In theory when you're a journalist you don't root for teams and therefore all you're looking for is an angle, something interesting to write about that will get people to buy your newspaper, click on your link, or head to the Facebook page to make some pithy comments about your genius idiocy. As much as we'd all like to believe that our journalists stick to this standard (because they tell us over and over that they do), people don't get into sports journalism because it is incredibly lucrative or because it is likely to get you a lot of acclaim with the opposite sex. No, they get into it because they are huge sports fans who aren't athletic enough to play sports for a living and this is the most feasible way to earn a living being involved with a kids game while still being able to afford to eat.
One of the best things about the blogging revolution is that it has removed the necessity to keep up the illusion that those of us that write about the game don't also have personal feelings about the teams and players. I try to remain as objective as I can when doing analysis for fantasy purposes because fantasy is a game of numbers and you'll only read what I have to write if my advice is helpful. Favoring the teams and players I LIKE versus the ones who are likely to be productive will lead to people thinking my analysis sucks and turning to one or more of the other options available for their fantasy league preparation. That said, in the spaces around the objective fantasy analysis, I am not shy about letting you know who I like and dislike, respect and don't respect, root for and root against, etc.
The reason I give you this preamble is that it has taken me a while to arrive at something I'm happy about writing this week because this weekend was a pretty depressing one for me as a fan. It was the moment that I finally decided that Arsene Wenger is done. I'll propose a potential remedy for their current ailments below but I have no sense that it will happen. To heap general misery on top of the state of Arsenal and its impact on me is the fact that almost all of the meaningful storylines this past weekend were negative. Here's the run down from I to XI...
- First, Some Upside - It's always fun when the newly promoted teams show signs of being more than instant candidates for relegation. I don't think there is a team that will be as entertaining as Blackpool was last season in a relegation campaign but all three newly promoted sides have shown that they have something to offer neutrals, the Premier League as a whole, and fantasy managers. This past Saturday, they all did it at the same time and two of them (QPR and Norwich) did it away from home. Among the fantasy heroes were SWP, Vorm, and Rangel all of whom have shown exceptional value in the time they've been starting.
- Bummer #1, Torres Edition - We could write an entire blog about Fernando Torres and what a bummer he has been since he arrived at Chelsea last January (and without stretching too much we could probably extend it to the entire time in the league after his exceptional debut season at Liverpool). His miss, compounded by Ramires' miss on a great Torres pass leads you to wonder how someone can be both THAT out of form and THAT unlucky all at the same time. Believers in Karma must really be wondering what on earth he did elsewhere in his life (or in a previous one) to have deserved all this. Did he make a deal with the devil early in his career that got him where he is now (fame, fortune, etc.) only to have it come due? The big fantasy question it leaves is "after his last two matches - Champions League and @MAN - where he showed promise but scant results, how many people will get sucked in for home to Swansea?"
- Bummer #2, Rooney Edition - Hard to complain about your forward continuing to score on the back of two consecutive hat tricks but it really could have been three in a row. Missing a PK muted the value of the goal and hitting the post with another strong opportunity made the day frustrating. Don't get me wrong, when a player of his quality is getting that many chances you can live with the occasional 9.5 point weekend but still a bummer given what could have been.
- Bummer #3, Chicharito/Klasnic Edition - So, Cole tackles Javier Hernandez with potential injurious results (but sees yellow so we know it won't be reviewed) and Klasnic sees red for a phantom headbutt that wasn't reviewed at the time because, well, the Premier League just doesn't do that sort of thing despite it being really easy and quick to do. There will always be judgment calls in any sporting contest between teams that has complex rules, that's just the nature of the beast. That doesn't absolve the league of the obligation to do a better job on the things they can get right. We look for efficient ways to eliminate "human error" in just about everything else we do, I really can't understand why the Premier League/FA are fighting this notion so hard. Until they do, players will have no incentive to learn how to tackle or at least learn some restraint.
- Bummer #4, Liverpool Edition - Liverpool fans were legitimately excited going into the season and for good reason. The second half of last season was a breath of fresh air. Luis Suarez looks like a great buy, they brought in some talent over the summer, and Torres continues to make them look good for grabbing the money when they could. Now the downside, is that they've looked pretty rotten on the pitch in dropping points to Sunderland, Stoke and Spurs. Ordinarily, they'd be able to balance that out by pointing to a credible away win at Arsenal and a solid home win against a mid-table team in Bolton. This season with every passing week those two victories are looking less and less impressive as Arsenal and Bolton show themselves to be much less than they have been in previous years. There is definitely talent on the roster, the question is whether they've been too clever with statistical analysis and not clever enough in common sense to build a roster of talented players that can actually succeed together.
- Pause for Good News #1, Spurs Edition - After two ugly matches against the Manchesters, Spurs seem to have righted the ship and their late-Summer acquisitions (Parker and K2) as well as late season want-away Modric have been in the middle of it all. The good news is that there is even more upside because VDV will be a far better partner for K2 than Defoe is, Bale can play much better than he has shown thus far, and they might actually have a healthy defense in front of Friedel at some point. OK, maybe we're getting carried away with that last point but you get the idea. With their two closest rivals for 4th place looking decidedly poor it could be a quick jump back to the Champions League for Spurs. K2 has turned himself into a genuine alternative to the Manchester strikers for a place in your fantasy line-ups. I'm not sure any of you can imagine how painful it has been to type this paragraph - all I can say is that I'm glad that the Phillies are winning, the Eagles have similar upside to Spurs, and my non-EPL fantasy teams are doing great (7-1 overall in fantasy NFL after 2 weeks and I'm in the top 150 in MLS fantasy overall). If Arsenal were my only team right now, I'd be pretty miserable.
