Late winners are great, even more so when they’re in a potentially title deciding match. At 1-1, Arsenal were going to finish Sunday’s game five points behind Leicester and the Foxes confidence would have rocketed knowing that they held the north London side to a draw even with 10 men away from home. Arsenal’s title chances would have become very slim.
However, Danny Welbeck scored the winner for Arsenal and in the process shattered the hearts of Leicester, reduced the difference of points between the two sides down to just two, and gave the Gunners a much needed confidence boost. His heroics deservedly received all the headlines.
However, Arsenal’s other striker, Olivier Giroud, had an absolutely fantastic game for the north London side. The Frenchman didn’t get a goal but fought as hard as he could for the Gunners.
Before the game, there was a big question mark over whether Arsene Wenger would change the lineup and play Theo Walcott up front instead. The Englishman had been in poor form, but Robert Huth and Wes Morgan had been doing ever so well physically, it seemed that maybe Walcott, even in his poor form, could cause more trouble with his pace instead of having Giroud solely up front in a physical battle against the Leicester duo. Nevertheless, Arsene Wenger chose to keep his faith in Giroud and gave him the nod.
It didn’t take long for the 29-year-old to have an impact on the game. In the fifth minute, Mesut Ozil delivered a rather poor free kick into the edge of the box, but Giroud managed to keep Morgan away from the ball and laid into the path of Alexis Sanchez. A few minutes later, Giroud beat the same Leicester defender to a header after an Arsenal throw in. Both incidents were a sign of what was to come and he continued to do this for the remainder of the match.
In the 32nd minute, he came close to scoring through a beautifully lofted cross from Ozil. He had Kasper Schmeichel beaten with a brilliant, improvised header, but the goal was (rightfully) ruled offside. Giroud, however, was unwilling to give up his fight and kept working hard.
His hard work paid off for him in the 70th minute, as Hector Bellerin crossed the ball into the box and the Frenchman evaded both Morgan and Huth to head the ball into the path of Walcott for Arsenal’s equaliser. Given the poor goal scoring form of the north London side in general, the importance of that goal, especially in a game like this, cannot be overstated.
Twitter: What an assist by Giroud for Walcotts goal….#cushioned (@rioferdy5)
That would be his second assist in as many games, with his previous one leading to Arsenal’s first goal against Bournemouth. The Frenchman had headed the ball into the path of Ozil, who scored Arsenal’s first Premier League goal after 338 goalless minutes.
The 29-year-old nearly found the back of the net himself in the 88th minute against Leicester but was denied by an excellent save from Kasper Schmeichel, and unfortunately, that remained his best chance to score during the game.
Giroud failed to get his name on the scoresheet but he finished the game with 20 aerial challenges, winning 13 of them despite some poor deliveries. (To put that into perspective, the next best was Huth with five aerial challenges won.)
He also finished with 32 successful passes, including four key passes and the vital assist, three crosses, and even two successful tackles… in Arsenal’s own box!
The game was an epitome of how vital Giroud is to this Arsenal side even when he doesn’t score, due to his all round performances. There was talk of how perhaps the Frenchman is hitting a slump in form before the game, but despite the lack of goals, Giroud has shown that he is still performing well.
In a world where the money spent by football teams increases by the minute, where a striker like Jackson Martinez gets bought for €42m after an underwhelming stay in Spain, Giroud’s price tag of £9.6m seems a bargain. He’ll never be the quickest footballer or the next Thierry Henry, but Giroud has proven to be a very good player for Arsenal.
Both his hold up play and aerial ability are among the best in the world, his goal-scoring record is far from poor, he fights and gives his all in just about every game for Arsenal, and thus is pivotal even when his shooting boots are off. He has also been a true professional; always backing his teammates and trying to come back stronger when he gets benched.
Perhaps it’s time that a lot of Giroud’s critics stopped focusing on what he lacks, and instead start to appreciate what he gives to the team.