Monday, 5 May 2014

Has this Frenchman rediscovered enough form to cement Cup Final starting spot?


By Joss Bennett

It’s been obvious to everyone now for two years – since Robin van Persie was sold to old enemy Manchester United – that Arsenal must buy a striker, at least as back-up to first and only choice Olivier Giroud.

In 2012, Arséne Wenger perhaps believed that, unlike Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song – to name but a few – he could really convince Van Persie to stay.

Santi Cazorla was brought in to provide the creativity missing since the departure of Fabregas, Podolski was brought in to replace the goals of Nasri, and Olivier Giroud was brought in for less than £10 million from Ligue 1 champions Montpellier to provide cover for the perennially injured Dutchman.

Unfortunately for Wenger, it wasn’t to be and Van Persie, like those before him, chose pastures new.

Arsenal were stuck with a striker who had never scored 25 goals in a season and a winger who despite his record, failed to make the grade at Bayern Munich, his only previous big club.

So followed another year of disappointment and in summer 2013, the Professor looked to make up for his error of judgement the year before. Wenger courted, and bid for Gonzalo Higuaín and Luís Suarez but ended summer with only 20-year-old Yaya Sanogo to bolster the attacking line and so followed more justified grumbles from the stands.

However, since curling an effort wide 17 minutes into his Premier League debut, Olivier Giroud has steadily improved. For the first 10 games of the season, the Frenchman looked a different player to the one who arrived in 2012 as he contributed six goals and two assists in all competitions as Arsenal set the early pace in the Premier League.

Since then, his form has steadily dipped to the same level we saw in his first season. Of particular note have been the former Montpellier man’s performances against the traditional ‘top four’, when he has been made to look weak by experienced defenders.

But Giroud may have re-found his early season form at just the right time. With three goals in his last four games, it’s clear that Giroud’s failings this season should not be attributed solely to him.

The return of Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey to the set-up after lengthy injuries has proved critical as Arsenal once again scrambled over the Premier League finishing line in fourth place. But apart from their own individual contributions – two goals and three assists between them in their last three games – Arsenal’s two midfield catalysts have brought the best out of Giroud again.

With the pressure taken off Giroud and now shared between three or four players, the French striker is not only finding the net again but also looks more confident, determined and hardworking.

Against West Brom, the Gunners’ pressing – keen to make sure slowness and complacency didn’t kick in - was as good as it has been for a long time. Led by Giroud, who forced four turn-overs, Arsenal won the ball back in the West Brom half time and time again, not only breaking down the away side’s attacks but starting their own much closer to goal.

Yaya Sanogo has started the last three FA Cup games for Arsenal, but with the return of Ozil and Ramsey to the team, and with them the return of Olivier Giroud’s form and confidence, the youngster may well have to miss out from the start against Hull.

Beyond that, there is no doubt that another striker is needed. But as Giroud enjoys his best season in England so far; just three goals short of reaching the 25 mark for the first time in all club competitions, recent quotes from Wenger suggest that he still believes in his compatriot’s ability to lead the line for Arsenal so long as there is someone to fill in – in his place or alongside him – when the going gets tough.  

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