"'tis the season" is a phrase that usually applies to words and actions around the Christmas holidays but there is a Premier League equivalent and, like Spring on the East Coast of the United States, it is coming a little later than usual which can be looked at as both good and bad. The equivalent I'm speaking of is the "Great Arsenal Collapse". It is generally characterized by critical injuries, falling just short in matches against other big clubs and one (or occasionally more) crushing defeats to teams that they should get results against. The media coverage of Arsenal tyically goes from "still fighting on four fronts with a chance (or better) in all" to "have crashed out of multiple competitions over the course of 10 to 14 days and the sky is falling over the Emirates...Wenger out!" in amazingly short order.
So, how is it going this year as compared to recent trophy-less years? Well, that's a complicated question but that's why we're here:
Critical Injuries - Given the number of injuries and the players who have suffered them, that it has taken until March for Arsenal to be tossed out of the Champions League and (effectively) the title race (barring some exceptional results against Chelsea and City plus some help) is pretty impressive. In past seasons, all it has taken is one key injury to someone like Robin van Persie or even a seemingly second tier injury to someone like Abou Diaby to send Arsenal's season into a spiral. That they have been able to cope without Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere for extended periods speaks to improved depth. While Arsenal always seem to have more than their share of injury issues, the depth that they currently possess - everywhere other than center forward and center back at least - is a major improvement over previous years.
Close Losses to Other "Big Clubs" - This seems to be the under-reported aspect to Arsenal's recent disappointments. Maybe this is because the common view is that the other "big clubs" are just a touch better than Arsenal and therefore a loss to Chelsea here or United there isn't a surprise. Honestly though, it isn't the massive loss to Liverpool that should be weighing on supporters' minds, it is the 5 points dropped to a Manchester United team that has been sub-par. In the Champions League, it wasn't the loss to Bayern over two legs - that was fair because Bayern are just a better team (than almost anyone in the world). The issue was not closing out as a group winner because they not only lost their final group stage match but lost 2-0 to a Napoli team that was all but eliminated (they would have had to win 4-0 to advance over Arsenal). Keeping a draw at Napoli was all Arsenal needed to do to win the group and avoid a match-up like the one they ended up having with Bayern. How different would Arsenal's season look right now if they had picked up three additional points from their two matches with United (a win and a draw vs. a loss and a draw) and were moving on to the next stage of the Champions League after a relatively easy two matches against Olympiokos (for instance).
Soul Crushing Defeats to Bad Teams - So far this season has been relatively free from seriously bad results against the dregs of the Premier League. They went out of the Capital One Cup to Chelsea - not ideal because it was at home but no shame in losing to a very good team in a single elimination tournament. The recent loss at Stoke wasn't great but Arsenal are hardly the only team to go into the Potteries and drop points. Likewise an away draw at West Brom earlier in the season and even the opening day loss to Aston Villa (which was hugely magnified because it was opening day) are the price of doing business in the Premier League - sometimes more talented teams drop points to average (at-best) teams on the road. Chelsea, City, and Liverpool have all been worse than Arsenal in this regard this season. The concern for Arsenal is that they have been as good as they've been against the league's also-rans (and to some extent as lucky with regards of not having a few more flukey matches like Chelsea dropping points to West Ham) and are still not likely to win the title. This all changes, of course, if Arsenal manage to mess up what should be an easy path to winning the FA Cup. That will rocket to the head of the recent "soul crushing defeats to bad teams" list regardless of which of the remaining teams beats them.
In any event, as the season winds down and the post-mortums are written, keep all of the above in mind. It isn't the loss to Chelsea that has doomed Arsenal's title chase, it was the dropping of much more obtainable points against United. It wasn't that Arsenal lost to Bayern, it was that they went out in the first elimination round because they couldn't manage a draw at Napoli. On such subtle things are narratives written.
And now on to the injury list at Arsenal (and elsewhere) for Week 30 in the Premier League and all of the implications for your fantasy team:
Before you go final, make sure you catch up on: Steve's Free Kick | Jeremy's First XI | Nik's Player Picks
Hull City v Man City - Nothing particularly interesting for Hull City but Sergio Aguero and Stevan Jovetic lead the absentee list for Manchester City which means that Negredo and Dzeko are very likely to start. Neither have done much fantasy-wise in quite some time which is a double-edged sword - both are very affordable but they got that way for a reason. I like Negredo more as a player so if I were choosing, that's who I'd go with (plus he's a little cheaper).
Aston Villa v Chelsea - Ryan Bertrand is absent for Villa due to the "parent club" clause in all loan agreements. Fernando Torres' injury wasn't as bad as initially suspected so he may at least be in the squad (as is typical, no word on who will actually start at forward for the Blues). David Luiz and Ashley Cole will both definitely miss out due to continuing health issues (not that either are guaranteed starters when healthy) but otherwise, both sides are very healthy for this time of year.
