Neal and Jeremy discussing the season.
Jeremy and I were chatting on AIM as Manchester City wrapped up their second win over Stoke City in three days yesterday. As Citeh eclipsed Arsenal in the standings he asked me how I felt about it as an Arsenal fan. This is a question I've been thinking about quite a bit recently, especially since my recent vacation took me to Eastlands for a match between Citeh and Spurs. As it turns out, the answer is a complex one. It is complex mostly because my relationships with football, the Premier League, and Arsenal are fairly complex ones.
As An Arsenal Supporter
The obvious answer would be that I want Arsenal to finish third and avoid the possibility of a Champions League play-in scenario. The reality is that, like a potential Carling Cup win earlier in the year, I think that finishing second or third would have allowed the Arsenal leadership to paper over the cracks and continue to turn a blind eye to a squad that has some serious flaws. Is it a certainty that a fourth place finish will change this thinking? No, but the ignominious end to the season combined with a new, single driving force behind the ownership structure will dramatically increase [ed note: do you mean decrease?] the chances of this off-season being another "minor modification" to the squad.
As A Fantasy Player
My immediate reaction was that I was disappointed that any new Arsenal acquisition would likely be less valuable at the beginning of next season as they missed one or more match weeks for Champions League qualification. The quick follow-up reaction was that I'd MUCH rather Citeh's new bazillionaire players avoid the same early-season fate. In the Yahoo game identifying inexpensive Premier League newbies (e.g., Adam, Brunt, Odemwingie, Holden, Kolarov, VDV) at the beginning of the season helps you afford the established veterans who you know will produce (e.g., Drogba, Rooney, RvP, Bale, EvdS). It usually isn't a mystery as to who the high-potential players are going to be early - United's new keeper, Citeh's new stars, Liverpool's new CB and/or winger, Spurs new striker, Eden Hazzard, Adel Taarabt, etc. - but it becomes harder to buy these players early at what you assume will be their lowest price of the season when you know they'll be missing matches early for Champions League qualification.
As A Writer
As sad as I am to say it, Arsenal are incredibly polarizing as long as Wenger sticks to his way of doing things. While this may be frustrating to the part of me that supports the club, it means that writing about Arsenal tends to draw more opinions, create more conversation, and generally increase the extent to which people read and participate. As you might imagine, this is good for someone who measures writing success - at least to some extent - by the popularity of the posts and the level of intelligent debate that they create in the comments section or on the Facebook site.
So, at the end of the day, each of the factors above was telling me that Citeh beating Stoke and presumably going on to beat out Arsenal for third place and a guaranteed spot in the group stages of the Champions League next season is a good thing for the long term health of the club, my fantasy team, and the popularity of the blog.
Either that or I just spent 700 or so words convincing myself to avoid crawling into a corner and sobbing uncontrollably over the depressing state of affairs at the Emirates. I'm not sure which, but I'm going to go with the logical stuff rather that the depressing stuff... for now.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled fantasy analysis column back from ironic hiatus much closer to the actual matches being played.
This is the most difficult week of the year to interpret. More than half the teams in the league - ManYoo, Chelsea, Everton, Fulham, Stoke, Bolton, West Brom, NUFC, Villa, Sunderland, and WHU - have almost nothing to play for. The problem with having nothing to play for is that you don't know how either the manager or the players will react to that situation. Will they start the regulars? Some of the regulars? Which ones? Will those players play hard? Will they be day-dreaming on the sidelines about their holidays and tee times?
Picking up a few essentials for the summer breaks away. Flip flops are on the agenda at the moment.
My approach in seasons past has generally been to focus my roster on players whose teams have something to play for (staying up, Europa Cup place, Champions League place, automatic qualification for group stages). At least in those cases you have a sense that the manager will be including his best players available and they will, presumably, be motivated to give their best. Ideally, you'll find teams and players with something to play for, playing at home, and going against teams with nothing to play for. The only problem with this theory is that it hasn't been terribly successful over the years. Some years it has been just OK and other years it has been pretty rotten.
The interesting thing about this year is that there isn't a home team with a ton on the line playing against an opponent that doesn't have anything to play for so we'll have to go with the next best things:
- Wolves vs. Rovers - Both teams are fighting for their lives with Wolves being at home and riding some solid momentum I'm favoring their players more so than others.
- Blackpool @ United - Don't get me wrong, I'm not betting on Blackpool's defense regardless of whom SAF rolls out to start but I will bet on them scoring some goals whether they win, lose or draw this weekend. If nothing else this will be the match to watch.
- Wigan @ Stoke - Could Wigan come back from the dead? Seems unlikely but I'm betting they, like Blackpool, will score a few goals regardless of the outcome. It will also help that Stoke have to be a bit demoralized after two straight losses to Citeh.
