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The Week Ahead: Fantasy EPL Player Picks for Match Week 31

Along with the usual rundown of player picks for the upcoming Premier League weekend, Neal contemplates the chaos in Arsenal's line-up for the run-in.

Who will he select over the run-in? Only "Wenger knows"
Who will he select over the run-in? Only "Wenger knows"
Jamie McDonald

If you were managing a team at the upper reaches of the Premier League table you'd think you'd have figured out your preferred starting XI by now. You'd think this even more given that the situation you're facing, 9 matches remaining to gain on those ahead of you in the table to gain a Champions League spot. However, the situation facing Arsene Wenger and fantasy managers everywhere is that the Arsenal starting line-up is about as unsettled as a top half team with relatively few injuries could be at this point in the year. Let's do a quick rundown by position:

GK - No one is confident in Lukasz Fabianski but for now he seems to be the starter but do any of us feel good about the stability of that choice? Is Wenger just lighting a fire under Szczesny? Has he lost faith altogether? It's just hard to know what's going on there.

LB - With Keiron Gibbs and Nacho Monreal both healthy and no Champions League (or cup matches of any kind) to worry about we really don't know who Wenger will prefer or whether one will start consistently.

CB - The same situation that applies at GK and LB applies at CB except with 3 players - Thomas Vermaelen, Per Mertesacker, and Laurent Koscielny - to fill two spots. Each have had solid stretches and poor stretches throughout the season and you are left wondering if any of the three is a guaranteed starter if healthy. You'd think that it would be dictated by match-ups but Wenger recently said that Arsenal do what Arsenal do and let others react. So...maybe not based on match-ups.

RB - With Bacary Sagna returning and Carl Jenkinson having played reasonably well in Sagna's absence there's no guarantee of who will start here. This is even more true given that Sagna hasn't been up to the standard of previous seasons when he has been healthy and there has been a lot of talk about him being on his way over the Summer. Will Wenger restore Sagna or will he give Jenks a long term run in the event he doesn't buy a new starting RB for next season?

Midfield - With the exception of Santi Cazorla and (probably) Mikel Arteta the midfield has some question marks until Jack Wilshere returns (and this is Arsenal so who knows when that will be). With Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky, and Abou Diaby all presumably healthy you could see any of that group starting.

Wide Attackers - With Theo Walcott out and Lukas Podolski seemingly making his way back into the starting XI there will likely be questions about which of Alex Oxlade-Chamerlain, Podolski, and Gervinho will start in any given match. I HOPE that the answer ends up being a steady diet of Ox and Poldi until TW14 returns but since I'm not managing the club, I can't say that will happen for sure.

Target Forward - Assuming he stays healthy, Olivier Giroud seems like a lock to maintain his starting spot especially with Walcott injured.

So, just to recap quickly that's exactly two players - Cazorla and Giroud - who seem guaranteed a spot for the run-in with a precious few more - Arteta and Podolski - that are highly likely to be starting each week. This becomes even more important for fantasy managers because Arsenal has a double week coming up soon and their upcoming matches look like this: Reading, @WBA, Norwich, Everton, @Fulham, Man Utd, @QPR, Wigan, and @NUFC. Other than the visit of Manchester United (who will have likely locked down the title by then), there are lots of reasons to have Arsenal players for an extended run. Now all we have to do is figure out which ones will be playing.


Olivier Giroud - It's always tough to know what to do about a club with a new manager as Reading has but as stated above, Giroud should be one of the few sure things for Arsenal this weekend.

Juan Mata - The points at Chelsea have been all over the place in the second half of the season with little rhyme or reason so my recommendation has consistently been to take the least expensive option between Demba Ba, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata. If you have Hazard or Ba at a discount then stick with them but if buying at retail then I'd go Juan Mata because he's the cheapest of the group.

Luis Suarez/Daniel Sturridge - I know my "all in" on Liverpool didn't work out last time around but I'm not backing down with a trip to Villa Park up next. I'd recommend having at least one of these two - preferably Suarez - because there will be goals.

Kevin Mirallas - Stoke isn't exactly an easy opponent, especially when you're coming back from a long international roadtrip but Mirallas has been warming back up and his price is more reasonable than the rest of the recommendations above.

Wayne Rooney/RvP/Chicharito/Danny Welbeck - The big question here isn't the match-up - United should win at Sunderland - but rather who SAF will choose to start from among his four pack of forwards. It is situations like this that makes you scan Twitter hopefully for something vaguely credible that says "Javier Hernandez limped off his flight back to Manchester from Mexico City after straining a hamstring in Tuesday night's match against the US". Not that a) I've done that or b) I've seen anything like that. We just don't know when SAF will start to feel like he can take his foot off of Roberto Mancini's throat. You'd think he'd be feeling good about things right about now but I thought that last match week and clearly he didn't. That's why he is who he is and why I write instead of managing.

Kai Kamara - He's looked good since taking the step (or two) up from MLS to the Premier League and a trip to Wigan gives you some reason to expect that he might outscore his 4.98 price by a decent margin.

Dimitar Berbatov - If you're not fired up about choosing one of the United forwards and risking rotation maybe you want to go in for the former United forward at home against QPR.


Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain - With Theo Walcott injured you have to like his chances to start and his price if he does. There's definitely a little risk here but not enough to scare you off.

Mikel Arteta - Talk about someone whose price and fantasy performance has fluctuated all season. We all remember the Arteta from his Everton days who was a fantasy stud. This is not the same guy obviously due to changed position on the field and reduced skills due to injury and age. That said, he takes penalties for Arsenal and can still hit from deep. If you need a very reasonably priced midfielder then he's not a bad bet at 7.53.

Philippe Coutinho - His price still isn't that high and he's good and playing against a mediocre-at-best Villa team whose keeper will probably still be having flashbacks to all of the shots fired on him at the Azteca last night as well as a long trip back to the Midlands.

Adam Lallana - Yes, the opposition is daunting in Chelsea but the Saints have risen to the level of their opposition and Lallana's price isn't too crazy.


John Terry - With Gary Cahill out, John Terry has a chance to be good value for Chelsea.

Paul Scharner - Another one who has a decent combination of price (below 5) and match-up (home against Norwich).

Johnny Heitinga - With Phil Jagielka questionable for the weekend Heitinga is a nice potential replacement at a reasonable price.

Outside of them, I'm going to with either players I already have at a discount or see if I can afford to buy premium among guys like Jan Vertonghen, Leighton Baines, or Nemanja Vidic.


Lukasz Fabianski - There is some uncertainty but he certainly hasn't done anything (recently) to be demoted so you have to assume that he'll be the guy for the Gunners this weekend. His price isn't bad at 8.04 given the opposition.

Hugo Lloris - He really hasn't been great from a fantasy point of view but he's affordable enough. The opposition frightens me a bit (@Swansea) but there really isn't a lot to love without spending a ton on DDG or Petr Cech.

Lee Camp - With Mark Bunn sent off for a red card last time out, Camp will step in for a reasonable price against modest opposition. Seems like a reasonable bet if you're looking for a bargain.

Joel Robles/Ali Al-Habsi - We'll have to watch the news to see who is going to start but both are reasonably priced and playing at home against Norwich which isn't a bad way to try to sneak some points out of an enabler-priced option in net.