Neal Thurman

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FPL Draft Recap - Week 15

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

How you win and lose matters.  On a given weekend the way you get there may not matter as much as whether you get there or not.  Over time, the opposite is true.  Over time the bounces tend to even out.  Over time you encounter opponents who are on their game and opponents who are off their game.  Over time, the process is more important than any individual result. 


This is true for fantasy games and it is true for reality as well. 


If you compare and contrast how Arsenal lost to Liverpool early in the season as well as how they beat Leicester City in the opener with how they lost to Manchester United on Saturday, you’ll see similar outcomes (between the Liverpool and United results) but not a similar way of getting there.  Against Liverpool, they were well and truly beaten.  Liverpool were simply the better side.  Against Leicester City, they got a result but it was two deeply flawed teams trading massive blows (and massive mistakes) to a thrilling conclusion. 


Against Manchester United, there was a real difference, the result was poor but the process was good.  If they dominated possession and had those chances against Manchester United over 100 matches, they probably win 90 of them, draw seven and lose three.  Arsenal were that much better.  This is neither to excuse the defensive mistakes that led to United’s early goals nor dismiss the brilliance of David De Gea.  That said, mistakes and goalkeeping brilliance (even from De Gea), like deflected goals and red cards, are fluky outcomes.  They are not a strategy that you pin anything other than desperate hope on.


Don’t get me wrong, I was incredibly disappointed to see the Gunners lose to Manchester United and Jose Mourinho.  That never leaves a good taste in your mouth.  That said, after the two early mistakes it wasn’t the abject capitulation that has long frustrated Arsenal supporters when they play against the teams that have supplanted them in the Premier League pecking order.


When you consider how strong they have looked since a really shaky start to the season and then add the moves made to secure a top class talent acquisition capability that will pave the way to the post-Wenger era, there is reason to be optimistic about Arsenal for the first time in years. 


Here are some other thoughts from the few weeks since I last wrote a column…


Dangerous Precedent

The retrospective ban on Oumar Niasse for “conning the official” to win a penalty may seem like a minor thing but it feels like there is a slippery slope coming.  The officials get “conned” all the time to varying degree of effect.  Sometimes it is just winning a free kick in the middle of the pitch that leads to nothing substantial.  Sometimes it is the awarding of a penalty or a red card that shifts the match entirely.  So, Niasse gets a retrospective suspension, presumably, because the result of his con job had a significant impact on a match that ended in a draw. 


I suspect Niasse is an easy target.  He’s foreign.  He’s not even from a “big footballing nation”.  His Premier League career to date hasn’t been highly decorated.  In other words, there’s no one in the Premier League industrial complex or supporter base who is really on his side.  Heck, he’s not even a starter on his own team so missing him for a match or two as an isolated incident just doesn’t present too much impact to anyone other than Oumar Niasse.


It took only a few days for the next test of this new perspective on the rules to come under the microscope.  Fabian Delph clearly conned the ref by diving against West Ham and the ensuing free kick led to Manchester City’s equalizer.  Now Delph is English and presumably “not that sort of player”.  Throw on top of that Delph plays for a big club and missing him could have an impact on a big match like the Manchester Derby. 


All we have to do is project forward to the time when Harry Kane dives to win a penalty or a key free kick in an important match to see the logical conclusion here.  Will the same standard be applied to a star player? To and England stalwart who gets the benefit of all of the traditional narrative surrounding English players related to honesty and hard work as if the country hadn’t produced Joey Barton


The notion of ascribing an unknowable thing like intent after the fact is a fool’s errand.  It puts people in league administration and the media in a position where they have to project personality and the danger of deep-seeded prejudice and xenophobia leaking subconsciously into decisions is very real.  If you’re going to punish retrospectively then the standards have to be objective ones.  The notion that Niasse “conned” the ref and Delph was presumably off balance or something and went down and the ref mistook it for a foul presumes that we know what was in the respective players’ heart when similar actions took place.    


