EPL

Premier League Fantasy Picks: New Year fireworks on the cards for Arsenal and Newcastle

By Sports Desk December 30, 2022

As a year like no other in football draws to a close, a feast of Premier League action is on offer and presents a chance to pick up some crucial fantasy points.

With others potentially focused on New Year's resolutions or shifting their turkey-belly from Christmas Day, there is an opportunity to get ahead of the curve with your fantasy line-up before rivals catch on.

Navigating such a congested fixture schedule is never easy, made even more problematic by the late returns of many players following the World Cup in Qatar and the likely rotation on the mind of managers across the league.

Fortunately, Stats Perform is here to help, delving into the Opta data to find four players who could be shrewd additions for your team ahead of the latest round of fixtures.

Kepa Arrizabalaga (Nottingham Forest v Chelsea)

The Chelsea stopper is enjoying a rejuvenation in Graham Potter's side this season, reclaiming a starting spot and picking up four clean sheets in seven Premier League appearances this term.

Four saves in the midweek win against Bournemouth helped Chelsea return to winning ways in the Premier League and he will certainly fancy his chances of another clean sheet against a Nottingham Forest side who have scored just 11 times this season – only Wolves (10) have fewer goals.

An average of four saves per 90 minutes this season and 0.62 clean sheets per 90 both stand as the Spaniard's highest in a single Premier League campaign.

Eddie Nketiah (Brighton and Hove Albion v Arsenal)

A World Cup injury to Gabriel Jesus threatened to derail Arsenal's push for the Premier League title but Eddie Nketiah proved his worth in the comeback victory against West Ham, scoring in the 3-1 win.

Nketiah has six goals in his last eight Premier League starts, including in each of the last two, while his record in all competitions stands at 11 goals in 11 starts for the Gunners from just 16 shots on target.

Since the start of the 2021-22 season, no Arsenal player has a better minutes-per-goal ratio than Nketiah (176).

Miguel Almiron (Newcastle United v Leeds United)

Newcastle United are mounting a serious push to qualify for continental football next season and Miguel Almiron is playing a significant part, already scoring as many goals this term (nine) as he did in his four previous campaigns combined (nine goals in 110 games).

Against Leeds United, he could become only the fourth different player for Newcastle to be directly involved in a Premier League goal in seven consecutive league fixtures – where he would join Andy Cole, Alan Shearer and Ruel Fox with the accolade.

Leeds have conceded 29 Premier League goals this season, the fourth-worst defensive record in the division behind Southampton (30), Nottingham Forest (33) and Bournemouth (34).

Ollie Watkins (Tottenham v Aston Villa)

Unai Emery suffered defeat for the first time as Aston Villa boss on Boxing Day against Liverpool but can turn to Ollie Watkins, who scored in the 3-1 loss, for inspiration ahead of the trip to face an under-pressure Tottenham.

The striker has scored in each of his last two away games against Spurs and could become the first away player to score in each of his first three visits to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in the Premier League.

Since the start of the 2020-21 Premier League campaign, Watkins is the third-highest scoring Englishman in the top-flight with 28 goals – only Jamie Vardy (31) and Harry Kane (53) have more.

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  • Scaloni and Martinez hit out at Atlanta pitch after Argentina win Copa America opener Scaloni and Martinez hit out at Atlanta pitch after Argentina win Copa America opener

    Lionel Scaloni and Emiliano Martinez criticised the state of the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium after Argentina's 2-0 Copa America win over Canada.

    Goals from Julian Alvarez and Lautaro Martinez got the job done for the reigning continental and world champions in Atlanta on Thursday, in the tournament's opener.

    However, the state of the playing surface was a big issue, with the turf notably chopping up.

    Mercedes-Benz Stadium is used for both NFL games - it is the home of the Atlanta Falcons - and MLS, with Atlanta United playing their home matches there, but Scaloni was deeply unhappy with the preparation of the pitch, with an artificial surface having been replaced by grass on the eve of the Copa America.

