Walcott injury sends Wenger, Arsenal searching for quick solutions at forward

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If Theo Walcott’s injury was Arsenal’s only health concern, the situation would be bad enough. But Olivier Giroud is also out. So is Nicklas Bendtner as well as a handful of other people beyond the forward line. Now, with only Lukas Podolski healthy among Arsenal’s normal forward options, the Premier League-leading Gunners are experiencing a textbook injury crisis at the striker position.

Short on options ahead of Monday’s visit to Villa Park, it’s understandable why Arsenal is seeking what The Guardian’s calling a “quick-fix” solution. But contrary to the more unbelievable rumors, that fix might not involve the likes of Atlético Madrid’s Diego Costa, Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema, Bayern Munich’s Mario Mandzukic or Manchester City’s Edin Dezko. (Seriously, why would some of these guys move in January anyway?) Wary of paying the inflated prices in the January window, Arsène Wenger is said to have instructed scouts to find a short-term solution – somebody that can help the club make it to June before redressing the position this summer.

[MORE: Theo Walcott will miss rest of season and World Cup]

That leaves somebody like Real Madrid’s Álvaro Morata. The 21-year-old has been near a goal-per-game scorer at youth levels for Spain, part of the reason Carlo Ancelotti wanted to keep him around the Santiago Bernabéu this season. Yet after the late August acquisition of Gareth Bale restored El Real’s attacking depth, Morata’s been limited to one La Liga start (though he has come on nine times as a substitute). In 14 all-competition appearances, the Madrid-born talent as two goals, with a lack of playing time limiting his production.

How much more playing time he’d get through June at Arsenal is an open question, but in the short-term, Morata would go to the top of the depth chart. When Olivier Giroud returns (and reportedly, he’s close) Morata would still often valuable cover for a player whose Champions League starts will prompt some rotation in February. As Arsenal’s season progresses, preserving Giroud’s minutes could be one of the many thin margins for error that defines this season’s Premier League title race.

[MORE: Theo Walcott just the first; roster of World Cup injury misfortune sure to grow]

The risk here is whether Morata will have an impact. At Real Madrid B and with Spain’s U-level teams, he’s produced, and via the eye test, he certainly looks like somebody who can contribute for most teams in the world …

… and during Arsenal’s injury crisis, the Gunners’ could be one of those teams. Yet Morata still represents more risk than going out and finding somebody with a more proven track record. Whereas Morata has more talent than most players Arsenal could acquire, it’s no given that talent will translate into Premier League goals.

Still, when you stop and consider the thin layer of proven options that would fit at Arsenal, Morata’s risk might be worthwhile. As players like Demba Ba and Andy Carroll have shown at clubs like Chelsea and Liverpool, some players can’t translate performance at one level to production on another. Add in Arsenal’s style of play and need to find somebody who can make an impact in Champions League and a title race, it may be better to roll the dice on potential than accept limitations.

Ultimately, this is only for six months. Acquiring another player — a more proven option from another team — would probably require a purchase as opposed to a loan. A short-term commitment allows Arsenal to dip back into the market in June without an ongoing financial commitment.

Thus, the argument for Morata. Or, a Morata-like player. At least, that’s the theory behind it. Whether Real Madrid cares about this line of thinking is another issue entirely.

STREAM LIVE: Liverpool host Crystal Palace at Anfield

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Liverpool welcome Crystal Palace to Anfield on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with Jurgen Klopp‘s men aiming to boost their top four hopes.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

With Arsenal and Manchester City playing in the FA Cup semifinal this game represents a good opportunity for Liverpool to extend their lead in the race for a top four finish but they have lost each of their last two home games against Palace in the PL. The Eagles need another big win after relegation rivals Hull and Swansea both won on Saturday.

In team news Liverpool look to be starting Wijnaldum out wide, while Palace have to reshuffled their defense with Mamadou Sakho unable to play against his parent club.

