The Premier League rolls back into town this weekend after a seemingly interminable break for domestic cup action. The FA Cup, Capital One Cup, and African Cup of Nations encounters have been a nicotine patch for FPL managers, with points substituted for nuggets of intelligence as goals, assists, bans and injuries guide our strategies for Gameweek 23.
Disciplinary action from the cups has taken a heavy toll on two of the most popular fantasy assets. Diego Costa has given 60% of managers a headache, as his stamp on Emre Can appears likely to result in a three match ban. The 39% of managers that own Gylfi Sigurdsson are similarly frustrated as his late red card against Bolton will see him miss the next three games. Injuries of varying degrees to Bojan Krkic, Cesc Fàbregas, Filipe Luís, and Branislav Ivanović also have to be taken into consideration.
The result of the Capital One Cup semi-finals has further ramifications for the fantasy game as we now know that the finalists will not feature in Gameweek 27 of the Premier League, instead playing twice in a later week. As such, those FPL managers heavy in Chelsea and Tottenham players will struggle to field a team in Gameweek 27 but will be rewarded with double points later in the season. Savvy FPL managers will schedule their transfers to capitalise on the future double gameweek for these teams while ensuring they have eleven starting players for Gameweek 27.
And finally, the first wave of teams return from the African Cup of Nations, boosting Premier League squads and introducing more options for FPL managers. Senegal in particular are a surprise early exit, with Sadio Mané, Papiss Cisse, and Mame Biram Diouf all available for their Premier League fixtures this weekend.
With so many moving parts, the patient few that have preserved their January wildcard are at a distinct advantage. For the rest of us, transfer penalty points or incomplete teams appear almost inevitable.
GW 23: Independent Scout Picks
Our selection this week draws heavily on the talents of Arsenal and Southampton, with both teams at home against out of form sides in Aston Villa and Swansea respectively. With the majority of our picks coming from the Gunners and the Saints, anything less than wins and clean sheets will disappoint.
Villa make the journey to the Emirates in dreadful form, with no goals and only a pair of points to show for their last five league matches. David Ospina should keep his place in the Arsenal goal and can expect an easy afternoon, while the free-scoring Alexis Sánchez and Olivier Giroud should inflict serious damage on a Villa defence stripped of Ron Vlaar and Philippe Senderos at its core. Sánchez's average of 10 points per game in his last five at home is enough to earn our pick as this week's captain.
Southampton can continue their fine run in the league against a Swansea side low in confidence after conceding eight goals against Chelsea and Bolton. The Swans look toothless without Wilfred Bony, and will suffer further from the absence of banned playmaker Gylfi Sigurdsson and injured speedster Wayne Routledge. Ryan Bertrand can win points at both ends of the pitch and we hope to see Dusan Tadic and Graziano Pelle combine to breach the Swansea back line. We'll watch with interest to see who Ronald Koeman leaves out of his forward line with new boy Eljero Elia impressing and the returning Mané back in the fold.
Elsewhere, Stoke’s Philipp Wollscheid can build on his first clean sheet in Gameweek 22 with another at home to QPR. Marcus Rojo is the safest bet in a fluid United defence that should see out a struggling Leicester side. Further up the pitch, the Leicester encounter is an ideal opportunity for Angel di Maria to rediscover his early season form. And Jermain Defoe can open his account for the Black Cats at home against Burnley.
Eden Hazard is our sole pick from the Chelsea - City encounter. City haven't kept a clean sheet in five games and will be taking risks to close the gap at the top to two points. Hazard's pace and trickery is ideally suited to exploit the space that will surely appear in the City defence.
Our punts this week have Arsenal at the core, with their current squad teeming with low ownership opportunities.
Héctor Bellerin, Arsenal, £4.4m, 0.5% ownership: With Mathieu Debuchy out for three months the starting right back berth appears the cheapest way into an improving Gunners back line. Assuming Bellerin has overcome his knock, we think he'll get the nod over Chambers this weekend. A home fixture against Villa is a banker bet for a clean sheet, and as the only man faster than Theo Walcott at the Emirates, he offers a lot going forward too.
Theo Walcott, Arsenal, £8.9m, 0.2% ownership: At his best, he's a fantasy football must-have. In his last full season Walcott delivered 14 goals and 12 assists in 32 Premier League appearances. Scoring against Brighton on Sunday is hopefully the confidence boost he needs to rediscover that form this term. However, With Santi Cazorla performing so well, and Mesut Özil also returning, the big question is simply will he get the minutes?
Papiss Cisse, £5.4m, 0.6% ownership: The returning Senegalese striker has scored more goals per minute than any other player in the Premier League this season. He has been used sparingly so far due to lingering knee concerns, but has still netted 9 times – more than Wayne Rooney or Robin Van Persie. A return against Hull is a great opportunity to add to that tally.Reuse content