Turning around the classic striker argument, and considering two failing MLS men

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The classic striker argument starts like this: “All he does is score goals.”

The nuts and bolts behind this little ditty of a debate is about whether a striker should do more than bury his share of chances? Should he hold up balls to help get teammates forward? Should he be creating as well as burying? Should be harass defenders and work the passing lanes dutifully when not in possession? Should he fight for second balls?

So, yeah, that kind of stuff. How much of all that should a striker do while he reliably finishes at reasonable rates?

The classic center piece of this debate was once Gerd Muller, the German hitman who poached and poked his way into the record book in the 1970s.

Closer to home (and more present day) it’s Alvaro Saborio, who has struck 43 goals in 83 matches for Real Salt Lake. Any rate above .5 goals a game is pretty much All-Star stuff. And yet, there are lots of fans around Rio Tinto who don’t like his game. Because, you know, “all he does is score goals.”

But what if we turn the striker argument around? We hear less of this argument than maybe we should – mostly because the guys don’t tend to stick around.

“What about the strikers who bust their bust their goal-getting keesters, who chase, harass, hold up and set up, doing it all at inspirational levels – but who just don’t freakin’ score enough?”

Yes, what about them?

Here are two great MLS examples. (Stop me if you’ve heard all this before. Because if you read this blog, you darn sure have heard me rant about these two. Fine gentlemen, I’m sure. But …)

D.C. United has its Lionard Pajoy problem. Pajoy is a striker with nine goals in 37 MLS matches. If that is your starting striker, don’t blame me when you only score just twice in five games. That’s where D.C. United is today.

Yes, playmaker and offensive engine Dwayne De Rosario has appeared in just two matches this year, and Chris Pontius cannot get the hand brake released. Still … nine goals in 37 MLS matches? That’s less than one goal every four matches. At some point, that big work rate just isn’t enough.

Then there’s Chicago’s Dutch striker Sherjill MacDonald (pictured above). He would love to have Pajoy’s “high scoring rate,” darn near prodigious by comparison. Chicago’s starting striker has four goals in 19 MLS matches, just a little better than a goal every fifth match. The only possible argument in MacDonald favor here is that the sample of matches (yukky as the numbers look) isn’t big just yet. Said another way, MacDonald hasn’t stunk for as long as Pajoy.

Clubs need to be strong all over the field. They need to be strong in goal and at center back. They need something creative or something big on the wings through which to funnel the attack. But they also require a man with a nose for goal and the skill to do something about it.

Chicago and United are in 8th and 9th places in the East. That’s nowhere close to where anyone believed these two clubs – both picked to contend for the Eastern Conference crown – would be. Their inability to identify a starting striker in the off-season, and their ongoing stubbornness is sticking with these guys is a big reason.

“Emotional” Mertesacker: Send Wenger off “with a cup”

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Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker has made 220 appearances for the club, all with one man in charge of the Gunners: Arsene Wenger.

[ MORE: The latest Arsene Wenger news ]

Mertesacker has won three FA Cups with Wenger, and he took up his pen — or laptop — for Sunday’s Matchday program.

The 33-year-old German says it’s down to Arsenal’s players to send off Wenger right: With two more successful rounds in the UEFA Europa League against Atletico Madrid and either Red Bull Salzburg or Marseille. From the BBC:

“We were only informed on Friday about the manager’s decision to step down at the end of the season, so it’s still quite emotional,” Mertesacker said.

“He’s been the major figure of this club for more than 20 years. He’s been so impressive for me and he has trusted me so much throughout my career, in bringing me here and making me captain even when I was injured. He also gave me a future role here at the club so I am very grateful and humbled for the opportunity he gave to me.

“There’s now an emphasis on us doing it for him too. We want to give him the send-off he deserves: with a cup.”

The French legend to end his time at Arsenal against Marseille would be delightful, don’t you think?

Watch Live: Arsenal-West Ham, Stoke-Burnley

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The Premier League has a pair of 8:30 a.m. ET Sunday kickoffs for us this morning, including one of Arsene Wenger‘s final matches at Arsenal.

There’s a London Derby between Arsenal and West Ham United at the Emirates Stadium, as the Gunners look to stay fresh for Atletico Madrid and the Hammers aim to firm up their Premier League status for next season (Watch live at 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

LINEUPS

Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal, Elneny, Xhaka, Ramsey, Iwobi, Welbeck, Lacazette. Subs: Macey, Mertesacker, Holding, Chambers, Maitland-Niles, Nelson. Aubameyang.