LINEUPS

Liverpool: Mignolet, Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Milner, Lucas, Can, Wijnaldum, Coutinho, Firmino, Origi. Subs: Karius, Gomez, Grujic, Moreno, Brewster, Woodburn, Alexander-Arnold

Crystal Palace: Hennessey; Ward, Kelly, Tomkins, Schlupp; Cabaye, Milivojevic; Townsend, Puncheon, Zaha; Benteke. Subs: Speroni, Van Aanholt, Delaney, Flamini, McArthur, Sako, Campbell

Burnley 0-2 Man United: Top four hopes alive

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  • United unbeaten in 23 PL games
  • Red Devils one point off top four
  • Martial, Rooney on target in first half
  • Burnley five points off bottom three

An injury-hit Manchester United beat Burnley 2-0 at Turf Moor on Sunday to keep their hopes of a top four finish well and truly alive.

First half goals from the excellent Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney did the damage as Jose Mourinho’s men go into Thursday’s Manchester derby against City just one point and one place behind their crosstown rivals.

With the win United move on to 63 points, while Burnley remain on 36 and are just five points above the relegation zone after another inept display in attack.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Early on United missed a massive chance as Anthony Martial’s surge into the box found Ander Herrera and he fed the ball to Rooney but he couldn’t trouble Tom Heaton from close range.

Marouane Fellaini then had a free header from a corner but nodded it down straight at Heaton who again saved from close range.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Rooney then sent a cross inches over the bar as United hit Burnley on the counter and that was to become a theme of the game. On the next counter Martial broke, played a one-two with Herrera and the Frenchman finished superbly to make it 1-0.

Before half time Ben Mee went close to getting on the end of Robbie Brady‘s free kick but then Rooney made it 2-0 as good build up play from Paul Pogba set in Martial and his shot deflected off Heaton and straight to Rooney who nudged the ball over the line.

Andre Gray then had a shot deflected wide as Burnley always looked dangerous from set pieces but United were clinical.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

In the second half United stayed solid and Pogba had a rasping drive pushed away by Heaton.

The home side failed to create any real clear cut chances with Michael Keane heading across goal but nobody was attacking the second ball.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Late on Marcus Rashford, on as a sub, raced clear and forced Heaton into a fine stop at his near post as United ran out comfortable winners but Pogba limping off in the 90th minute will leave Mourinho concerned about even more injuries to his squad.

Lazio’s Keita scores five-minute hat trick in rout

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Keita Balde Diao had himself a day on Sunday.

[ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule

Within five minutes he scored three times to put Lazio 5-0 up against Palermo in Serie A after Ciro Immobile had scored twice in two minutes to put them 2-0 up after just nine minutes at the Stadio Olimpico.

The Eagles scored with all five of their opening shots against Palermo to lead 5-0 after just 26 minutes.

Watch the video of Keita’s remarkable hat trick below as the Senegalese forward, like his team, is on fire.


Keita makes it 3-0 in 21st minute…

Keita makes it 4-0 in 24th minute…

Keita makes it 5-0 in 26th minute…

LIVE – Arsenal v. Man City in FA Cup semifinal

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Arsenal and Manchester City clash in an FA Cup semifinal on Sunday at Wembley which promises to be a case of all-out attack.

[ LIVE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

Arsene Wenger and Pep Guardiola met earlier this month with their teams drawing 2-2 at the Emirates Stadium in an end-to-end encounter.

The winner of this semifinal will play Chelsea in the FA Cup final on May 27 at Wembley after Antonio Conte‘s side beat Tottenham 4-2 on Saturday.

In team news Arsenal stick with the 3-4-2-1 formation they used at Middlesbrough with Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil off Olivier Giroud.

City line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Sergio Aguero up top and Leroy Sane, David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne off him.

Click on the link above to follow live coverage of what promises to be an entertaining semifinal, while here at Pro Soccer Talk we will have plenty more reaction and analysis after the game too.