Late Fitness Check - Week 18

Steve Rothgeb evaluates the Premier League schedule from now until the January window opens to determine which clubs are worth investing in

We have a great global audience and I'm sure that people reading this will be celebrating a variety of holidays this season. I hope everyone has a fantastic time celebrating with friends and loved ones...and then has the opportunity to watch or listen to the full program of Boxing Day matches in the Premier League. Coming so quickly on top of this past weekend's fixtures, there will undoubtedly be some rotation that will come as a surprise. Arsene Wenger practically announced that Mesut Ozil wouldn't be playing against West Ham when he said that the German was tired and needed a rest but "not against Chelsea". It doesn't take a genius to read between the lines and interpret that as meaning that the Hammers aren't quite as good as Chelsea and that Arsenal's chances of winning don't diminish greatly with, say, Santi Cazorla in that spot. With Manchester United playing modest competition in Hull City the chance of some rotation exists there as well (although what exactly constitutes "rotation" in David Moyes' unstable starting eleven is hard to say). Chelsea are also likely to ring in the changes against an injury-depleted Swansea side that have been struggling and are likely to do so again at Stamford Bridge regardless of which eleven Jose Mourinho decides on.

As you're digesting the analysis below, I recommend you read Nik's Player Picks and the latest Team News while you're sipping eggnog or whatever beverage goes with the holiday you're celebrating:

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West Ham United v Arsenal - Arsenal will be missing Jack Wilshere as he serves the second match of his two-match obscene gesture suspension. The status of Laurent Koscielny is also up in the air as he recovers from the literal and figurative gashing sustained at the Etihad. West Ham will get Kevin Nolan back which I guess is good (although it really hasn't been much help so far this season) but are still missing their best player at the back - Winston Reid - and their best/only forward - Andy Carroll. Rotation Speculation: See above for Arsenal and I'll add that I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Nacho Monreal come in for Keiran Gibbs at left back or Jenkinson come in for Sagna at right back (but probably not both). Theo Walcott is probably the best bet to start this one given his recent return to fitness.

Aston Villa v Crystal Palace - The big news here is that both center forwards - the in form Marouane Chamakh for Palace and the woefully out of form Christian Benteke for Villa - are likely to be missing. Chamakh is definitely out suspended while Benteke was given a rest in Week 17 in hopes that he will recover from the nagging knee injury that has seen his form dip dramatically from last season and early this season. Aston Villa will also be without Ashley Westwood, also serving a suspension, and (most likely) Ron Vlaar who is returning from injury but seems unlikely to be ready for Boxing Day. Minus Vlaar (again, most likely but not for sure), Villa's defense has been poor and anyone thinking that a visit by Crystal Palace looked like a nice opportunity for a clean sheet for Brad Guzan and Co would do well to think again. Rotation Speculation: None to speak of as both teams are relatively thin and need the points against fellow bottom-half clubs.

Cardiff City v Southampton - Craig Bellamy is as close as Cardiff's team news gets to being fantasy-relevant which is to say, Cardiff City's team news is not fantasy relevant in the slightest. The Saints, on the other hand, have so much news of the uncertain variety that it is hard to say what to make of it. Artur Boruc and Victor Wanyama are definitely out meaning that you probably don't want to bet on that Southampton clean sheet machine returning to the scene quite yet even with Cardiff City the opponent. After those two, Osvoldo, Clyne, Shaw, Davis, Fonte, and Yoshida are all uncertain. I'd stick to Lallana and/or Lambert and just let the rest go. Rotation Speculation: None of the relevant variety for Cardiff City and all injury-related for Southampton.

Chelsea v Swansea City - Swansea will be missing Michu, Michel Vorm and Nathan Dyer for sure which limits a) their ability to score or stop goals and b) doesn't give them too many options in positions that fantasy managers care about. Throw in the fact that they are traveling to Stamford Bridge and it seems like a good time to forget that Swansea players are available for fantasy selection. Chelsea, on the other hand, are likely to make a bunch of changes but, other than it being widely speculated that Ashley Cole will get his first start in ages, what exactly that means for the starting line-up isn't clear. Rotation Speculation: If someone forced me to bet on these sorts of things, I'd say that Oscar and Juan Mata will both get starts and maybe Andre Schurrle too. Any of them would be of interest from a fantasy point of view if you were confident enough that they'd actually be selected. If you can't tell, I'm glad no one is forcing me to bet on these sorts of things.

