Monday, 19 May 2014

Wenger can improve £12m front man and make him an Arsenal hero

By Joss Bennett

Four minutes into the first half of extra time - Olivier Giroud hangs in the air above Curtis Davies and thumps a header back across the goal, past the hapless Alan McGregor, but back off the face of the crossbar and the wait goes on.

Giroud could have been forgiven for joining thousands of fans watching on in thinking it just wasn't going to be his, or Arsenal’s, day.

The much maligned 27-year-old had already been denied what looked like a clear penalty at the start of the second half, and seen a well-hit volley pushed away to safety by McGregor with just eight minutes to go and was perhaps lucky in the first place not to have been hauled off by the manager when Yaya Sanogo came on.

But the Frenchman did stay on, and went on to play a significant part in both of Arsenal’s goals thereafter.

First, Giroud's cross was controversially turned behind by Sanogo for an Arsenal corner which a third Frenchman eventually turned home, and then the former Montpellier target-man's neat back-heel was fired in by Aaron Ramsey to end Arsenal's trophy drought.

With the Gunners eventually lifting the trophy, Giroud's performance was whittled down to two (or perhaps only one) moments, and not on the other 118 minutes of his game.

Unfortunately, what doesn't seem to have been mentioned is the striker's superb work-rate as he ran himself into the ground hustling Hull City's back five and helped mount the pressure as Arsenal gradually seized control of the game.

As Arséne Wenger introduced Yaya Sanogo in place of Lukas Podolski, Giroud's reward was two-fold. Arsenal's only real first team striker was spared the disappointment of missing out on the rest of the final, and instead forged an interesting – and effective – partnership with his junior.

The 21-year-old substitute undoubtedly changed the game, if only because his fresh legs were a welcome introduction at just the right time, and his combination of power and pace helped ease the pressure on Olivier Giroud.

With half an hour left, the manager changed to 4-4-2 and – but for poor finishing and evidence of Sanogo's raw talent – may well have seen his gamble directly pay off in the 90 minutes.

Immediately, Giroud linked well with the former Auxerre youngster whose poor first touch ended a decent move.

Eight minutes before time, Sanogo's barraging presence on the edge of the box allowed the ball to fall kindly for Giroud – this time a fine save from McGregor was the only thing stopping the partnership finding the net.

And eight minutes after that – the last action of normal time – the two switched roles, as Giroud's clever touch set up the substitute who again was let down only by a scuffed finish.

Finally, Giroud got his third reward.

With 12 minutes to go before penalties; the ball is worked neatly towards the Hull City box between Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere as the latter plays it into the feet of Sanogo who holds it up long enough for Giroud to find a yard of space and find the perfect backheel compliment to Ramsey’s volleyed finish.

Arséne Wenger has put a lot of faith in his lone frontman this season, and at the end of a season of highs and lows for both Giroud and the club as a whole, it has never been more obvious that all the French striker needs is a little help.

If, as touted, Wenger goes into the market for a striker – whether first or second choice – this summer, expect Giroud to improve again, and to flourish as he has threatened to do at time this season.

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