- Citeh @ Bolton - I think Citeh would like to lock down automatic qualification and Bolton, other than doing what everyone other than United has been doing and beating Arsenal, have been pretty terrible over the last couple of months (where have you gone Stuart Holden?).
- Arsenal/Liverpool/Spurs - Honestly, I'm not sure what to make of any of these three - Arsenal are just a disaster and neither Champions League aspirant seems too excited about the prospect of the Europa Cup. My sense is that all three represent slight value but not a ton.
- Tevez - Hopefully you got him before the mid-week brace. Regardless, he'll be gunning for the Golden Boot and you have to like his chances of getting it. There is some minor worry that with a Champions League place and the FA Cup secured he'll be rested.
- Ba - If he starts (which is in minor doubt due to the racism controversy) he seems like a solid bet as WHU bid adieu to the Premier League at home against a gutted Sunderland team with even less to play for.
- Campbell - Back in the goals with a brace last weekend for Blackpool and potentially going against a defense that will include Johnny Evans - seems like a solid recipe for scoring.
- Fletcher - With rumors swirling that Doyle has had a recurrence of the injury that kept him out for the majority of the run-in, Fletcher will be back to leading the line against a poor Blackburn team.
- Rodallega - Wigan will be desperate and he came up with a solid fantasy performance last weekend - seems likely that he'll do it again.
- Diouf - If you want to bet on Wolves failing and need an inexpensive striker, Mame is a strong bet.
- Berbs - This should really be held until Friday when we know whether he is likely to start or not but I felt like it would be irresponsible not to mention that there's a great chance that he'll play and score enough to win the most improbably Golden Boot in the history of the league.
- Adam - He just keeps justifying his place as THE fantasy player of the season. He's expensive but you can't deny that he's done the business regardless of the price you got him for.
- Puncheon - Keeping with the Blackpool theme think of him as Adam-light. A solid bet to come through with some points. I like him on the BD more than at retail but still not a bad bet as a mid-tier midfielder.
- S. Ward - Assuming Doyle is hurt then Ward remains a great option as a 4.21 midfielder playing as a withdrawn striker. Great potential value as he is also at home and playing against Blackburn.
- N'Zogbia - His performance last season reminded me of long-time blog punchline Mark Viduka - his performances always improve when he feels like he is auditioning for his next job/contract. Seems like something you might want to get in on.
- Larsson - With Bentley out because he can't play against the team that owns his rights, you have to assume Larsson will be integral to whatever attacking Birmingham does - the only downside is that even with their survival in the Prem on the line you wonder how much attacking that might be.
- Toure - Yaya is an odd fantasy player - I don't think his value to Citeh translates into fantasy numbers particularly accurately but when he scores, he becomes strong value for the money so if you're looking for a bargain he might be your guy.
- Riveros - If you're looking for someone to enable all of the other expensive guys I've been recommending Riveros comes in at 1.59 and is starting pretty high up the field for Sunderland. He went close a couple of times last weekend. That's hardly a guarantee but at 1.59 you shouldn't be looking for certainty, just potential.
- Scholes - If you want to tip your hat to this exceptional player as he likely heads off into the sunset, you could probably do worse than investing the 1.90 it would take on the bet that his teammates might want to send him off with a goal.
- Shorey - An old favorite at a great price - no idea what might happen between WBA and NUFC but there aren't that many cheap defenders with solid potential out there so this list is going to be light outside of the people you have cheap and the obvious really expensive options.
- Smalling - I think Blackpool will score more than one goal but if you want to balance out your investment in their attack then Smalling (likely to play) is a relatively low-cost way to do so.
- Elokobi - Not the most fashionable fantasy player ever but a reasonable bet for both a clean sheet and potential attacking points for a reasonable price.
- Gibbs - Hard to bet on an Arsenal clean sheet but he got solid fantasy points for the price in a losing effort last weekend so no reason to think he couldn't do it again this weekend.
- Craddock - But likely only if you're a Wolves supporter and are looking to pay homage to his extremely well-struck goal that was instrumental in last weekend's huge win. He is cheap if you don't have the above reasons.
Hard for me to guess where a clean sheet, or even a win, might come from this weekend which means that I'm unlikely to invest heavily in my goalkeeper. For those who are like-minded, the inexpensive options that make the most sense are Hennessey (6.97), Reina (6.89), Robbo (5.78), or going all the way down to Krul at 1.76. If you're going to spend on your keeper then Hart is likely the guy but I'm not sure how you'll afford him or why you would believe in a Citeh clean sheet that doesn't come against Stoke.
We'll definitely be doing a "last day of the season" Live Chat on Sunday. Please come out and enjoy what I'm sure will be an exciting two hours.