West Ham United: Hart, Zabaleta, Ogbonna, Rice, Cresswell, Masuaku, Kouyate, Noble, Fernandes, Mario, Arnautovic. Subs: Adrian, Cullen, Evra, Lanzini, Hugill, Carroll, Chicharito.


Stoke City’s climb out of the relegation zone will have to overcome Burnley’s desires for a Top Six place, as the Clarets can pass sixth place Arsenal with a win and a Gunners loss to West Ham (Watch live at 8:30 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

LINEUPS

Stoke City: Butland; Johnson, Shawcross, M.Indi, Pieters; Bauer, Allen, Badou, Shaqiri; Crouch, Diouf. Subs: Haugaard, Zouma, Ireland, Cameron, Fletcher, Ramadan, Campbell.

Burnley: Pope, Lowton, Long, Tarkowski, Ward, Lennon, Cork, Westwood, Gudmundsson, Wood, Barnes. Subs: Heaton, Taylor, Marney, Vokes, Hendrick, Walters, Bardsley.

Ligue 1: Depay’s goal streak hits 5 games; Lyon reeling in Monaco

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MONACO (AP) Lyon won at Dijon 5-2 and moved within one point of second-place Monaco in the French league on Friday.

Lyon’s sixth straight league win kept them level on points with fourth-place Marseille.

The team finishing second qualifies automatically for next season’s Champions League, while the team in third goes into the playoffs. After this weekend, there will be four rounds remaining.

Memphis Depay has scored or created 12 of Lyon’s 16 last goals.

The Netherlands forward opened the scoring in the fourth minute with a close-range volley, and set up the fourth goal for winger Bertrand Traore in the 77th.

Depay almost scored another, just failing to reach right back Rafael‘s cross in the 50th. Midfielder Houssem Aouar followed up and his strike was turned into his own net by defender Valentin Rosier.

Lyon’s other goals came from forwards Nabil Fekir in the 53rd and Maxwell Cornet in the 82nd.


MONACO (AP) — After losing the French title last weekend, Monaco is in danger of throwing away second place after losing at Guingamp 3-1 on Saturday.

The defeat leaves Monaco just one point ahead of Lyon and Marseille as the three sides chase an automatic place in the Champions League with four games left.

Monaco was thrashed by champion Paris Saint-Germain 7-1 last Sunday and the defense leaked easily again, albeit with a little help from one of its defenders.

A makeshift Monaco fell behind midway through the first half after Brazilian defender Jemerson was given a red card for stopping a shot on the line. He was sent off and veteran forward Jimmy Briand netted from the penalty spot for mid-table Guingamp.

Monaco capitulated and trailed 3-0 after 47 minutes. Defender Almamy Toure replied in vain with a consolation goal midway through the second half.


Marseille crushed Lille 5-1 to join Lyon on 69 points. Lyon, which won at Dijon 5-2 on Friday for a sixth straight win, has a better goal difference.

Marseille also has the Europa League and plays the first leg of its semifinal at home to Austrian side Salzburg next Thursday. But Lyon has only Ligue 1 to think about.

Still, Marseille is also brimming with confidence these days, especially winger Florian Thauvin.

He scored twice against Lille to extend his career-best league tally to 19. Greece striker Kostas Mitroglou also netted twice, and forward Lucas Ocampos completed the rout against 19th-place Lille.

In other matches: Amiens won against Strasbourg 3-1; struggling Toulouse beat Angers 2-0, and last-place Metz drew at home to Caen 1-1.

PSG is at Bordeaux on Sunday. Also, Nice is at home to Montpellier, and Saint-Etienne takes on Troyes.

UEFA says Europa League trophy not damaged after being stolen

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NYON, Switzerland (AP) UEFA says the Europa League trophy was not damaged after being stolen in Mexico.

The silverware was at a promotional event in the central city of Leon when it was reported by authorities to have been taken from a vehicle.

The theft came ahead of the semifinals of Europe’s second-tier club competition.

UEFA says the “Europa League trophy was in Mexico for a partner event and got briefly stolen. It was quickly recovered and has suffered no damages.”

In the semifinal first legs next week, Arsenal plays Atletico Madrid and Marseille takes on Salzburg.