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Dempsey is best USMNT player ever

United States

Spurs poised to finish above Arsenal

50-50 Challenge

An enforced change

Mikel Arteta's season-ending cruciate knee ligament injury will come as a blow to legions of fantasy managers, not just David Moyes and the Everton camp.

The Spanish midfielder has been a goldmine this season, certainly since Everton lost all their strikers meaning he was given more responsibility to wade in with goals. Added to that, he is the club's main creative influence, hence a raft of key contributions through set-pieces and that's before you take into account that he's the penalty taker at Goodison Park.

A haul of 108 points makes him the fourth best midfielder in the game and the sixth best overall. With six goals, seven key contributions and nine clean sheet points he has been a consistent and excellent value for money, costing £8.5m.

The conundrum now is how you replace such an important fantasy figure. By this stage of the season most managers should already have the only three midfielders to outscore Arteta - Cristiano Ronaldo, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard. If not, Gerrard's injury woes make him a questionable selection though he is the most affordable (£9.8m) in relation to Arteta's value. Ronaldo's startling £14.4m tag still shows no sign of doing anything other than climbing further.

Injuries are the scourge of the run-in, no matter if it's fantasy or reality. With just 12 games left in the season there is little room for error. Transfers are at a premium and any mistake now in replacing the injured could result in no scope to abort such a failed experiment.

One possible positive of losing a player to injury is that it does force you to be creative and perhaps look away from the obvious. As has been discussed in this column before, variety is the spice of fantasy life and can be the recipe for success in the closing stages. Having a player not many other managers possess can - though of course you need luck in selection - climb you places and keep you in the Fantasy Cup.

Though there are many tactical options the important thing is to not use up two transfers to replace one player. And this means you either need to use stored cash to replace Arteta or simply look for a cheaper alternative. As only three players are more expensive than the Evertonian it's almost certain that bargain hunting is the way forward.

1. Matthew Taylor - Bolton Wanderers - £6.2m

One of the hidden gems of the fantasy game, Taylor now ranks as the eighth best midfielder. With seven goals and two key contributions, the former Portsmouth midfielder has proved to be one of the best value for money players in the game.

Hailed this week as being England quality by manager Gary Megson, he is a certain starter and with a haul of 91 points he's only 17 points behind Arteta's total.

Added to that, Bolton's next five fixtures are all against teams in the bottom half of the table, and three of those are at home. Of the top five sides, they have to go to Chelsea and entertain Aston Villa. It's a favourable fixture list which puts him at the top of our suggested transfers.

2. Tim Cahill - Everton - £7.8m

One option is to go for the straight swap to replace Arteta and in Cahill there is a player who regularly scores goals. Where's Taylor's points have come from 22 games, Cahill has 82 points from four fewer matches. Cahill has 4.55 points per game and Taylor 4.14 and while the bare facts suggest Cahill is a better target there are other considerations other than his six goals and three key contributions.

Remember that many of Cahill's goals and chances will have come from the boot of Arteta, meaning a major source of his points scoring has been removed. Will he be able to keep up that scoring record without Arteta? It is far from certain which means Taylor may be the better choice.

Granted, Everton's fixture list, like Bolton's, is positive. Their next three matches are against bottom half clubs but they will face back-to-back away games against Villa and Chelsea.

3. James Milner - Aston Villa - £6.6m

Though many managers may opt to bring in either Ashley Young or Gareth Barry, both of whom have scored more points than Milner, it is the former Leeds and Newcastle United midfielder who provides that chance to be a little bit different. Most managers will now have Young and if not it will be Barry. In Milner there is a player who has recently begun to start playing and scoring regularly.

With two goals in his last five Premier League games - and another three recent goals in the FA Cup - Milner could be the form choice. With 75 points he's presently the 16th best midfielder and has scored 31 points since Christmas.

The danger with Milner is the chance of Villa burn out as they battle on three fronts. And Villa have some tough games as they must still visit Liverpool and Manchester United plus entertain Everton with their poor home record.

4. Andrei Arshavin - Arsenal - £7.8m

Everyone saw at Euro 2008 what Arshavin is capable of, we just don't know if he's capable of doing it in the Premier League. He made his debut against Sunderland at the weekend but couldn't help to unlock the visitors' defence. Even so, he showed glimpses of what he may be capable of.

Without a pre-season under his belt there is clearly a large chunk of risk associated with signing the Russian. But he does play for one of the traditional big four with an attractive price tag.

Another positive is that he is ineligible for the Champions League, meaning he is likely to play most of the remaining Premier League games while others may be rotated in for European action. Arsenal must also still play their big four rivals with Chelsea visiting the Emirates and the Gunners travelling to Liverpool and Manchester United.

5. Morten Gamst Pedersen - Blackburn - £5.9m

One of the old powerhouses of fantasy football, Pedersen has suffered a bleak couple of seasons. Even though he was the 20th best midfielder last season that was still a come down for a traditional points magnet. This season has been worse as he languishes in 38th with 58 points.

Pedersen has two things going for him. Firstly, improved form of late has seen him far more involved in attacking positions even though he has not transformed that into fantasy points. But with Roque Santa Cruz back in the fold he could provide the ammunition for the Paraguayan to get among the goals. Secondly, at £5.9m, he is very cheap and should you be looking for a way to shoehorn Ronaldo into your team then Pedersen could act as the conduit.

With Rovers fighting for their lives - and if they stay up under Big Sam as expected - there should be fantasy points from Ewood Park. But Rovers do still have to travel to Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea plus they will be at home to Everton which certainly makes him the biggest risk from the shortlist of five.


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