You'll have to excuse me if my heart hasn't exactly calmed back down after Arsenal's first 5 minutes in Belgium today. The only thing that kept me even close to sane was switching back over to the "headline match-up" between Inter and Barca - if ever there was a match that could lower your heart rate then this was it. I believe my one sort-of word summary of it to Jeremy over instant message was "zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz" (although I probably had a few more z's in there). It is why, despite my respect for the accomplishments of both, I really can't stand either Serie A teams or Jose Mourinho. Both have been incredibly effective over time but that doesn't make me any more interested in spending 2 hour increments of my life watching them.
Speaking of Arsenal-related stories (as I so often do), here's my take on the Citeh loss last weekend. All of the summer talk in the press and among the supporters was about the need for more defenders and a better holding midfielder. While I'd never turn down additional help at either position, somehow the big gap between the pipes never really came up. Almunia wasn't entirely responsible for Arsenal's demise but he certainly didn't help and could be classified as a decidedly negative influence on the outcome as far as the visitors were concerned.
Now, you might think that this was about to set me off on a rant about Wenger or Arsenal's financial situation. Instead of that, I'm going to ask a more basic question about the value of goalkeepers. Why is it that players so able to influence the outcome of a match are so undervalued? I don't have specific statistics on goalkeeper transfer fees but if you consider that the value in strikers is that they can turn a match by putting the ball in the net then why wouldn't a keeper who can turn a match by keeping that same ball OUT of the net be equally valuable? The fact that Given, Schwarzer, Friedel, and Howard have all switched teams for a combined sum of less than what Spurs paid for David Bentley to sit on the bench for the last year and a half. If any of those gentlemen were at Arsenal you'd have to think that Arsenal would have at least 4 points for their travels to Manchester the last two weeks rather than having nothing to show for those two trips.
The final point in my pre-analysis digression is a reference to the famous baseball book "Moneyball". I won't talk about the baseball part of the book but the underlying lesson was that for someone trying to build a sports team on a limited budget, the best approach is to figure out what skill or set of skills other teams are under-valuing and then invest in those skills as opposed to investing scarce resources in the same traits that everyone else is paying (or even over-paying) for. My point? If you're Arsenal and you're financially challenged compared to your rivals or you're a bottom of the table team without any oil money attempting to bring you up to the top - why aren't you investing heavily in an excellent keeper at £5 million as opposed to trying to compete for a slightly better-than-average midfielder like Stuart Downing at £12 million? What would you rather have? Brad Friedel and £7 million in the bank or Downing? Granted, the same team ended up with both but what would you consider the better use of money?
OK, enough of my ranting, on to the analysis of the upcoming week in Fantasy Footie, after the jump.
On paper, there are only two matches that should really have fantasy managers salivating - Arsenal hosting Wigan at the Emirates and Villa welcoming Pompey to Villa Park. Sure, there may be some minor advantage to be had in Everton hosting Rovers, Sunderland heading to Burnley, Liverpool traveling to Upton Park, and Hull hosting Birmingham minus at least two major cogs in an already thin squad but if you're looking to invest then Arsenal and Villa should be your outlets.
If you're looking for players to stay away from then I'd studiously avoid the obvious candidates from the Manchester Derby and the slightly less obvious Force-over-Skill Derby between Bolton and Stoke at the Reebok.
Best Value Striker of the Week: So, the conversation in my head here was really between Gabby Agbonlahor, EdS, and Kenwyne Jones. Why these three you ask? Well, the nominations of Gabby and EdS were pretty obvious based on the match-ups and a sort of low price for Gabby and a very low price for EdS. Kenwyne entered the conversation because it seems that the best strategy with Sunderland strikers this season is to pick the one that DIDN'T score over the previous weekend. With Bent having hit a brace last weekend, it seems likely that it is KJ's turn. I'm not putting the mortgage payment on that happening but for a reasonable price, it seems like a good direction to turn. I'm going with Gabby over EdS because I'm still not convinced that I have any feel for who is going to be healthy for Arsenal and if there are multiple healthy strikers, who will play. I may change my answer by Friday depending on the injury updates but for now, Gabby is my answer.
