Arsenal were a black hole from a fantasy perspective last season. Despite ending up with the golden boot and the most points of any forward, even Aubameyang hokey-cokeyed more than a primary school disco. Lacazette was overlooked by most FPL managers for the more premium forwards, none of the defensive assets could be relied upon, and the midfield was as fruitful as an orchard in the Sahara. Alex Iwobi ended up as the highest scoring of those apples – end of statement.
Why then, do I think this year could see a reversal of that trend? The prices came out to equal proportions of shock and chagrin amongst the active Twitter community, but I think Arsenal assets were largely ignored in that conversation. Amongst the Robertson raving, Kane cacophony, and Salah salivating, wont someone spare a thought for Maitland-Niles?! So I’m going to give you a run-down of the current Arsenal assets I think are ‘priced-to-buy’, despite the initial run of tricky matches.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles: £5m
Arsenal’s only reclassification comes in the defence, as Maitland-Niles shifts from midfield. The Englishman was forced into the right wingback role last season in the wake of Bellerin’s season-ending injury. Such is the severity of the Spaniards lay-off, AMN will be starting the 2019/20 season on the right of Arsenal’s backline and is likely to keep that spot for a couple of months. I suspect Unai Emery will seek to reinforce substantially in the centre and on the left to enable a switch to his favoured 4 at the back. Regardless, his proclivity to utilise overlapping fullbacks has been evident at every club he has managed; it is perhaps the only solid through-line in his management style. This gives AMN a great chance to emerge as a very enticing FPL asset, especially given his price is a relative bargain compared to other ‘Top 6’ defences. Looking at Wan-Bissaka or Shaw at £5.5m is probably the best comparison. The former’s point contribution, in my opinion, should be largely disregarded now he has moved to a different, and arguably worse, defensive outfit. Although it can offer a template, one has to question the extent to which his unbelievable defensive stats were partially a result of the system Roy Hodgson employs at Palace. Playing more on the front foot, AWB will be expected to offer more in the attacking department than he did for the Eagles. As a former winger, I suspect he will be able to do so, but the idea that his points tally can only increase from last campaign is a little disingenuous to me.
Looking closer at the Arsenal man, he isn’t a former winger – he believes himself to be a winger in the here and now. Speaking to Arsenal’s official website last season, he commented he feels his best positions are either on the right wing or in the heart of midfield. I can attest to his abilities in the centre of the park, where his assuredness on the ball stood him out at every youth level. His individual performance away at Anfield showed the glimpses of what he can offer as a dynamic wingback, as did a very impressive half against Man United later in the season. With Arsenal likely to change attacking shape this season, utilising natural wingers, AMN’s output could be similar to what we saw from the best of the Iwobi-Kolasinac partnership last season. Clean sheets can’t be relied upon, but certainly after the first 5 or 6 games the Arsenal utility player will be belting his way into my side; the drop down from those floating in the Digne dingy early doors is a convenient option.
Rob Holding: £4.5m
As the Emirates crowd proselytised that he is ‘better than Cannavaro’, the 23-year-old’s injury in early December proved a turning point in Arsenal’s season. To that point, he had featured in 16 matches for the Gunners. After starting the season on the bench, Emery soon released the ball-playing capabilities of Holding were a huge asset to his defence. Indeed, his introduction into the side saw the start of Arsenal’s long unbeaten run. Individually, Holding never finished on the losing side, and featured in 11 wins, including the first North London Derby, and proved pivotal in an impressive home display against Liverpool. He had established himself as one of Emery’s defensive rocks, and his absence left the head coach in a hard place.
With a relative lack of experienced centre-backs reliably linked in the transfer market, it appears that Emery will continue to trust in the Englishman. As Koscielny ages out of the side, a partnership with Sokratis could prove fruitful. Accompanying a more experienced defender was helpful in his growth last season, and his workload should be managed more effectively as I expect heavy rotation for the early cup sides. By the time he works his way back to full fitness, the early spell of tricky matches for Arsenal should be out of the way. It is possible too it could coincide with the return of Hector Bellerin, further bolstering the backline. As the transfer of Kieran Tierney looks inevitable, the left side of the back four should be much stronger; last campaign, Kolasinac’s attacking exuberance left Koscielny woefully exposed.
