwagon when Scholes scored this past weekend should prepare themselves for the fact that they'll be essentially flipping a coin on him returning anything meaningful this coming weekend.
- Jean Beausejour - Hat tip to Jeremy for getting on this one first among us bloggers but for those who have the Wigan enabler under 3.00 he's been producing the goods that you'd expect from a much more expensive midfielder. Jeremy tends to pull about 4 or 5 random calls like this each season. The trick is always figuring out which ones will hit and which ones will be Marek Cech.
- Krul World - Like Spurs fans, I was very happy with things in the early going this past weekend. It looked like Newcastle and Tim Krul were well on their way to redeeming themselves and rewarding the faith of fantasy managers that either stuck with Krul through the Spurs disaster or decided to jump back on in the wake of it. The worry now is that Newcastle are just slipping a bit from the heights that they hit earlier in the season and that Krul will be no more than an average goalkeeping option. I've dropped him (yes, even at 3.85) in favor of Schwarzer (at his BD price) for the upcoming weekend.
- How Do They Let Him Do It? - Back to Arsenal for a moment, the more statistically inclined among you probably have long recognized that Theo Walcott has exactly one spot on the pitch that he's effective from - cutting in from wide right and shooting from near the top right corner of the 18 yard box. This is his one move and he always tries to take the shot to the far goalpost (his left). I'll admit that he has great speed and he's pretty good when it comes to executing this one move. That said, I'm stunned that in an age where everything can be track and analyzed (and Arsenal have a decided lack of scoring options outside of RvP) that any team would let Theo get to his preferred spot (let alone 3 or 4 times in one half) when he doesn't seem to have a Plan B. Just saying.
- What to make of Sunderland? - I saw a number of comments in our live chat over the weekend essentially dismissing Sunderland as "slipping" after West Brom dismantled them at the Hawthorns on Saturday. Before we jump the gun on "slipping", please remember that Sunderland are still 5W and 3L since January 1st including a win over Manchester City and two of those losses being to Arsenal and Chelsea. If you include all competitions then they're W8, D1, L3 since the start of the calendar year. I agree that the loss to West Brom looked bad but I would hardly go dismissing Sunderland after one bad outing in 12 2012 matches. Throw in Newcastle's poor home showing in the second half against Wolves and I'm definitely not ready to rush to the assumption that Newcastle has some big advantage this weekend.
- Relegation Wars - With millions of pounds on the line, the relegation battle is shaping up to be a spectacular 5-way battle royale between Wolves, Rangers, Rovers, Bolton, and Wigan. What looked like a pretty obvious outcome only a month ago with Rovers, Bolton, and Wigan all seeming destined for the drop has now evolved into a 2 point difference between 16th and 20th with no clear advantage to any of the five clubs. It should be a fascinating final third of the season. Even more so when you realize that all five are fairly close to each other when it comes to goal differential as well (-18, -21, -22, -25, -27). It will be hard to top the drama of the final day last season but all the elements are there at this point.
The Fantasy Points Table - Courtesy of the spreadsheet provided by BillTheGrunt I ran a little analysis of which teams are scoring the most fantasy points this season and the answers may surprise you. The table below shows the total fantasy output of all players on the team through Match Week 25. Of particular note?
- QPR, despite their rotten place in the table have scored more fantasy points than higher flying newly promoted side Norwich.
- Manchester United may be second in the table but they are the clear leaders when it comes to fantasy points created.
- Newcastle may be the darlings of the real table but they look decidedly like Stoke or Sunderland when it comes to producing fantasy points as opposed to looking more like their company in that real table (Arsenal, Chelsea, and Liverpool). Swansea have out-pointed the Magpies despite an 8 spot gap in their positions in the table.