Tomorrow morning, Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud will hit the back pages of the newspapers rather than the front. After a scandal involving his personal life, the Frenchman was recalled to the Arsenal team to face Sunderland. He responded with one his best displays of the season. Giroud’s outstanding performance demonstrated three key aspects of his game: improving finishing, hard work and intelligent team play.
Wenger in Giroud: "I had no hesitation about his strength of character. He did well." #AFCvSAFC— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) February 22, 2014
It only took him five minutes to open the scoring. Superb approach play ended with a characteristic Jack Wilshere burst into the area. Just as Wilshere was about to be dispossessed, he released a square pass to his right. Giroud was free to sidefoot a neat finish past former Arsenal goalkeeper Vito Mannone.
Giroud’s calmness in front of goal was indicative of his improving finishing ability. His brace in this game took his Premier League tally to 12—one more than he managed in the entirety of last season’s competition. Amid the criticism of his performances, his enormous improvement is often overlooked.
It was Giroud who got the second, too. The Frenchman is occasionally derided for his lack of pace; however, many great strikers have thrived without being explosively quick. Giroud is certainly no slower than former Gunner Robin van Persie. Perhaps a better comparison is someone like ex-Spurs and Manchester United forward, Teddy Sheringham. It was said Sheringham’s football intelligence compensated for his slow speed. For his second goal, Giroud displayed Sheringham-esque nous, anticipating a loose back-pass to latch onto the ball and slot in to the near post.
Not many players would have bothered to chase that ball. Giroud, however, is willing to sacrifice himself for the team. Pain is no problem for this warrior of a striker.
Then came Arsenal’s third. In this goal, Giroud showed what makes him so important to this Arsenal side. There may be strikers who are sharper finishers or faster runners, but there are few who are so effective with their back to goal. It’s not just that he has the strength to hold off his markers—that’s only half the battle. He is also blessed with a deft touch and wonderful vision. Not many traditional target men share Giroud’s creative instinct. Today he racked up his seventh Premier League assist of the season. Only Mesut Ozil, Luis Suarez, Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard have more.
The passing was already intricately woven before the ball reached Giroud. However, his outstanding flick with the outside of his boot to find Tomas Rosicky was arguably the the move’s finest moment. Rosicky matched the pass with an equally delicate finish to dink the ball over Mannone.
In the second half, Giroud’s good friend Laurent Koscielny added a fourth, before Sunderland grabbed a late consolation. However, Giroud was undoubtedly the day's redemptive hero.
Giroud might have hoped to grab his first Arsenal hat-trick, but a chance was not forthcoming. No matter: if he continues to play like he did today, he’ll get plenty more opportunities to take home the match ball.