    "The start looked like the match with Saudi Arabia [at the 2022 World Cup], with the difference that we played on a more decent pitch that time," Scaloni told reporters.

    "With all due respect, thank goodness we won. Otherwise, it would have been a cheap excuse.

    "We have known for seven months that we are going to play here and they changed the turf two days ago.

    "It is not good for the show. It is not an excuse, the stadium is beautiful and with synthetic turf it must be spectacular, but with today's turf it is not suitable for this kind of players."

    Scaloni's sentiment was echoed by goalkeeper Martinez, who told TyC Sports: "Coming here against a strong Canada, with good forwards and on a field that is a disaster made it a little difficult for us.

    "We have to improve in that aspect. Otherwise, the Copa America will always be at a lower level than the European Championship."

    Argentina captain and talisman Lionel Messi became the record appearance maker in Copa America history, overtaking Sergio Livingstone by playing in his 35th game at the tournament.

    While he could not mark the milestone appearance with a goal, Messi did tee up Martinez's effort late on, with that assist his 17th in the Copa America.

    "We knew it was going to be a tough game. We knew that Canada was going to be a hard team to go against," Messi told FOX.

    "They were physical, very physical. In the first half, there was little space. It was intense, physically intense and strong and then in the second half we were able to progress and get better."

  • Argentina 2-0 Canada: Alvarez and Martinez get Copa America holders off to winning start Argentina 2-0 Canada: Alvarez and Martinez get Copa America holders off to winning start

    Copa America holders Argentina made a winning start at the 2024 tournament as Julian Alvarez and Lautaro Martinez scored in a 2-0 win over Canada.

    The 2022 World Cup winners did not have things all their own way against Jesse Marsch's competition debutants, who missed a couple of glaring chances through Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David.

    But on the day he became the Copa's outright leading appearance-maker, Lionel Messi was the catalyst for both goals, splitting the Canada defence in the build-up to Alvarez's opener then assisting Martinez's late clincher.

    The Inter Miami star missed two great chances to get on the scoresheet himself, but it was of no consequence as Lionel Scaloni's men started with three points.

    They take on Chile, who beat them in the 2015 and 2016 finals, in their second match on Tuesday, while Canada will look to bounce back versus Peru.

     

    Canada refused to sit in and their approach left them open at the back early on. Leandro Paredes curled a 25-yard effort narrowly over the top, then Alvarez saw his shot smothered by Maxime Crepeau after a lightning break took him clean through on goal.

    Despite Argentina dominating possession, Canada should have gone ahead on the stroke of half-time, Emiliano Martinez making a reflex save to deny Stephen Eustaquio before Davies miscued on the follow-up. 

    They were made to regret that miss four minutes into the second half. Messi's pinpoint throughball found Alexis Mac Allister, and though the midfielder was wiped out by Crepeau, Alvarez was on hand to convert into an empty net.

    Messi should have made it 2-0 after 65 minutes, but he saw an angled drive parried by Crepeau before Derek Cornelius made a fine block to deny him on the rebound. 

    Canada continued to offer a threat at the other end, though, with David heading over after being found totally unmarked by Jacob Shaffelburg's cross.

    Messi missed another chance when his dinked attempt rolled agonisingly wide, but he did manage an assist as Argentina made the result safe two minutes from time.

    His delicate pass sent Martinez clear, and the substitute slotted a composed finish between the legs of Crepeau.

    Assist for Messi on landmark appearance

    Messi made a piece of Copa America history on Thursday, his 35th appearance in CONMEBOL's flagship tournament pulling him clear of Chile great Sergio Livingstone for the most games played at the competition outright.

    The eight-time Ballon d'Or winner failed to mark the occasion with a goal, misfiring from a game-high six shots worth 0.69 expected goals (xG).

    However, he did cap his outing with an assist for Martinez's late second, taking him to 30 goal involvements at the tournament overall (13 goals, 17 assists).

    Messi still has plenty of gears to go through, and that should strike fear into Argentina's upcoming opponents. 

