Aubameyang this, Lacazette that. Should I hold on to Ramsey? Will Mesut Ozil get time as the number 10? These seem to be the most common talking points when the FPL community starts to discuss Arsenal players, which is completely understandable given the way the season has panned out so far.
Aubameyang has the joint most points for any forward in the game, despite frequently playing out of position and coming on as a substitute. Lacazette appears to be the certified striker for the Gunners, and also has an impressive points return, notching 52 thus far. Both have returned points in 6 matches so far, the same as our darling Aguero, points-behemoth Mo Salah, and 2 more matches than Harry Kane. Both the Arsenal strikers come in cheaper than those mentioned players, and so it is bizarre that they are not being discussed with more confidence. I am guilty of this too; perhaps it feels like we have missed the nice run of Arsenal fixtures. To an extent this is true, but given Arsenal haven’t failed to score in a match since the opening day against Manchester City, and certainly don’t look capable of shutting up shop defensively, I get the impression there will always be goals in the Arsenal attack, regardless of how difficult the fixture looks. If you have reaped the rewards of either Arsenal striker during this plum run of fixtures, I would definitely advise sticking by your guns, despite the schedule of the next few weeks.
Aaron Ramsey is the illusive FPL asset that we all consider at some point during the season. Capable of explosive goal scoring runs, his two assists against Everton followed with that wonderful goal against Fulham displayed his potential as both a player and a fantasy asset. Yet, the contractual issues appear to have translated onto the pitch, as he has gone from the lynch-pin in Arsenal’s forward press, to getting just 45 minutes of football in the last 3 matches. Emery is now no longer building his side around Ramsey, hinting at his inevitable departure. I think the nail in the coffin for his FPL career has just been hammered in against Crystal Palace, where in a tight game with Arsenal lacking creative spark, he only managed to get 12 minutes on the pitch.
Mesut Ozil really caught the eye with that magical display against Leicester. Probably one of the best individual performances of the season, it came as he was finally released into the number 10 role behind the striker, and this freedom showed as he looked relieved of defensive duties. He was able to drift and find the spaces that he is unable to do when played out wide, where his tasked tracking back requires more concentration and physical effort, not allowing him that moment to pick his head up without the ball and see the space to occupy. If he can perform like that regularly, at £8.4m, it is hard to argue against him. But that is the exact problem, can he perform like that every week? The simple answer would be no, only because there are very few players in the world capable of pulling out 10/10 performances regularly. The problem goes deeper, because that performance relied on the perfect structure of the Arsenal side around him enabling his brilliance. To take nothing away from Ozil, but the match against Crystal palace exposed the necessity of the correct team set up to get the best out of him. Oddly enough, the three players I think are most important to that, are the ones referenced in the title of this article: Alex Iwobi, Granit Xhaka, and Nacho Monreal. I’ll go into their individual strengths in a moment, but to touch briefly on how they enable Emery to get the best out of the German playmaker. Iwobi played out left gives Ozil a link man on that side who is capable of both making runs beyond the defender, but also one who cuts in and likes to combine quickly with the ball. Granit Xhaka is a supreme passer, providing the foil for the delicate short passes of Ozil with the ability to find a longer range diagonal switch. Nacho Monreal is a workhorse, who will never tire, and his overlapping runs on the wing give Ozil an option when the centre of the pitch becomes too congested.
Alex Iwobi – £5.5m
If there was an award for most improved player in the Premier League, the Nigerian would be a serious contender for that prize in my eyes. From someone who looked completely lost on the pitch at times towards the end of the Wenger era, he now looks comfortable on the pitch, and to have found the role which suits him best. Played out on the left wing gets the best out of his bizarre combination of athleticism and grace. Although he has only returned a goal and an assist thus far, his xG per 90 and xA per 90 stats are the highest of his career to date, indicating he could be on for his best statistical season thus far. I think he is actually priced really nicely at £5.5m, when you consider others of the same bracket, and the quality of team he plays for. In the same bracket, you are either looking at players like Fernandinho, Seri and Moutinho, all of whom occupy deeper, more central roles, and are less likely to find themselves involved in action in the final third. The other comparable price options are the likes of Knockaert, Demarai Gray, and Redmond, whose minutes are far from guaranteed, and who play for less attack-dominant sides than Arsenal. Iwobi has started all of the last 3 games, and played 90 minutes in the last 2. He appears to have been switched over form the midweek cup sides, to a main starter as Emery looks to keep faith in those who reward him with hard work and intensity. Whilst we are yet to see much of a points return from him yet, I think he will be the kind of player who will get you a goal or an assist regularly enough to make him a good rotation option in your squad. Wolves at Home and Bournemouth Away are two upcoming fixtures I would expect Iwobi to both start and make an impact in, and so could reward you if you bring him in early.
