Disappointed in yesterday's result from WHL, I turned back to my post from February 18th (the week that Arsenal were deemed to be "back in the title race" by most of the media). Guess what? Turns out that while being disappointed by what happened yesterday isn't unreasonable, I certainly can't claim to be surprised by Arsenal (presumably) dropping out of the title race. Here's the excerpt from my Week Ahead post on February 18th...
One final thought on Arsenal before we get to the players recommendations. Looking at the schedule ahead vs. much tougher ones for ManYoo and Chelsea I'm sure many are wondering if Arsenal have a chance at the title despite their obvious inferiority to their title rivals when playing them on the field. I'm trying not to talk myself into a real title challenge despite the easy schedule. I am sticking with my assertion that the Gunners are clearly the 3rd best team in the land with a wide gulf on either side (they're not really that close to ManYoo/Chelsea but neither are Liv/Spurs/Citeh/Villa that close to them). I think they'll end up much closer to the title than they have been in recent years but I think that quality that separates the top two from Arsenal - call it resolve, character, or a killer instinct - will ultimately mean the difference in the title race. If we get to April and May I have a hard time seeing one or both of the top two dropping points against the lesser lights of the Prem when they know they have to win. They might make it harder on themselves than they need to by dropping points to the Birminghams of the world in January and February but when it comes down to crunch time, I can't see it happening. So, again, do I think Arsenal can win? It wouldn't be the craziest thing that's ever happened but if you're asking me if I'm getting emotionally invested in an Arsenal title chase in March, April, and May then the answer is definitely no.
So quickly to sum up...
- Am I bummed that Spurs were the instrument of our downfall? Sure.
- Am I shocked that there was a slip up along the way? Not at all.
- Am I tooting my own horn for not buying into the media-led sentiment that "Arsenal have a chance"? You bet.
- Did I see that it would take Arsenal being without 7 first choice players for this to happen? No, no I didn't.
- Am I surprised that Almunia was at fault for one of the goals (it looked like he failed to jump when he could/should have blocked Rose's opener - how does a professional athlete fail to jump?)? No, not at all.
- Am I surprised that Gomes was amazing? Not shocked but given the number of "Spurs are looking for a new keeper" rumors, I'm wondering how it remains such an under-reported story that Gomes is pretty damn good.
OK, on to this week. I'm sure you are all aware that Villa and Hull are the only two-gamers. Both have something left to play for - Villa for Europa Cup and the outside shot at the Champions League and Hull for the faint hope of avoiding relegation. Villa are particularly attractive because while both matches are on the road, they are also both against bad teams (@Hull and @Pompey - two of the bottom three). Hull's other match is at Brum which isn't terrible although you have to figure they'll be looking to rebound in a pretty big way after getting beat up by Citeh and salivating at a home match-up with Hull.
Of the one-match teams, Liverpool (home to WHU), Sunderland (home to Burnley) and Birmingham (see above) are the two highlights with Arsenal's trip to Wigan the other likely place to invest. Not having any idea what might happen at this point, I'm staying away from TOT/CHE and the Manchester Derby for fantasy purposes.
- Gabby/Carew - hard to say no even though I'm sure one of the two will disappoint - I just don't know which one;
- Altidore - I'd like this pick more if I was confident he'd start both matches;
- Bendtner - I'm assuming that Wenger will stick with Bendtner despite RvP being back (and I'm hoping that RvP is only used as a sub so they don't hurt him further as seems to be the trend with returning players at ARS);
- DBent - hard not to like Burnley as an opponent (unless you're Hull);
- Torres - should be back vs. WHU as 'pool look to save their season (although it's probably too late);
- Campbell - Cheap way to get in on SUN/BUR if you can't afford DBent;
- Tevez - the match-up is bad but how do you say "no" to this guy in his current form?
- Downing - two games with the right match-ups for the right price;
- Jummy - didn't turn out well last weekend but don't lose the faith - you'll be disappointed in yourself if you do;
- Milner/BFAY - I favor Milner in this situation if you can only pick one but both are great value for the money compared to other premium midfielders since they'll get two cracks at bad teams;
- Kilbane - don't expect another goal like last weekend but hard to see anyone not backing into being worth his current price (4 and change) over two matches - never thumb your nose at a worthy enabler;
- Henderson/KRich - the two best values in the Sunderland midfield - Henderson the better bet if you have the money but KRich not bad if you need another enabler;
- Aquilani - barring a(nother) freak injury that causes him to miss out, he's solid value from the Liverpool midfield;
- Eth - a little on the expensive side when you could have two matches of Downing for less but not a terrible idea vs. Bolton (who are pretty much safe) at home;
- Bale - 'nuff said;
- Villa Defenders - expensive but you probably need one of them - two would be great;
- Hutton - not as cheap as he used to be but the match-up is a good one and he seems to be healthy again;
- Jagielka - price came down after his OG - not a great buy but could do much worse;
- Mouyokolo - he was popular last weekend and I'm sure he will be again this weekend - seems like grasping at straws but probably the same logic as Kilbane - seems likely you'll make your money back over two matches;
- Carr - it's probably been years since we recommended Stephen Carr (for anything really) but with Hull coming to visit he could be a cheap clean sheet;
- BBBF - remind me again how well it went last time I overwhelmingly recommended Brad when he was a two gamer (OK, don't remind me, I can still see the large red numbers next to his name) - still, he's the choice;
- Gordon - if you want to be contrary and/or don't have the money for Friedel, here's your best alternative;
- T-Ho - I like Gordon much more for similar money but if you don't like Gordon, Howard is a good mid-range option;
- Hart - if you have Friedel money but you're either scared off by Friedel's recent stats or just want to be contrary late in the season to make up ground or distance yourself from the pack;
Cheers - Neal