FPL 2021/22 Season Previews: Part 1 Arsenal & Aston Villa

Welcome back to yet another season of Fantasy Premier League football!

If you stuck with us during the exciting and sometimes sad thrill ride that was the 2020/21 Premier League campaign, great to have you back with us again. If you just stumbled upon our FPL content recently, a very warm welcome and hopefully you’ll find our regular contributions to the world of FPL both enjoyable and useful in your quest for a top rank come the end of the season.

Newly promoted Brentford will be taking on Community Shield winners Arsenal in the season opener on Friday, August 13th. In the build-up to that game, we will be taking an in-depth look at each of the 20 squads competing in the Premier League this season with a special focus on their FPL potential. In this first instalment, we’re kicking off with Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal and an Aston Villa side that’s looking to build on last season’s more than decent 11th place.

ARSENAL – FPL 2021/22 team preview

Arsenal’s 2020/21 season got off to a motivating start as the Gunners won the FA Community Shield by beating Liverpool after penalties. That victory meant the second piece of silverware under coach Mikel Arteta in a stretch of just a few months, which understandably filled the hearts of their fans with hope for more trophies during the season.

Unfortunately for them, that wasn’t exactly the case. A poor start to the league season meant that the Gunners were never really in the race for a Champions League spot and their eventual finish in 8th place meant that the upcoming 2021/22 campaign will be their fifth consecutive one without Champions League football. As a matter of fact, the upcoming season won’t see Arsenal feature in Europe at all for the first time in 26 years. Not very good for the club, but not necessarily bad news for FPL managers.

It wasn’t ALL doom and gloom at the Emirates, though. In a very un-Arsenal fashion, Arteta’s side actually recorded the third-best defensive record in the league, just behind champions Manchester City and Chelsea, with 39 goals conceded. We dare not say whether or not they will be able to display such solidity this season, but the addition of Brighton’s 2020/21 Player of the Season Ben White for about £50 million will go a long way in that sense.

Arsenal’s tactics sheet

Though Arteta has at times caught FPL managers (and real-life opponents) off guard with tweaks to his formation and tactical approach, his preferred lineup is a 4-2-3-1 formation. In that system, the wing-backs, most likely being Kieran Tierney on the left and Hector Bellerín on the right (unless he transfers), are given considerable freedom to support the attack. With 2 goals and 7 assists amongst them, attacking returns came at kind of a premium last season, though.

While the middle of pitch looks set with a double pivot, the front four isn’t entirely clear yet. Talisman and top earner Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should be a starter, whether it be up front or floating inwards from the left wing. The same goes for Bukayo Saka, who will be even harder to leave out of the starting lineup after a great European Championship. Last season’s break-out star Emile Smith-Rowe could embark on the season as Arsenal’s starting number 10 after recently extending his contract, especially with Odegaard back in Madrid and Joe Willock a potential candidate to be loaned out once more. The fourth and final spot in the Gunners’ attack goes between Nicolas Pépé, Willian and Alexandre Lacazette. Thanks to a strong finish to last season, Pépé probably has the edge here, but he will also be the one left out when Auba moves to the left wing for Laca to take his place as striker. Finally, Gabriel Martinelli’s role looks uncertain still, but if he manages to stay fit, keep an eye on his exploits during pre-season.

ARSENAL – Potential FPL targets

To be honest, we feel that Arsenal is very much a “wait-and-see” kind of team in FPL, much like they have been for the past few seasons. The star man is obviously Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£10.0m), who comes at a premium price despite a mostly disappointing 2020/21 season. The Gabonese forward recorded 13 attacking returns (10 goals and 3 assists) and 10 clean sheets for a total of 131 FPL points. Auba has been re-classified as a forward for this season though, which in combination with his price tag should put off a lot of managers. He probably won’t be in a lot of teams come gameweek 1, but don’t forget that in the two seasons prior to last season, he scored 44 goals, gave 12 assists and recorded consecutive 205-pointers.

Contrary to Aubameyang, Bukayo Saka (£6.5m) had his best ever season last season. With 5 goals, 5 assists, 8 clean sheet and 8 bonus points, he recorded a total of 114 FPL points. Not bad for a midfielder who started the season at £5.5m. His price was increased by a million for the upcoming season, but the England youngster still looks like very good value. Coming off a fantastic Euro 2020, Saka should be nailed-on as part of Arteta’s starting eleven and to top it all off, he’s been getting more involved in set-piece duties as well.

Emile Smith-Rowe (£5.5m) is another Arsenal talent who could provide excellent value in FPL this season. The 21-year old started last season at £4.5m, kind of crashed onto the PL scene during the season itself, and ended the campaign with an impressive 74 FPL points (2 goals, 5 assists, 10 clean sheets). That’s the kind of performance that can make the difference for your FPL team. As Martin Odegaard left the club and Joe Willock might be loaned out, ESR looks set to be a starter for the Gunners in GW1 and could prove to be a great budget-enabler.