Granit Xhaka – £5.3m
Everyone’s favourite yellow card magnet might be on the brink of a suspension, but that doesn’t mean he should be entirely out of our FPL thoughts. The biggest argument to be made for the Swiss captain is his consistent minutes. In a season of rotation, and an Arsenal side where the line-ups can be a bigger surprise than ever, Granit Xhaka will always play if fit. We have seen, such is the weird voodoo hold he has over the staff at London Colney, they are even willing to play him at left back just to make sure he gets his obligatory 90 minutes. Almost as valuable as his consistent game time, is the regularity with which he takes set pieces. Assisting from a corner against Cardiff, and scoring from two free-kicks so far this season, Xhaka is very good from a dead-ball scenario. Under Emery, Arsenal are apparently working much more rigorously on the training ground on corners and set-plays, which gives you more hope they will provide goal scoring opportunities than under the free-form jazz style of the previous regime. He is increasingly important in Arsenal’s move to build from the back, as he progresses the ball between the midfield and defensive zones. He has actually improved significantly (perhaps not saying too much) when partnered with Torreira, who lifts a lot of the more defensive burden form his shoulders, allowing him to focus on building the passing game from deep. The major drawback, as I’m sure you are all more than aware, is his penchant for penalty giveaways and terrible challenges. I will not try to defend his tackling or defensive ability, as I have huge doubts about that myself. What I will say is that 3 of his 4 yellow cards this season, came in the opening 4 matches. Crucially, this is prior to Torreira’s full integration into the side, and so in these games Xhaka was still playing as the primary defensive midfielder. Now he is no longer doing that, he only picked up his fourth booking when switched into this horrible left back experiment against Leicester. I’m not arguing his discipline issues have gone away, but it is now less likely he will be put in the situations where his ill-discipline, poor recovery speed, and rash nature will be exposed. Sure, it’s a backhanded compliment Nadal would be proud of, but it’s a compliment nonetheless.
Nacho Monreal – £5.5m
Nothing should highlight just how good Nacho Monreal has been for Arsenal over the past few years than how the left side of the team has looked in his absence. A shadow of what it is in comparison to when the Spaniard starts, he is such a crucial lynchpin to all aspects of the left flank functioning that his absence was keenly felt in the match against Crystal Palace. Industriously bombing up and down the touchline, he offers the overlap needed to utilise the cut backs that have been a key feature of Arsenal’s wing play under Emery. Although this hasn’t materialised into significant assists thus far, only registering 1, his FPL points returns have been relatively impressive. Playing 7 games, he has accrued 5+ points hauls in 4 matches, and was on an impressive run of 6, 6, 5, prior to the injury that ruled him out of the Leicester home match. This can be overlooked due to the tendency of Arsenal to concede, but he outperforms van Aanholt, David Luiz, Harry Maguire, and even Alderweireld in terms of points per game played. He is an underrated goal threat, and has the uncanny ability to find himself in the box, and often making late runs in at the back post. With Kolasinac’s dodgy injury record and even dodgier performances, Monreal is Arsenal’s only real left back option, and so the minutes are as guaranteed as you are going to get. Coming back from injury, at under 2% ownership, I think he is a really good option if you are looking for a differential pick to get one over on a mini-league rival, or to stand out form the defensive template that appears to be emerging. I can understand the reticence to pick an Arsenal defender, having kept 2 clean sheets all season, but in the proclaimed ‘Year of the Fullback’ (tm Always Cheating), the potential attacking output is comparable to some of the £5.5m midfielders I mentioned earlier. When you consider him in that sort of bracket, the clean sheets act almost as a nice little bonus. Trust me, as an Arsenal fan, that is very much what I have come to consider clean sheets as…