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Friday, March 30, 2012
Up and Hatem

Dale Johnson

Hatem Ben Arfa won all the plaudits last weekend with a fine display in Newcastle United's win at West Brom. Ben Arfa scored one and created another two in the kind of performance Magpies fans have been waiting for from him for some time. It led manager Alan Pardew to suggest France coach Laurent Blanc should consider taking him to Ukraine and Poland for Euro 2012, but is there any fantasy worth over the final eight games of the Premier League season? For all Ben Arfa's fireworks on Sunday, across the rest of the season he has only managed a further three goals and two assists. That gives him a total of 69 points, which ranks him way down in 79th among midfielders. Gabriel Obertan has scored seven more points with a total of one goal and three assists. Ben Arfa, of course, had a slow start to the season after missing virtually the whole of the last campaign with a broken leg. That means the likes of Obertan have enjoyed far more game time and as such Ben Arfa's ranking is misleading: Ben Arfa has played 886 minutes to Obertan's 1561. Jonas Gutierrez is Newcastle's top-ranked midfielder on 112 points, though he only has one more goal than Obertan and the same number of assists. He ranks in 18th due to his regular involvement in the side - with 2588 minutes played he is the club's most-used midfielder. But in Ben Arfa, Newcastle have, as we have also seen in recent weeks with Swansea's Gylfi Sigurdsson and Blackburn's David Hoilett, a value attacking player who could prove a vital tool against fantasy rivals in the final weeks. It is key that Pardew has insisted that while European football for next season is within his team's grasp they will go for it, so there seems little chance Newcastle's players will get a chance to put their feet up and think of the beach like some teams. Ben Arfa is priced at 5.5 million, and will go up at Saturday's gamelock - which comes later than usual as there is no lunchtime game. He's already risen in ownership from 1.5% to 1.9% since his virtuoso display against the Baggies - but that is still a low level of popularity and few other managers in mini-leagues will own him. Newcastle entertain Liverpool this weekend, and while ordinarily that may look like a game to avoid, the men from Anfield have been on such a poor run in 2012 it would see them in the relegation zone for that period alone. So there is every reason to believe the Magpies can have a productive gameweek. After that, Newcastle face Swansea away and Bolton at home before a blank gameweek (see below). That is followed by a home game against Stoke and then a double gameweek of away games at Wigan and Chelsea. Bar the Chelsea game, Pardew's side have some very favourable fixtures coming up making the likes of Ben Arfa attractive. Papiss Cisse has been the man in form up front, scoring five goals in six appearances. Demba Ba remains a popular fantasy player, in 26.3% of teams, but that is on the slide - down 0.8% this week - as managers lose patience with a run which has returned only one goal since January 4. He has gone six gameweeks without a goal or an assist though remains the fifth highest-scoring striker. Cisse has taken over as the in-form Magpies striker, and is up 1.1% in ownership since last Saturday to 3.2% of teams. At a price of 6.8 million he has consistently been on the rise since making his debut last month. Newcastle have performed well defensively this season, but injuries have affected their ability to keep clean sheets. The club have now announced Fabricio Coloccini could miss up to four matches with a hamstring injury and it was the Argentine, along with the also ruled-out Steven Taylor, who made them so solid. Cisse has been confirmed as having cramp and is not a doubt for the weekend.

Gameweek changes

While the quarter-finals of the FA Cup had no effect on fantasy gameweeks, this is not the case for Gameweek 34 on April 14-15. With the line-up for the semi-finals now known, four matches are officially postponed: Stoke v Everton
Bolton v Spurs
Chelsea v Newcastle
Liverpool v Fulham With only the Stoke match to be rearranged we are facing a barren Gameweek 34, with a maximum of seven games. The other three matches have all been switched to Gameweek 36, creating double fixtures for those six teams - meaning of course they will have a blank 34. The double gameweeks are: Bolton: Sunderland (A); Spurs (H)
Chelsea: QPR (H); Newcastle (H)
Fulham: Everton (A); Liverpool (A)
Liverpool: Norwich (A); Fulham (H)
Spurs: Blackburn (H); Bolton (A)
Newcastle: Wigan (A); Chelsea (A) Bolton will have back-to-back double gameweeks, as the new date for their match at Aston Villa, postponed due to Fabrice Muamba's collapse, has been revealed. It is scheduled for April 24, Gameweek 35. Villa also have another home game against Sunderland that week, while Bolton are at home to Swansea too.

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