ASTON VILLA – FPL 2021/22 team preview

You might still remember the way in which Aston Villa escaped relegation in dramatic fashion on the final match day of the 2019/20 Premier League campaign. Keeping that in mind, their performance last season only becomes more impressive. For a large part of the season, the Villans were actual candidates for a top-six finish, but they eventually ended in 11th place, just 7 points off the European spots.

With the likes of Jack Grealish (edit: since sold to Man City), Ollie Watkins and Emi Martinez (edit: and new signing Danny Ings), the Villa roster boasts some exceptional talent, and their transfer activity this summer shows that the club wants to build on last season’s performances. The signing of Emiliano Buendia could prove to be a bull’s eye and the imminent arrival of Leverkusen speedster Leon Bailey feels exciting, while bringing back club legend Ashley Young looks to be both a very good and a very wise addition to a relatively young Aston Villa squad. On top of that, players of proven Premier League pedigree like Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse and Arsenal’s Emile Smith-Rowe are rumoured to be in their cross-hairs as well.

The biggest coup by a long shot would be the retention of star man and local lad Jack Grealish, though (edit: since sold to Man City). Coming off a good Euro 2020, where he featured for a total of 172 minutes as a substitute over five games and delivered 2 assists, the midfielder has recently been linked to Man City. Despite missing a part of last season due to injury, Grealish still managed an impressive 12 goals and 12 assists for the Villans, while he was also the most-fouled player in the league by some distance. Keeping him on board is the main priority this summer.

Villa’s tactics sheet

Like many other teams these days, Aston Villa manager Dean Smith likes to line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with rather offensive wing-backs and an attacking quartet that combines technique and passing with the ability to exchange positions effortlessly during games. The same goes for the rest of the team to a large extent, in the sense that most of Villa’s (starting) players are very comfortable with the ball at their feet. As a result, the side can vary quite easily in the build-up as well.

Villa’s backline seems set for the moment, with the outstanding Emi Martinez in goal, and Matty Cash and Matt Targett flanking central duo Ezri Konsa and Euro 2020 finalist Tyrone Mings. The dynamic double pivot in the middle should be formed out of Douglas Luiz and Scotland international John McGinn. In attack, Smith is actually a bit spoilt for choice, especially with the arrivals of Emiliano Buendia for a hefty £33 million and Bailey for another £30-something million. Assuming Grealish plays in Aston Vila’s coming season, him and the two new boys are part of what could be a striker’s dream. That striker is the young Ollie Watkins, who was part of England’s Euro 2020 squad after scoring 14 goals and giving 9 assists in his first Premier League season. The final spot, in theory the #10 spot, would go between Bertrand Traoré and El Ghazi, though the Villans are reportedly interested in a new signing for this position as well (edit: Danny Ings signed from Southampton).

ASTON VILLA – Potential FPL targets

The Villa roster in FPL looks like a bit of a goldmine, especially when looking at their opening schedule. They are visiting promoted Watford before hosting Newcastle and new boys Brentford in the first three gameweeks. Stand-out pick is obviously Jack Grealish (£8.0m) (edit: since sold to Man City where he could be a bargain £8m in FPL), who still looks like a potential bargain despite his price having been increased by a million in comparison to last season. He’s the main man and a well-near guarantee for returns. We mentioned his 12 goals and 12 assists in 26 games last season already, but he was also in the top three for chance creation (only Bruno Fernandes and Mason Mount created more) and his points-per-match average was only bettered by seven other players in the league.

New signing Emiliano Buendia (£6.5m) is another very interesting option, especially thanks to his likely independence of Grealish’ transfer fate. Villa splashed £33 on the Argentine international who scored 15 goals and provided 17 assists in the Championship last season to become the league’s Player of the Season. If Grealish leaves, many eyes will be on Buendia to take his place as source of creativity. If Grealish stays, Buendia can form a formidable partnership on the wings with him. We just don’t think that the West Midlands club spent so much on such a proven player in English football just to bench him.

The likes of goalkeeper Emi Martinez and left-back Matt Targett are very much worthy of a mention here as well, but we feel that we simply can’t leave out Villa’s highest-scoring player from last season. Striker Ollie Watkins (£7.5m) needed no time to adapt to the Premier League as he scored 14 goals and gave 9 assists for a total of 168 FPL points in his debut season amongst the footballing elite. Only Jamie Vardy, Patrick Bamford and the inevitable Harry Kane did better amongst forwards. To make his performance even more impressive, Watkins’ Expected Goals ratio actually stood at 16.28 for the season, which means that the former Brentford man actually underperformed slightly. With favourable fixtures coming up, we wouldn’t be surprised to see him amongst the most-selected FPL assets come gameweek 1. Edit: Villa have since bought Danny Ings (£8m) from Southampton meaning Watkins more likely to play wide left in support of Ings in the centre.

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