Best Premium Striker of the Week: RvP didn't feature today in Arsenal's Champions League drama so we'll have to reserve judgment on his candidacy for this category until we find out if he is going to play. A lot of the other candidates are sort of over-priced for this week - Anelka, Kuyt, Robinho (if he's even healthy), and Berbs are all selling for significantly more than their production and are unlikely to make up the difference this weekend based on their match-ups. That gets me down to Rooney and Nando (I know, I know - not exactly rocket science but we're talking about the premium guys here, it isn't like there are any unknowns). Rooney has been the better (and more consistent) player thus far but given the emotional charge of the Derby combined with Citeh's upstart status challenging the Big Four, I'm going to go Nando based on the chance that Rooney will blow a gasket and see Red (or at least Yellow with a bunch of other fouls committed and SAF withdrawing him after 60 minutes so he doesn't see the RC).
Best of the Rest: There is surprisingly little to like this weekend but I like Jo to open his account for the season; If Beattie is still out, I'd be willing to take a chance with Ricardo Fuller; he hasn't had the run of form that we had all expected at Fulham but AJ has an OK match-up and the price isn't crazy; and finally, I wouldn't be surprised if my Jozy Altidore bandwagon rant from a few weeks back becomes relevant this weekend.
Best Value Midfielder of the Week: Until the price goes up, I'm going to keep on this theme...Stephen Hunt is the best value out there. Price is 9.72 and he is averaging 12.20 points/match (and he's only had one bad match). Not too much else to write on this topic until Hunt's price climbs above noted absentees from this campaign like Jummy, Bentley, and Arteta or even guys who have played like Osman or Cahill really.
Best Premium Midfielder of the Week: Most weeks this is going to come down to Lamps and Gerrard but this weekend I'm going to go with BFAY as my number one choice with Cesc being second but a bit behind Young. My logic? Young has a great match-up and he's generally in the middle of everything that Villa do. Cesc is probably a better player but so much of what he does doesn't show up in fantasy stats - sure he has his exceptional matches like he did the first week of the season but he has far too many stinkers to justify investing all of your cash in him.
Best of the Rest: Milner, Lawrence, MGP, Duffman, Rosiky, Gomez, O'Hara, and if you have the stomach for it - Diaby (Jeremy and I had a lengthy chat about this option this afternoon with him coming out in favor of this option and me against on the logic that he's already had his brace - I invite you to come to his own conclusions on this one because I'm too bitter about the ManYoo loss to think about Diaby rationally).
Best Value Defender of the Week: I'm not sure who is going to start between Beye and Cuellar at right back for Villa but if there is a definitive statement on the subject then that's probably your guy for value this week. If there isn't a clear answer at Villa then Vermaelen is probably the best answer for fantasy managers looking for strong value for the money.
Best Premium Defender of the Week: I know it's getting a bit dull with all of the Villa picks but if I were selecting between the best Arsenal premium defender (Clichey) and Villa's best premium defender (Warnock) then you have a clear case for Warnock who has a better match-up AND has been more productive this season AND Warnock is cheaper. Case closed.
Best of the Rest: If you want to go all the way down the price scale then this is probably one of the few weekends where Sonko might be more than just an enabler of other options; Also a reasonable weekend to get our old favorite from last year Pantsil back into the recommendation rotation; I'm also still in on Wilko even after his -2 point weekend last weekend - the match-up isn't that bad this weekend and he's been solid for the money for the rest of the season.
Best Value Keeper of the Week: I know Burnley have been fairly tough at home and I'm very suspicious of Sunderland on the road but Gordon has to be a strong bet this weekend and even more so with a price of 5.61.
Best Premium Keeper of the Week: I'm sure you're expecting me to go Friedel here but not so fast my friends...I'm going Schwarzer to mix it up as well as based on his lower price. He's still relatively expensive compared to my usual keeper selections but he's more worth the money than Big Brad.
Best of the Rest: I like Given to have a lot of points even if Citeh lose (this is more attractive for people like me who have Given for 6-ish than those buying him at just under 9 this week but I'm going to keep saying that he's a pretty strong bet EVERY weekend no matter the opposition). Myhill would be the other option here at the low, low price of 1.56 - if you need the money, you know what to do and the match-up shouldn't cause you to lose any sleep on Friday night.
Good luck with your selections and stay thirsty my friends...
Cheers - Neal