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GUARDIAN – Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend | Toby Moses and Nick Miller

Olivier Giroud is crucial to Arsenal’s push for third despite his Monaco misses, while Robin van Persie’s absence for United could be a blessing in disguise and surely it is time Mark Noble received an England call-upNobody has ever claimed Olivier Giroud was a world-class striker. His is not a name one would mention alongside Sergio Agüero, Diego Costa or Luis Suárez. He is a rung below that – always has been, always will be – consistently scoring, but never likely to scorch his way through the division. And when you spend £13m on a striker it would be unfair to expect any more. The days of Arsène Wenger plucking a Thierry Henry from the doldrums and transforming him in to a world beater are long gone – and when he brought in Giroud to replace Robin van Persie in 2012 he acknowledged as much. The Frenchman did not arrive alone – Lukas Podolski also pitched up that summer, their combined fees about the same as the amount Manchester United paid for the Dutchman. Two strikers to replace one world-class departure. None of this is to excuse the series of woeful misses on Wednesday night which condemned Arsenal to one of their more humiliating Champions League defeats. Yes, the defence was poor, and the concession of the third goal having just clawed their way back into the tie was inexcusable, but had Giroud scored the hat-trick of chances presented to him then the match would have turned out rather differently. It was an unusual, and sad sight, to see the big striker lumber off after 60 mintues – it is not often Wenger replaces a player for a poor performance, even more unsual that early in a game. But what now? If Giroud does not lead the line against Everton on Sunday then who will? Podolski is out on loan (and how Arsenal could have done with someone with his finishing ability against Monaco), Joel Campbell and Yaya Sanogo likewise. Danny Welbeck has not convinced when leading the line, Theo Walcott looks short of confidence and fitness, and Alexis Sánchez seems knackered by the relentless season he has had. Arsenal’s form has undoubtedly improved since Giroud returned to the team – he provides a pivot around which the likes of Cazorla, Özil, Sánchez, Welbeck and Walcott can rotate – someone to bounce balls off of and make runs. If they are to keep their campaign for third on track (so as to qualify for next season’s Champions League and another last-16 exit) then Giroud will need to rediscover his confidence, and his scoring touch, very quickly indeed. Toby Moses Continue reading…

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GUARDIAN – Football in 2014: 10 memorable moments | Paul Wilson

Paul Wilson on the best, worst and most controversial moments in football this year • Robert Kitson on rugby union • William Fotheringham on cycling • Kevin Mitchell on tennis • Sean Ingle on athletics • Ewan Murray on golfIn my book it was the best goal of the World Cup, though I recognise there was strong competition from James Rodrguez and Tim Cahill, but in terms of being memorable it is already becoming part of indelible tournament folklore, to be replayed for as long as World Cups last. Not only was the goal improbable, in that it came from nowhere and demanded incredible co-ordination and execution from the scorer, it was significant. It put the skids under Spain for the first time in four tournaments. As with Van Persie’s Superman act, no one saw that coming. Continue reading…

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LIVER BIRD – United Put 3 Past Rodgers’ Reds

Liverpool fell to a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Manchester United on Sunday as the Reds had 19 shots but failed to convert a single chance. The first half saw the Reds play without a striker leaving a lot of fans questioning this selection. In the second half Mario Balotelli entered the fray only to see his efforts brilliantly stamped out by the goalkeeping of David De Gea.For me, I didn’t like the line up from the off. One thing I will credit Brendan for though is deciding to drop Mignolet and start Brad Jones. That was a brave decision from the manager and despite ultimately conceding three goals, I think Brad actually had a good game. I felt a lot more comfortable and less nervy with him between the sticks.I just don’t think you can risk playing without a striker. Yes, the likes of Lallana, Coutinho and Sterling are all skillful and attacking players but Brendan Rodgers is hiding behind the premise that this is a technically sound formation. Even some of the best teams in the world struggle to play without a striker, let alone a Liverpool side who are struggling to find the back of the net?! It was just a silly decision for me.Some early pressure from Manchester United quickly turned into a goal for the home side. A confident strike from Wayne Rooney in the centre of the box put United ahead after a pin point assist from Antonio Valencia. The frustrating bit for Liverpool was not necessarily the goal but the fact that Valencia had broke past Joe Allen on the wing as if he wasn’t even there. Allen had a poor game for me and to be honest if I’m fielding a player to protect our somewhat questionable defence it will always be Lucas in my book, Allen just couldn’t hack it unfortunately.The goal didn’t do much for the Reds’ confidence and to be honest, other than the odd burst from Raheem Sterling, Liverpool were seriously lacking in options. Sterling also disappointingly was off his game, some of his chances throughout the 90 minutes you have to feel he would of buried last season but it just wasn’t happening on Sunday.Another blow for Liverpool in the first half (depending on your level of preference for Glen) saw Johnson being replaced by Kolo Toure. Kolo however could not aid his defence when Manchester United found themselves a second goal shortly before the end of the first half.Adding insult to injury Juan Mata was actually offside when he converted his header for United. Robin van Persie admitted in a post match interview that he did get a touch on the ball, flicking it on to an offside Mata. I don’t usually get so worked up about these things but it was frustrating to concede in that manner because it could have been a different game if we reached half time just the one goal down.For the second half, Rodgers immediately brought on Mario Balotelli who replaced Adam Lallana. I’m the first to admit I wear rose tinted glasses when it comes to Mario but to be honest, any striker would have been better than nothing. The original formation was just not working, we needed something to aim for and whilst I don’t necessarily like Balo up front on his own it was better than having nobody there!He has his critics but I think Balo did pretty well in the second half and Liverpool looked a lot better creating more chances and forcing De Gea into action. For me his shot that De Gea tipped off the bar was the most agonising. It was a cracking save. Another point to note was Balotelli’s movement, I don’t know if it was because he was feeling more excited because it was Manchester United but his run for the last real chance of his was brilliant, he was again unlucky to watch his shot saved by the underside of De Gea’s knee.Despite Liverpool having a much better spell they still couldn’t find that all important goal and at 70 minutes Manchester United had sealed their three points. A dodgy defensive clearance from Dejan Lovren saw the ball splay directly to Robin van Persie who of course was never going to waste his chance, his effort put United 3-0 up.This was the annoying thing for me, on another day that Lovren attempted clearance goes far away from any United player and on another day Juan Mata is called offside. Rooney’s shot I take 100% but it’s bloody annoying to concede in such a manner as the other two goals. We probably wouldn’t have scored anyway but a game at 1-0 down is far more promising than 3-0 down.Attempts were created from Liverpool in the dying minutes but as is so familiar now the Reds just could not score. I had a feeling we would lose the game but I never expected us to concede three to be honest. With Bournemouth in the week and Arsenal up next this is a very tough time for Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers.I asked you for your thoughts on the game and here are a few of the tweets I received:@LFCKirstyLFC Our season in a nutshell, woeful defending, toothless attack, over-reliance on Sterling, no protection in midfield.— Jonathan Bradley (@jrpb1987) December 14, 2014@LFCKirstyLFC Sturridge would have scored a hat trick and won that game, Rodger’s first half tactics were spot on, just no execution— Tristan Fitzpatrick (@Tristan71) December 14, 2014 @LFCKirstyLFC played well. Comedy defending as usual, but unlucky not to score one or two.— Phil (@Phil_A01) December 14, 2014Next up for Liverpool is Bournemouth in the League Cup quarter final.Like “The Liver Bird” on Facebook – www.facebook.com/TheLiverBirdsBlog

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