- Bummer #5, Wolves Edition - If you read the blog regularly you know I've been trying to talk myself onto the Wolves bandwagon for two seasons now. The presence of a couple of diehard Wolves supporters on our Saturday Live Chats combined with a few veterans of one of my old bandwagon teams (Reading) has me pulling for them when they're not playing against Arsenal (or a bunch of my fantasy players). The first few weeks of the season looked great but it is funny how the narrative changes when you lose to a newly promoted team at home and look bad doing it. Three weeks ago a road draw against Villa on the back of successive wins looked pretty solid, not great but solid. A home loss to a newly invigorated Spurs team that was lighting up the Champions League at this time last year wasn't great either but certainly not a shock for a team aspiring to be mid-table. Now, after looking bad in losing to QPR at home the narrative shifts from "not bad" to "what the hell happened" and "1 point from the last possible 9" and the misery ensues. I'm not jumping off the bandwagon by any means and I'd like to remind everyone that with their new editions, QPR may be a pretty solid team. Still, there are warning signs that it will continue to be a struggle at the Molineux.
- Bummer #6, City Edition - From a fantasy standpoint, I can't argue with the numbers from my Citeh guys (Aguero brace, Dzeko & Silva with assists, plus the disappointing Micah Richards) and I should definitely take the blame for expecting anything out of a defender on the road. The bummer in this case is that it appears that United are good enough that City can't drop points from a 2-0 lead if they hope to stay in the title race for long. I'm having a hard time deciding who to root for in the title race between three natural enemies of my team with United (the traditional rival who has clearly left us behind), Chelsea (the new underdogs-with-a-chance despite their checkbooks), and City (the ultimate nouveau riche club but at least they've built an entertaining side with their money). Maybe because I saw a match there last season and had fun or because I have so many of them on my fantasy team, or because I'd like to see a new name on the trophy even if they bought their way to it (or probably a little bit of all three) I find myself rooting for City above the other two. As a result, this result was a bit of a bummer for me. It also underscores the need for City to find a back-up for Nigel de Jong ASAP in January unless Owen Hargreaves miraculously turns into the answer (SPOILER ALERT: He won't). City have been vulnerable at the back since he's been out.
- Pause for Good News #2, Keeper Edition - If you haven't noticed, there have been a TON of strong keeper performances this season. I remember 8 to 10 weeks into last season there was a lot of discussion here and on the Y!AM blog about how poorly fantasy managers were doing with points from the goalkeeper position. This season, it seems like you can't turn around without seeing 5 or 6 10+ point efforts including some unusual candidates like Vorm and Kenny this past weekend and guys like Krul in previous weeks. I'm sure there are people who have managed to pick around the points (see Szczesny, W) but I'd imagine if we did an analysis of points gained from the GK spot through 5 weeks this season vs. the same time last season this year would look much better.
- Bummer #7, the 4-3-3 and Yahoo! Fantasy - The rise in popularity of 4-3-3 formations among some of the better point-producing attacks in the Premier League (Chelsea, Arsenal, and sometimes City) leaves us in a frustrating situation. Players like Gervinho and Mata who I think we'd all agree we'd like to have in our line-ups, especially at their initial prices, are listed as forwards. Given the way that their teams play them, it is hard to argue with those designations. In years past though, Gervinho wouldn't be looked at much differently than say CRon, VDV, Ashley Young or Arshavin (all listed as midfielders but really playing a hybrid wide midfield/attacking role) as far as positioning and what he does on the field. Mata has played even more of a pure attacking midfield role since his arrival at Chelsea. In a year when it looks like Rooney, Aguero, Dzeko, and K2 are all strong bets to do what forwards are supposed to do - score goals - it is hard to turn those guys down for good players at low prices like Mata and Gervinho. If only they were listed as midfielders. You get the feeling that at least Mata will be by next season. I blame Gervinho's designation entirely on the revived popularity of the 4-3-3.
- Bummer #8, Arsenal - You knew it was coming. I left it to last so that those who have read enough can go on with their days having already read the rest of the column. The other favor I'll grant you is that I won't rehash the ugliness that was Rovers/Arsenal. What I will suggest is that if Wenger wants to save his job, his season, and bring a new innovation to the Premier League (since all of his previous ones have been duplicated and improved upon elsewhere) then he should hire a "defensive coordinator". The notion is most closely associated with American Football but that isn't a very good analogy because offense and defense consist of entirely different players in that game. The best analogy I can think of is in the NBA where some teams, most notably the Lakers and the Celtics, have brought in specific coaches to teach a very specific part of the game (in LA it is the triangle offense and in Boston it was defense overall). The analogy stands because the game is fairly free-flowing and the same players play both offense and defense albeit with different roles in each phase. I recognize that Wenger's two main assistants were both defenders in their playing days but they aren't getting it done as they are taking players that have at least been solid elsewhere and producing a comedy of errors once they get to Arsenal. Heck, even Senderos has looked pretty good at Fulham leading me to believe that there is something else amiss with the way the defense is being coached. It may or may not solve the problem but with little else possible between now and January if players are the issue then it certainly couldn't hurt to give it a try to at least give the appearance to supporters that the team is doing something other than saying "Keep Calm".
OK, that's about all the ranting I can take. Time to start build up my mental energy so that I can bring myself to watch the Arsenal/Bolton match next weekend. I hope you had a sunnier outlook on the past weekend than I did. Can you imagine how negative this column would have sounded if my EPL fantasy team hadn't gone over 100 points?