FPL 2023-24 Club Previews: Part 1 (Arsenal & Aston Villa)

Welcome back to the Fantasy Premier League, this season without a winter World Cup, and welcome back to FISO!

For the sixth time in seven seasons, we are working up to a new Premier League campaign with Manchester City as the reigning champions. For a long time, it looked like Arsenal were going to clinch their first championship title since their 2003-04 “Invincibles” season, but the Gunners eventually fell short against the Abu Dhabi-owned powerhouse. One of the main questions in the build-up to the 2023-24 campaign kick-off is whether Arsenal, who have been investing heavily in their squad this summer, will be able to compete to the very end again this season.

Another of those main questions is what the “new format” is that was cryptically announced earlier this summer by Alexandra Willis, Director of Digital Media and Audience Development for the Premier League. In June, Willis said that “there is a new format coming [for FPL], so watch this space for the start of the new season”. Since then though, there unfortunately have been no further explanations. We are therefore following Willis’ advice and are keeping a watching brief on our FPL forum, and we advise you to do the same.

The Premier League 2023-24 season is set to kick off on Friday, August 11th at 18:30 UK time, with the visit of Manchester City to newly promoted Burnley. In the build-up to gameweek 1, we will be taking an in-depth look at each of the 20 teams competing in the Premier League this season, including a general team overview, a tactical preview and some FPL recommendations per side. In this first part of our Season Preview series, we’re taking a look at Arsenal and an Aston Villa side that qualified for the Conference League after a great second half of last season under Spanish manager Unai Emery.

ARSENAL – FPL 2023/24 team preview

Especially amongst London rival fans, Arsenal have been the butt of more than a few jokes over the past years, as the Gunners failed to live up to their illustrious past and big ambitions. The appointment of Mikel Arteta as manager back in December 2019 has proven to be a great match though, as the former midfielder and club captain has been steadily working on a team that can compete with the Premier League’s very best once again. The highlight of his reign so far was last season’s second place in the league, five points behind champions Man City, after having spent a majority of the campaign in first place.

Even though there is no silverware for second place, expectations were still exceeded by the Gunners. With a side full of exceptional international talent and a playing style that is more and more becoming their own, Arsenal had their best league finish in eight years, booking as many victories as they did in their legendary 2003-04 season (26). The same goes for the total of points they amassed (84), which was the most since the Gunners recorded 90 points in that same “Invincibles” season. On top of that, Arsenal also made it to the Round of 16 in the UEFA Europa League, where Sporting Lisbon proved too strong after a penalty series in the second leg of the encounter.

As we mentioned in the intro, Arsenal have definitely been emboldened by their great 2022-23 league campaign and are investing heavily so far this summer. As a matter of fact, at the moment of writing, no team in the world has spent more on new recruits than the Gunners so far. A major chunk of the roughly £200 million they have spent so far went into bringing in Declan Rice from West Ham (£105 million), who is expected to slot right into the side. The same goes for Kai Havertz, who was bought from Chelsea for a whopping £65 million from Chelsea, although he faces considerably more competition for a spot than Rice. Besides that, Arsenal also paid Ajax Amsterdam around £34 million for Jurriën Timber, one of Europe’s most promising and versatile defensive talents.

Arsenal’s tactical preview

As is the Arsenal tradition, Mikel Arteta wants to play an attacking, free-flowing brand of football, but the Spaniard has managed to do so within the context of the extremely competitive Premier League. They try to dominate games by hogging possession of the ball and pressing intensively when they lose it. In this light, the acquisition of the previously mentioned multi-million signings makes perfect sense, as all three of them are young, technical and extremely comfortable on the ball. As a result, more than a few Arsenal assets were FPL gold last season, including the likes of Martin Odegaard, Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka.

Considering the Arteta project in north London and the improving performances (and results) since the Spaniard’s appointment, there is no reason to expect the team to line up very differently from how they lined up for most of the 2022-23 campaign. Arsenal tend to turn up a rather fluid 4-3-3 formation with real wingers on each side in attack, a real number ten in the person of captain Martin Odegaard and at least one attack-minded full-back who slots into midfield when possible to support attacking moves from the back. At the same time, Arteta has managed to instil a degree of defensive stability that was absent from the team for many years. As a result, we expect a decent number of FPL sides to feature an Arsenal defender and/or goalie in gameweek 1.