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Everton v Sunderland - The big news here is that Leighton Baines COULD be back. This means that fantasy managers who have Bryan Oviedo have a decision to make. The nightmare scenario is that you start Oviedo and spend money to have a quality bench player behind him and then Baines starts against Sunderland but only goes 70 minutes as he recovers his fitness and Oviedo comes in for a fairly unproductive 20 minutes and you end up with next to nothing to show for either him or the guy you spent money on for your bench. My recommendation would be to push Oviedo to the bench and bring a player more likely to start in ahead of him. There's a chance you might be upset about missing out on Oviedo's points if he does start against a bad team at home but you'll have less stress on Christmas Day and Boxing Day while waiting for line-ups to be announced. Rotation Speculation: Outside of the Baines/Oviedo question, there's not a great deal here worth discussing unless you're thinking of playing an Everton CB and you're worried Johnny Heitinga might get a start.

Hull City v Manchester United - Recent goal-scoring hero Danny Welbeck is a doubt as the result of a knock on the knee in the West Ham match. Welbeck returned to training so the risk of jumping on the England International's goal-scoring streak isn't huge but with so much rotation risk out there, even a little doubt is worth taking seriously. Outside of the Welbeck uncertainty, the only injury news focuses on players that we knew weren't going to feature - Robin van Persie, Marouane Fellaini, Michael Carrick and (most likely from all reports I've seen) Robby Brady. Rotation Speculation: Hull City aren't deep enough to rotate much and the United players likely to be rotated in (Ashley Young, Chicharito, and/or Shinji Kagawa) aren't really worth considering for fantasy purposes.

Manchester City v Liverpool - Joe Hart will be in net again but would you trust the City defense against high scoring Liverpool? No, me either. Steven Gerrard, Daniel Sturridge and Jose Enrique are all still missing for Liverpool with John Flanagan a slight doubt with a hamstring issue that caused him to be substituted early in Week 17. Aguero and Nastasic are both still missing for City along with Zabaleta and Richards. Zabaleta trained ahead of the match with Liverpool but given the critical nature of the match, Manuel Pelegrini will have to be fairly certain that the Argentine is ready to go if he is to start him. Rotation Speculation: No significant rotation is likely with this being a huge match for both sides. It does have great potential as a high-scoring affair so unlike most matches between top clubs, this one could be very worthy of your fantasy investment in players like Suarez (c) (like I needed to tell you that), Henderson, Silva, and Toure.

Newcastle v Stoke City - Not much news here worth mentioning for fantasy purposes. Rotation Speculation: Charlie Adam and Hatem Ben Arfa are both possibilities to get a start after scoring in Week 17 but I wouldn't go too far out of my way to get either one in my line-up for Week 18.

Norwich City v Fulham - The corpse of Dimitar Bervatov faces a late fitness check on Boxing Day. Given his performances thus far this season, I'm not sure they want to rush him back but such are the lack of attacking options until Clint Dempsey returns along with (presumably) other transfer options in January - hopefully of the under-30 variety. Rotation Speculation: Not too much else worth reporting other than that Gary Hooper has been on fire and Fulham are terrible. Not really rotation speculation but worth mentioning none-the-less .

Tottenham Hotspur v West Bromwich - Spurs will be missing Paulinho, Jan Vertonghen, Aaron Lennon, Andros Townsend, and the perpetually injured Younes Kaboul. Nice to have some certainty in the team news, isn't it? The Baggies will be missing Victor Anichebe but I'm not sure that anyone is likely to notice. Rotation Speculation: Hard to predict what Tim Sherwood will do after one Premier League match in the books but you can bet that Adebayor gets another start after his performance at the weekend.