    Encouragement for Canada, but no points

    Canada became the 20th different nation to participate in the Copa America, and the eighth different CONCACAF team after Costa Rica, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama and the United States.

    As was the case at the 2022 World Cup, they played some high-octane football but were not rewarded with a positive result.

    At half-time, Marsch's team had matched Argentina's tally of seven shots, the most any team have attempted in a first half against the Albiceleste since Uruguay managed eight in November 2021. Their 0.73 xG, meanwhile, topped the world champions' 0.56 at that stage. 

    Alvarez's opener came as a dagger blow and they were unable to sustain their high-intensity approach for the full 90 minutes, but there were positives to take.

    Ahead of Thursday's opener, the Opta supercomputer gave Canada just a 27 per cent chance of escaping Group A. While the result will have done nothing to boost those hopes, their display should offer encouragement ahead of meetings with Peru and Chile.

  • FC Cincinnati v New England Revolution: Noonan focusing on defensive improvements FC Cincinnati v New England Revolution: Noonan focusing on defensive improvements

    Pat Noonan insists FC Cincinnati must improve defensively ahead of welcoming the New England Revolution to the TQL Stadium on Sunday. 

    Cincinnati edged a seven-goal thriller in their latest MLS fixture against the Philadelphia Union, with Luciano Acosta scoring in the 10th minute of injury time to secure a 4-3 win. 

    Noonan's side have now won nine of their last 10 league games and sit second in the Eastern Conference, two points behind Inter Miami. 

    But there were some concerns at the back, with Cincinnati having now conceded eight goals in their last four games, something Noonan is keen on addressing. 

    “Certainly, how we have gotten results has shifted to scoring goals and struggling defensively from an early stretch when defensively we were much stronger and didn’t need four goals to win a game,” Noonan said.

    “We gave another set-piece goal which has been a little bit of a theme. Against Philadelphia, it was defending crosses.

    “We will continue to look at the best combination of guys to help us from the frontline to the backline to be better defensively because I think right now, with how we are creating chances, that hasn’t been a concern. But we need to get better defensively.”

    Meanwhile, New England continued their impressive recent form with a 3-2 win over Vancouver Whitecaps last Sunday and have now won three in a row. 

    The Revolution have closed the gap at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and are now two points behind Orlando City and the Chicago Fire. 

    Head coach Caleb Porter was pleased with his side's reaction to conceding late in their latest fixture and believes the mentality within his squad has significantly shifted. 

    “We have still got to score more though,” Porter said. “But I loved that we scored three goals and I loved that we responded after conceding to take the game to 1-1.

    “That shows mentality is changing. I also loved that the guys were a little ticked off at the end of the game. We have won three in a row, and they were kind of mad that they didn’t score more and they conceded.

    “That’s a great mentality to have. We’re not relieved to win; we’re expecting to win now. If we play like we did against Vancouver, we can beat anybody in this league.”

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    FC Cincinnati – Luciano Acosta

    The Argentine took his assist tally to 13 in MLS this season during Cincinnati's win over Philadelphia, more than any other player in the division this season. 

    Acosta has now assisted 92 goals since arriving at Cincinnati in 2021, moving up to ninth in the all-time assist charts in MLS. 

    New England – Giacomo Vrioni

    The Albanian scored his second goal in three games during New England's victory over Vancouver, taking his tally to 16 for the club since arriving in 2022.

    Of his 10 goals scored in the MLS, Vrioni has scored against just seven sides, with Cincinnati being one of those. 

    MATCH PREDICTION: CINCINNATI WIN

    The Revs should enter this game in high spirits, having won three straight matches after only collecting seven points from their first 13 games in MLS this year. 

    Their last four-game winning streak came in August 2021, and the fourth win in that run came against Cincinnati.

    A repeat is not expected here, though, with Cincinnati winning nine of their last 10 matches (one defeat). No team in the post-shootout era has ever won 10 games in a span of 11 regular-season outings before. 

    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

    Cincinnati – 64.6%

    Draw – 18.9%

    New England – 16.4%

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