16 February 2016

For whose about to doubt, we Giroud you: Giroud proves his worth once again...

Walcott. Welbeck. Čech. These are the players who will have garnered the headlines in Arsenal's dramatic, daring win over Leicester. Walcott and Welbeck, after all, arose, phoenix-like, from the ashes of their hobbled careers to score goals perhaps more-vital than any they'd score before. Čech delivered yet another performance worthy of his reputation, denying Leicester on several occasions and even finding time to punk Jamie Vardy as if to remind him of who's who. It was if Čech was saying to the penalty-earner, "you want to go to ground? Fine, I make you go to ground". Done. Dusted. However, the real hero of the match is one whose performance won't earn any marquee billings, consisting of so much donkey-work as it did: Olivier Giroud.

Typical of Giroud, his most-vital contributions don't include him directly.
In the early going, it did look like Giroud would be a hero. Five minutes in, Özil sent a free kick into the area. Giroud fought off Morgan well enough for Alexis to get a chance at goal. Giroud's work against Morgan and Huth would be one of the untold stories of the day, in fact.

It wasn't all battles in the trenches, though, as Giroud found other ways to make himself useful. His build-up play, always and underrated contribution, was at its best in the fifteenth minute when he made himself available for Özil who threaded a pass forward for Alexis only to see Schmeichel pull a full-Fabiański, clearing the ball 15 yards outside his area.

It wasn't just in the build-up that Giroud made his mark. He had a chance or two at scoring. In the 31st minute, he got in behind the defense to head home past Schmeichel only to adjudged offside (accurately, for those wondering). His tightly-angled header, though ruled out, would prove to be a harbinger of better things to come. Time and time again, he would grapple with Morgan and Huth to win a header in the area despite poor service, despite all manner of tugging and groping and who knows what else.

Just before halftime, of course, it all went off the rails as Vardy earned and buried that penalty. However, seizing a page from Leicester's playbook, Giroud earned an advantage of his own, getting dragged down by Danny Simpson who had been "flying into challenges" all day without reprimand. By the time he grabbed Giroud by the arm and pulled him down, it had become abundantly clear that his antics would not stand. When even Martin Atkinson sees fit to send you off, you should know you've crossed quite a few lines. Advantage: Arsenal. Credit: Giroud.

After a full hour of fighting his way past two if not three beefier players, Giroud finally found his way to glory. In the 70th minute, Bellerín sent in a cross. You can see Giroud anticipating what those enforcers will do, where the ball will go, and what he'll do with it: he fought his way through and headed the ball down into the path of the unmarked Theo Walcott, who coolly half-volleyed it home to equalise and send the momentum Arsenal's way. Why was Theo unmarked? Defenders were gathering around Giroud, leaving Theo alone. All he had to do was finish what Giroud had worked so hard to make possible, and he did it well. Game on.

For those short of memory, this would be Giroud's second vital assist in as many matches, the previous one coming against Bournemouth. In each instance, he knew exactly what he was doing; neither of these was a blind grapple in search of glory. How many strikers can fight through a thicket of thugs to offer such delivery? These assists don't earn him the plaudits that the scorers enjoy, and they're just the tip of the iceberg when considering Giroud's overall contributions.

In the 74th, Giroud went for a highlight-reel worthy full-volley from an Alexis cross only to see his shot hit Huth directly on the arm. The penalty appeal would go unheeded (even if it was hand to ball with Huth's arm outstretched). Still, Giroud's intent was unmistakeable.

In the 86th, Giroud reprised his heroic role, knocking down a ball in the box, this time for Welbeck to have at it only for Huth to disrupt proceedings just enough to make it easy for Schmeichel.

In the 87th minute, Giroud lashed it at goal only for Schmeichel to come up with one of the saves of the season. Whether his eyes were open is still an open question. Were it not for the otherworldly save of Schmeichel, we'd be hailing Giroud as the hero of the hour, if not the season.

And then—and then—just when it seemed all was lost and we'd limp away with just a point, we found all three. I won't make too much of it, but it's worth mentioning. When Mesut Özil sent in that final set-piece cross, around whom did the defenders gather? Need I even say it? Giroud. He was double-teamed, leaving Chambers and Welbeck alone to finish it off. There's no statistic to measure his contribution, but it seems clear that Leicester, desperately clinging to a draw and facing one last set-piece, had identified Giroud as the man to mark. Giroud earned that reputation, not just on this day but by virtue of his service on many other days.

He'll never be a van Persie or an Henry; he's certainly a far-cry better than Chamakh or Bendtner. However, few others who have come before him have dug as deep or delivered as often as he has. Is he world-class? Meh. Is he good enough? Maybe. Is he the best on offer? Yep. We could have spent four times what we spent on Giroud's transfer-fee (not to mention what we might have spent on weekly wages), but would we have enjoyed four times the return? I doubt it.