Everton v Cardiff City - Phil Jagielka is the only real question mark for Everton as they head into a very attractive home fixture with relegation-threatened Cardiff City. Jagielka isn't necessarily important in his own right but his absence makes John Stones attractive at 6.1 as a potential replacement against a bad team. Unfortunately, Everton don't play early on Saturday so either you'll have to make your best guess on this one or go with a more expensive defender more likely to feature. Nothing of any fantasy relevance from the Cardiff City team news.
Fulham v Newcastle - Playing Fulham has been fantasy gold for most of the season but leave it to Newcastle to mess that up too - seems to be a trend with those guys. In addition to Alan Pardew being banned (you can argue whether that hurts or helps) they will be missing Loic Remy (they've been an abject disaster in matches with both Cabaye and Remy absent), Debuchy (their best defender) and Hatem Ben Arfa (who hasn't been playing well but is always capable of creating something out of nothing which is what Newcastle's attack has been without Cabaye and Remy). Outside of season ticket holders who have already paid to see the match and relatives of the players, this one seems best ignored. Heck, based on the fact that the cost is already sunk for season ticket holders, maybe they should reconsider if it's a nice day in West London.
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Southampton v Norwich - There's no news here that is going to impact your fantasy choices even a little bit unless you think Victor Wanyama is suddenly going to get healthy and become a point-producing machine. Just so I know we're all in agreement, he isn't. Moving on.
Stoke v West Ham - Remember when Mark Hughes was going to start turning Stoke into a less physical, more attractive team? Well, Charlie Adam and Jon Walters are both missing due to suspension. How's that working out again? I hope Stoke didn't have to pay a ton of money in the form of bonuses to make Tony Pulis go away and to lure Hughes in - seems like that money would have been better spent buying a player rather than playing musical chairs with managers who are playing the same style. Speaking of suspensions and players best suited to a physical game, Andy Carroll is back from suspension (sometimes the transitions write themselves). Given improved form from the Hammers and Stoke's fading fortunes, Carroll wouldn't be a bad option (not a good one, mind, but if you want to be different to try to make up ground or something like that there are worse ideas).
Sunderland v Crystal Palace - Speaking of Pulis, he'll be taking the current incarnation of his physical style of football to Sunderland with only Marouane Chamakh missing from the starting line-up. Glenn Murray will deputize and, like Andy Carroll, isn't a horrible option as an inexpensive third forward or bench option given the opposition. Sunderland will be almost entirely healthy but, unfortunately for fantasy managers, they will still be Sunderland which means they aren't to be trusted for fantasy purposes.
Swansea v West Brom - Michu might play! Michu might play! I'm not buying in on "might" with this guy even if the opposition is West Brom because he's been "close to a comeback" for about 6 weeks now. His price has dropped under 10 which is nice but it would have to be a lot lower for me to take a risk without being certain that he'd start. Check in on things to see if he played and, if so, whether his price is likely to rise or fall but he's no more than a BD Watch candidate. Elsewhere, Jonjo Shelvey and a bunch of West Brom guys you weren't going to buy are also out. My gut tells me that there will be some points from the Swansea attack but with Michu a question and Bony's place possibly contingent on Michu playing, it's hard to pick a comfortable spot to invest in "vs. WBA on the road" unless you bet on the Swansea defense.
Tottenham v Arsenal - Arsenal's attack is a mess with injuries and Spurs defense has been kind enough to try to even things out by staging its own injury crisis. Here are the names: Arsenal - Ramsey, Ozil, Walcott, Wilshere (that's a pretty good starting midfield, huh?) and Spurs: Dawson, Chiriches, Walker, Capoue and Rose with Walker and Rose not being entirely ruled out but seemingly unlikely given the gravity of the match. Keiran Gibbs is also a question mark for Arsenal but Nacho Monreal has returned to the line-up and can deputize (although Gibbs is far better equipped to keep up with the speed Spurs bring down their attacking right side). Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain seems like the obvious winner in all of this from a fantasy point of view, at 6.41 and a 100% chance that he'll start, he's a bit of a no-brainer.
Man Utd v Liverpool - Manchester United are almost entirely healthy which is nice, but it will be interesting to see how quickly David Moyes re-inserts guys coming off of injuries like Jonny Evans and Rafael back into the line-up against an attack that is in the sort of form Liverpool's is in. Regardless, there is almost no circumstance under which you want to start a United defender against Liverpool this weekend. The really amazing bit from United's Team News is this: "David Moyes must decide whether to stick with Robin van Persie or to recall Danny Welbeck...". Hard to believe things have come so far with RvP at United that this is a legitimate question. United will not be helped at all by the fact that Liverpool are in relatively good health. It will be an interesting match, that's for sure.
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