ESPN – Robin van Persie not playing is helping Manchester United

The ESPN FC crew break down the tactical change for Juan Mata in Manchester United's formation against Liverpool. Having essentially won the Premier League title for Manchester United in his first season, before becoming largely anonymous in his second, there were huge hopes for Robin van Persie ahead of the 2014-15 season. Van Persie had just enjoyed a decent World Cup as captain for Louis van Gaal's Netherlands squad. He scored one of the best goals of the year against Spain, shortlisted for the Puskas Award, and his country ended the tournament on a high, beating the host nation, Brazil, in the third-place…

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…

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…