With a lot of investment in the City and Liverpool defences, there is a need for a £4.5m ‘enabler’ who can be relied upon to play regular minutes. I can’t think of many other examples of a defender from a ‘Top 6’ side being priced so kindly at the start of the season. One to heavily look at if you are considering an early wildcard. 51 goals conceded won’t fill you with confidence, but Arsenal will surely be more solid as a unit this season … surely… please?
Voted Player of the Season last year, I was shocked to see that a player with 21 goal contributions in 27 games was not given a higher price. Perhaps it speaks to the broad purview of the creators of the game, but it is widely believed amongst Arsenal fans that the rotation-plagued nature of the striker’s role last season is a thing of the past. With more formations than a display of the red arrows, last season’s attack could be a perilous place to plant your flag. The previously-mentioned change to a 433/4231 will see Lacazette established as the main man, with the more versatile Aubameyang likely to be played on the left flank. Albeit his price point is tricky one to negotiate, with Jamie Vardy probably the closest comparable asset. Yet with a lot of FPL managers diverting away from ‘premium’ attackers this season, it could prove a shrewd investment. The extra £1.5m saved from the likes of Kane is the difference between Redmond and Sigurdsson, Shane Duffy and van Dijk, Matty Ryan and Ederson; the gap in points between those three examples is likely to be greater than the two North London strikers. I would wager (and have) that Lacazette will finish the Premier League season with a better goals-to-minutes ratio than the England captain. Add to that the comparable favourability of other teams’ premium midfield assets, and the Frenchman could be the best way of approaching Arsenal’s attack. The likes of Iwobi, Mkhitaryan and Ozil shouldn’t even be considered in the same bracket as the second-tier options of Man City et al.
With Leicester’s significant strengthening of their attack in the transfer market this Summer, I can certainly see the appeal of RSVP’ing yes to the Vardy party. However, I’m firmly of the belief that not only is talk of their ascension into the ‘Top 6’ extremely premature, but that Arsenal will also strengthen in the attacking department. Given how well Lacazette performed in a dysfunctional attack, I think in a system with even a modicum more ability he will show his class. Perhaps a stay-away for the opening 5 or 6 fixtures, but I struggle to see Arsenal trying to shut up shop against any side; they’re much more likely to leave the keys plastered to the front door. Following a trip to Anfield the matches from an attacking perspective look enticing all the way until mid-December, where the run becomes redder than Alan Brazil talking about Pogba’s Instagram. Besides, it’s not like we are all struggling to work out how to allocate our 3 Arsenal slots this season. No one is having sleepless nights about how to squeeze Xhaka into their midfield. Debates aren’t raging over who the better pick is: Mustafi or Monreal.
Ones to Watch
There are a few players as yet unpriced in the official FPL game that could be worth keeping an eye out for. Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson, and Emile Smith-Rowe are all highly promising academy graduates who have just been promoted to the senior squad.
Whilst the latter two were loaned out to Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig respectively last season, Willock stayed at the club. Willock in particular is very highly rated by Emery and the staff, and had a very impressive campaign in the U23s. His cameo in the Europa League final showed this faith, and the promotion of Ljungberg to assistant manager is only likely to see his game time increase. Progressing into a more advanced midfielder, it is not beyond the realms of possibility he is turned to as the ‘Ramsey replacement’ given Arsenal’s restricted budget.
Reiss Nelson started his season long loan in Germany extremely well. A natural winger with pace, technique and end product, he would bring dimensions to the Arsenal attack that are sorely lacking at the moment. Before departing last year he was handed a lengthy contract, and it is expected that he will be given more game time this year. With the club actively looking to move on Mkhitaryan and Ozil who previously occupied wide positions in Emery’s systems, there could be an opportunity for the youngster to show his potential. An additional factor to consider is how heavily he has featured in the marketing of Arsenal’s new kits. They don’t tend to feature players so prominently if they are just going to be sat on the bench.
Emile Smith-Rowe struggled more than Nelson with his loan spell, as injury prevented him getting any serious game time. However, he only moved to the German club in January, and was being given opportunities at the Emirates in the cup competitions. In the Europa League he scored 2 goals in 4 matches, and once in 2 outings in the League Cup. An attacking midfielder who likes to make runs into the box, and has an eye for goal, he was courted by Barcelona after winning the U17 World Cup with England a few years ago. Emery has praised his diligence and humility publicly, and so the Englishman could be another internal replacement for Ramsey should Arsenal not act in the transfer market.