ARSENAL – Potential FPL targets

With the addition of Rice, who will most likely play as part of a double pivot in a three-man-midfield, and Kai Havertz, who could slot into an attacking midfield position as well, it will be difficult to determine which Arsenal midfielder will get most minutes while also providing decent FPL points potential. Having said that, there is Martin Odegaard (£8.5m), who is their captain and best player. The Norwegian international was named Arsenal Player of the Season 2022-23 and rightly so. He scored an impressive 15 goals and provided another 8 assists on top of that for a total of 212 FPL points, his highest tally since joining Arsenal three years ago. There is no attacking asset more nailed-on in the Arsenal starting eleven, which also explains his price hike, from £6.5m last season to £8.5 this season. Odegaard is therefore not the bargain he was last season, but if you want to get into the Arsenal assets with a security of playing minutes and key role in the side’s offensive moves, Odegaard looks like the way to go.

When looking at the Arsenal roster, Bukayo Saka (£8.5m) looks like a great option for any FPL squad as well. The England international was the only Arsenal asset besides Odegaard to breach the 200-point limit last season, courtesy of 14 goals and 12 assists in 37 starts. The sheer amount of attacking options in the Arsenal squad makes it perhaps a tiny bit more likely for Saka to be rotated, or at least for his minutes to be a bit more managed than Odegaard’s, but then again, the winger still got 3,183 minutes of Premier League action last season, starting 37 games. Where the Norwegian is Arsenal’s chief creator, Saka is their star attacker and on top of that, he is the team’s primary corner taker from the right and he is on penalties as well. It remains to be seen how Arteta will manage his side with Arsenal returning to the Champions League this season, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see Saka score north of 200 FPL points again by the end of the 2023-24 campaign.

Finally, from a defensive point of view, Oleksandr Zinchenko (£5.0m) looks interesting, thanks to the potential of attacking returns. Injuries caused him to miss a chunk of last season’s games, but the Ukraine international still got 26 league starts in which he accumulated 99 FPL points. On top of 10 clean sheets, he also got a goal and 2 assists, plus 8 bonus points. In Arteta’s ideal system, Zinchenko is the defender slotting into midfield and forming the start of several attacking moves every game, in great part due to his history as a midfielder. While his attacking returns from last season don’t exactly scream “Kieran Trippier” or “TAA”, it’s not crazy to assume that he can improve on his numbers this season. Considering his role in Arsenal’s build-up play, a clean sheet for the Gunners is almost a guarantee for a bonus point or two for the Ukrainian. His price of £5.0m plus a decent run of opening fixtures makes him an option worth keeping in mind when compiling your gameweek 1 squad but do check his injury status as he is yet to feature in pre-season in his comeback from last season’s injury.

ASTON VILLA – FPL 2023/24 team preview

Aston Villa’s 2022-23 Premier League season was a tale of two halves if there ever was one. The Villans started the season under manager Steven Gerrard, but after an extremely disappointing opening run of eleven games in which they got just 9 points out of a possible 33, the former Liverpool midfielder was sacked. Considering that the club spent around £50 million on new players over the summer, the choice of Gerrard’s successor was a crucial one and with Unai Emery, the club’s management nailed it. What followed was an impressive resurrection that even saw Villa clinch a Conference League spot by finishing seventh in the league, the club’s highest finish since their sixth place at the end of the 2009-10 season.

As a quadruple Europa League winner, thrice with Sevilla and once with Villareal, Emery knows how to get the best out of his teams and that’s exactly what he did at Villa last season. Apart from left-back Alex Moreno and forward Jhon Durán, the Spaniard did not bring in any new players during the January 2023 transfer window. With the players at his disposal, he forged a team that was to be feared from an attacking point of view, spearheaded by the revitalised Ollie Watkins, who scored 11 goals in 12 games between January and April. Emery also had the guts to bench star-player-in-theory Coutinho for Argentinian playmaker Emiliano Buendia. Defensively, Villa improved considerably as well, recording nine clean sheets after getting just two of those under Gerrard.