I don’t condone diving and I’m all for retrospective discipline.  What I am not interested in is pretending that we can retrospectively judge intent in slow motion as a collection of 22 world class athletes react to situations in real time.  There has already been one questionable singling out of a player who didn’t do anything THAT unusual and one can only imagining things getting worse as subjective judgement calls are made.


Spurs House of Cards

I’ve written about it before.  As much as I admire the job Daniel Levy and Mauricio Pochettino have done in getting Spurs to the heights they have achieved over the past couple of seasons, they are in serious danger.  If the rumor mill is to be believed, Spurs remain committed to a wage structure that won’t satisfy players of the quality of Harry Kane, Christen Eriksen, or Dele Alli.  Given that all three are young and the club have been ascending it has been relatively easy for all three to continue to stay loyal as they’ve jointly boosted their respective reputations. 


The problem here is that careers are limited and eventually elite players will want to chase a bigger pay day, titles, or both.  The recent stumbles seem likely to be rooted in Spurs’ inability to recruit depth in the attacking positions.  Son has fallen off of last season’s performance. Fernando Llorente hasn’t panned out.  Mousa Sissoko looks like the player from Newcastle rather than the one that turns up for France occasionally. 


If Spurs end up outside of the top four come the end of the season then it feels like they’re at risk of losing one or more of their attacking trio to a Champions League club.  In the absence of a stable of excellent attackers you have to wonder if the manager is going to read the tea leaves and maybe take a lucrative offer from someone like Milan or Inter (both flush with cash) rather than try to catch lightning in a bottle again with a new set of inexpensive recruits that meet the Spurs wage scale coming good the way Kane, Alli, and Eriksen have. 


It could all go south as quickly as it did for Arsenal in the years following the Invincibles run but with the additional complication that there are five other well-heeled competitors waiting to pounce on Spurs whereas Arsenal really only had to worry about Manchester United and Chelsea as they adjusted to their new reality.



Fantasy Risers

  • Troy Deeney – could he finally get a run of starts to prove himself to FAMMS (that’s Future Arsenal Manager Marco Silva for those who are unaware of my managerial crush)
  • West Brom Defense – it was only Crystal Palace but since Tony Pulis was sacked there appears to be new life at the Hawthorns
  • Jesse Lingard – he won’t keep up his recent pace but he has presumably earned a run of starts ahead of Mkhitaryan and Mata
  • Aaron Ramsey – he still hasn’t recaptured the “best midfielder in the Premier League” form that he demonstrated for a few months a few years back but he’s definitely approaching his best after a long time adrift
  • Mame Biram Diouf – he’s listed as a forward and playing as more of a wingback but he’s been productive, at least by Stoke City standards, and productive forwards are always at a premium regardless of where they’re actually playing
  • Gylfi Sigurdsson – he seems to be figuring things out at Goodison Park and approaching what we always expect from him


Fantasy Fallers

  • Gabriel Jesus – he seems to be getting more than his share of rotation in the Premier League
  • Spurs Outside Backs – the attack is sputtering in the Premier League and the clean sheets aren’t there either. Throw in regular rotation featuring four players for two positions and you have a recipe for a fantasy rollercoaster
  • Callum Wilson –  scored a hat trick and still isn’t a sure starter
  • Michail Antonio – between health and lack of sharpness he’s been a huge disappointment this season
  • Danny Welbeck – when he picked up his injury he was starting and playing well.  His injury-enforced absence created an opportunity for Mesut Ozil to re-establish himself in the Arsenal line-up and re-establish himself Ozil has.


The matches will come fast and furious over the next month or so but I’ll do my best to get columns out more regularly.  

Neal Thurman manages the Rotoworld's Premier League coverage and contributes to Never Manage Alone which he co-founded. He is also a diehard Arsenal supporter. You can find him on Twitter @NealJThurman.
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