Another week, another manager under-fire. This week it is Arsene Wenger’s turn to assume what has recently become known as “The Rafa Benitez” position in front of the media’s firing squad. Back-to-back league defeats, coupled with a League Cup exit, have led to some uneducated souls calling for the Frenchman’s head. Short memories eh?
For Fantasy Managers, the pressures are much less of course, but Arsenal’s troubles are playing havoc with many a team, especially as the goals have seemingly dried up at the Emirates since Robin Van Persie’s international injury. Chelsea are suddenly the team en vogue, their free-scoring forwards and water-tight defence making them Fantasy League must-haves. What a difference a week can make.
The Men in Form
So where better to start than at Chelsea? Carlo Ancelotti’s pace-setters are looking good bets to end a four year wait for the league title. Solid at the back, where John Terry, Ricardo Carvalho and Ashley Cole look especially impressive, they also boast the league’s most potent double-act in Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka, who have more than 150 points between them.
Manchester United are hot on their heels, however. Last week’s hat-trick for Wayne Rooney secured his status as United’s main man, but the impact of the evergreen Ryan Giggs should not be underestimated either. The Welshman’s goal and two assists took him to 63 points for the season, and 100 goals for the club, which at 36 is not bad going at all.
The Men to Avoid
Clean sheets are what defenders dream about, so I’m told. In which case you probably wouldn’t want to be playing for Manchester City this season. City’s recent run of draws – seven in a row in the League – have brought just one clean sheet, with the likes of Wayne Bridge, Kolo Toure and Joleon Lescott shredding their reputations at every turn. Mark Hughes will likely sort that problem out in due course, but with Chelsea in town this weekend, City defenders should be off the menu.
Paul Scharner (Wigan, £4.5m) – Ok, he might have hair that would have made Kevin Pietersen circa 2005 cackle, but the eccentric Austrian is having a useful season at the DW Stadium. Last week saw a goal and a clean sheet, to follow his goal the previous week (the 1 in a 9-1 thrashing). Considering Scharner has played in midfield in the past, he might be worth having in your squad, especially when Wigan are at home – as they are this week.
Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea, £5.7m) – A Chelsea defender is a must at this moment in time, but with John Terry and co pushing or exceeding the £7m mark, it may be worth taking a chance on the young Serbian. Jose Bosingwa’s injury has given Ivanovic a chance to impress, and he has slotted in well at right-back. Will probably relinquish the role when Bosingwa returns, but until then should be snapped up.
Steven Pienaar (Everton, £6.2m) – One of the few positives for Everton after a derby day defeat. The South African’s knee injury has prevented him from maintaining his early season form, but with his value suitably diminished, he should be on the radar now as he returns to action. Creative, eye-catching and with a fierce shot. Won’t get many better for £6m-ish.
Portsmouth v Burnley
Arsenal v Stoke City
Aston Villa v Hull City
Blackburn v Liverpool
West Ham v Man Utd
Wigan v Birmingham
Wolves v Bolton
Man City v Chelsea
Fulham v Sunderland
Everton v Tottenham
Manchester City v Chelsea stands out of course. The Nouveau Riches v the Nouveau Riches. Chelsea are the form team, but City have home advantage. Manchester United have struggled in recent seasons at Upton Park, and cannot afford a repeat this weekend. Arsenal have a home game against robust Stoke in which to get back to winning ways, whilst Liverpool look to replenish their points tally at Blackburn. Everton v Spurs on Sunday is another eye-catcher.
Back to some kind of form at least. Poor captain choice – Fabregas’ late booking at the Emirates only exacerbated that – was offset against a hat-trick for Rooney, two for Drogba, and usual clean sheets for Carvalho, Thomas Sorensen and Liam Ridgewell. Kevin Prince Boateng’s omission was regretted, however, as I missed out on six points from the German-Ghanaian.
This week’s transfer is a low-key one. Aaron Hughes of Fulham replaces the injured James Collins of Aston Villa. It leaves me with £1.5m in the bank, which can be used to upgrade elsewhere.
Football Media League
Jon Reeson’s Westfield Irons assume top spot, after a swashbuckling week – inspired by captain Rooney. He replaces Pavenpal Bhullar’s Boca Juniors at the top, whilst behind them the pack is bunching up neatly. There were good weeks for Savage Cabbage (Joe Cassidy) and The Gronners (Jonas Gronners), whilst my team – Baroque Social – sit well placed in 12th spot, ready to launch into action this Christmas.