With Villa qualifying for Europe for the first time since the 2010-11 season, the Aston-based club has been quite active on the transfer market this summer. At a price of around £47 million, former Leverkusen winger Moussa Diaby has been their biggest signing so far, followed by central defender Pau Torres from Villareal for around £28 million. Perhaps the shrewdest piece of business though, has been the signing of Leicester star Youri Tielemans on a free transfer. All three of these acquisitions are expected to get into Emery’s starting eleven sooner or later, with sooner the most likely option out of the two.

Villa’s tactical preview

We already mentioned Emery’s incredible Europa League success and big part of that success, as well as his other successes, is thanks to his tactical prowess. The Basque-born manager is known for his teams setting up in compact defensive shapes without sacrificing too much in offense. He prefers a short passing game to drag opponents apart and then launch the four attackers in space. This could be very promising for new boy Moussa Diaby, for example, who is expected to line up on the right side of a four-man attacking set-up. Behind those four Emery makes use of a double pivot in midfield, and then a four-man defence.

In terms of that defence, the presence of Alex Moreno on the left and Matty Cash on the right provides the team with considerable width from the back. In fact, on a good day, this might just be one of the better and more attacking full-back pairs in the entire league. Emery wants his team to press high and in group, and Moreno and Cash are particularly suited for this style. If the Spaniard manages to instil the necessary discipline in his team to press high, defend as a unit and transition to attack as soon as the ball is in their possession, there could be another wonderful season on the horizon for Villa.

ASTON VILLA – Potential FPL targets

After 15 goals and 8 assists from 36 league starts last season, it makes sense that Ollie Watkins (£8.0m) is top of the Aston Villa FPL assets list in the build-up to gameweek 1. No Villa player scored more than his 175 FPL points, while only Haaland, Kane and Toney scored more in the overall forwards category. Emery clearly knows how to get the best out of the England international and with their first full pre-season together, we expect the chemistry only to improve. Watkins forms an integral part of the manager’s starting lineup and to make things even better, he is also his side’s designated penalty taker. Despite away games at Newcastle and Liverpool in the opening five fixtures of the upcoming season, the Villa star is already sitting in more than 14% of all FPL squads. His price is not the most budget-friendly, but we can see that percentage increase further as gameweek 1 approaches.

At the moment of writing, Alex Moreno (£5.0m) is marked as injured in the official game with a 50% chance of playing come gameweek 1. Seeing as the season opening is still just over two weeks away, we have kept the former Real Betis left-back on our list of interesting defensive picks for any GW1 squad. He practically slotted right into the team after signing for Villa on January 11th of this year, amassing 14 league starts in the second half of last season. Over that period, he showed that he is a dynamic and technically able full back who is not afraid to bomb forward when the opportunity presents itself. As a result, on top of the 7 clean sheets he was part of, he also provided 3 assists and collected 5 bonus points. We don’t expect Lucas Digne, FPL troll #1 for more than a few fantasy managers, to play a lot when Moreno is fit and at his current price, the Spaniard looks like an appealing mid-range defensive pick.

Our third Aston Villa fantasy pick is also the first real budget pick in this Club Previews series. We don’t expect holding midfielder Douglas Luiz (£5.5m) to feature in many teams when gameweek 1 kicks off, but they might regret that. The Brazilian really found his feet in the Prem last season, which led to him recording an impressive 6 goals and 7 assists. Not bad for a midfielder who started the season at a bargain price of just £4.5m. As a result of his 142 FPL points, his price tag was kicked up to £5.5m this season, still very much a budget enabler. Luiz is a nailed-on part of Emery’s starting eleven and to make things even better, he is also the main man for most of Villa’s set pieces. Both direct and indirect free kicks are more often than not his territory, which is great for a budget pick. At the same time, it should be noted that the Brazilian’s attacking output will be somewhat dampened by the arrival of Youri Tielemans from Leicester, who is expected to play alongside him in the Villa midfield.