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Arsenal 2-1 Everton: Olivier Giroud impresses on return to the side
Last Updated: 27/10/15 10:33am
Olivier Giroud made his case for a regular starting spot in Arsenal's 2-1 win over Everton, writes Nick Wright...
From losing his place to Theo Walcott to being booed by France supporters on international duty, Olivier Giroud has been through a lot this season. But just four days after his crucial goal helped down Bayern Munich in the Champions League, the striker capped a rapid return to form with a man-of-the-match display against Everton.
This was Giroud's first Premier League start since Arsenal's goalless draw with Liverpool in August. With Theo Walcott impressing in his place, the Frenchman knew he had to take his chance - and he did it in impressive style.
His deft headed finish from Mesut Ozil's cross was his fifth goal in just 444 minutes of Premier League action. And for all his detractors, his strike rate is now the best in the division, putting him ahead of the likes of Jamie Vardy, Sergio Aguero and team-mate Alexis Sanchez.
The goal wasn't the only thing to like about his performance, either. "I thought today he was the perfect No 9," said Jamie Redknapp in the Sky Sports studio. "The way he worked was brilliant," added Thierry Henry.
While Walcott runs beyond defenders and stretches the opposition in ways that Giroud can't, the Frenchman served up a reminder of the different qualities he brings to the table against Roberto Martinez's side.
Giroud was a constant threat. His aerial presence unsettled Everton right from the start, with an almighty leap to meet a Santi Cazorla corner in the eighth minute signalling what was to come. John Stones and Phil Jagielka will not remember the evening fondly. Giroud came out on top in the physical battle emphatically, winning more aerial duels (four) than anyone else on the pitch.
And it wasn't just his aerial prowess that set him apart. Henry is a man who knows a thing or two about leading the line for Arsenal, and he was impressed by various aspects of Giroud's performance. "He held the ball well," he said. "He always tried to link up with players and be available. I liked his overall play and how he fought for his team-mates."
Giroud's ability to hold off defenders and bring long passes under control shone through against Everton, and his link-up play with the likes of Ozil and Santi Cazorla was also excellent. Twenty-eight of the 33 passes he attempted found a team-mate, and he also created two scoring opportunities.
He could have scored more himself, too. He showed finesse with a curling effort which bounced back off the crossbar, and he engineered another opportunity by exchanging headers with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain before he was denied by Tim Howard. It was also interesting to note that he had 10 touches in the opposition box, more than Walcott in his last two starts combined.
"He almost looks like he's enjoying his football more," noted Redknapp. "I thought he was absolutely faultless today, exactly when they needed him most. Sanchez wasn't on form, Oxlade-Chamberlain struggled, so they really needed him to come up with something today and he was brilliant."
Giroud certainly looked like a man with a point to prove. He completed more tackles (four) than any of his team-mates, and his work rate was impressive, with Premier League tracking data showing he made 75 high-intensity sprints, nine more than any other player.
Giroud has been Arsenal's undisputed first-choice striker for long spells in recent seasons, but Henry feels competition from Walcott is pushing him to improve. "Before, Arsenal didn't have another option, and that's what they've got now with Theo Walcott," he said.
"Now they have two weapons, they have two options, so it's different. When Giroud sees Theo perform, he thinks he has to perform and vice-versa. The pressure is on not only Olivier - it's on Olivier and Theo."
Giroud added: "I have a different profile to Theo but we have a good understanding. Before he was in good form, now it's me." Giroud has given Arsene Wenger plenty to think about, but with Arsenal top of the Premier League for the first time in 20 months, it's a selection headache he'll welcome.