Monday, 25 November 2013

Why Giroud’s stubborn performance against Southampton was key to victory

With Liverpool managing only a draw at Goodison Park in Saturday’s early kick-off, Arsenal had the chance to extend their lead to four points and stay top of the league for a seventh week running.

As was to be expected, Southampton gave a good account of themselves and made life tough for an Arsenal side looking to bounce back from defeat at Old Trafford but clearly disrupted by the effects of the international break. 

Fortunately for the Gunners, main man Olivier Giroud played only 78 minutes in two games for France, and came back unscathed to deliver what could turn out to be a hugely important performance both for the team, and himself.

Even with Theo Walcott now returning to the squad after injury, Arsenal have had to cope without the services of Walcott, Lukas Podolski and erYaya Sanogo, through one of the most testing periods of the season. 

With Niklas Bendtner making it abundantly clear time and time again he doesn’t want to be at the club, Olivier Giroud has had to step into the spotlight and carry the team on his own in recent weeks.

Despite not scoring in four games for his club before the weekend, an inevitably tired Giroud, with the pressure of 60,000 fans watching and expecting, put it yet another dogged shift against a Saints side whose defence had conceded just five goals in the 11 games prior to this one. 

The former Montpellier man finished with two deserved goals and with both summed up his attitude this season.

The Frenchman was integral to Arsenal’s pressing from the front as the chalkboard below shows and got his just rewards further up the pitch in the 22nd minute when he robbed the tackled Artur Boruc and poked into the empty net for his sixth premier league goal of the season. 

Giroud’s second goal – a penalty in the 86th minute – will seem as easy as his first, but it’s important to note how much pressure there was on that one kick. Miss and he could have given Southampton new life, score and Arsenal would stay top for the rest of November.  

However it’s not been all plain sailing for the 27 year-old. After waiting seven games for his first Premier League goalGiroud endured an inconsistent debut season in England as Arsene Wenger experimented with his front-line on several occasions. 

His second season looked set to be different after a haul of five goals in his first six matches (four in the Premier League),  once but again inconsistency crept in as he went three games without finding the net and has added just three league goals since mid-September.

That said, it’s been the striker’s overall performances that have raised the eyebrows of fans and pundits, as well as teammatesIt’s no surprise he’s been earning the praise of teammates like Jack Wilshere recently, with his contribution to the team effort clear to see. 

Against Southampton, Giroud himself won five aerial battles to help contribute to Arsenal’s phenomenal 88% success rate in the air, while he also made four clearances and recovered possession five times (including tackling Artur Boruc).

As Giroud has improved and become a more complete player over the past year, so too have the Gunners as a whole. 

According to the excellent 7amkickoff, this season has seen Arsenal take less shots per game than in 2012/13 (14 to 16) but also improve their conversion rate (up 3% on last season). 

Furthermore, while a centre forward won’t have much say on the defensive statistics, Giroud’s height when defending set pieces has been a major plus and certainly a contributing factor to the opposition now converting less of their shots into goals (just 7%).

Going back to Giroud’s goals, and – despite a couple of blips – he has already passed into double figures for the season and with only a two thirds of the season left, has more than half the total of 17 he finished the last campaign with.

Hopefully, with Walcott returning to the squad and Podolski now back in training, Giroud will feel some of the pressure lifted and may even get a rest once both are fully fit.

Even without Arsenal welcoming players back from the treatment room, Giroud will once again grow in self-belief after his match-winning display. 

He has every reason to be confident about the rest of the season, and confidence is one thing that a striker cannot have enough of.

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