Monday, 28 January 2013

Olivier Giroud grows in confidence to lead Arsenal to win at Brighton - The Guardian

It was the comparison that always wounded Olivier Giroud. Robin van Persie left a void at Arsenal and was never going to be directly replaced, particularly by a forward whose own elite career had encompassed nothing more than two seasons at Montpellier prior to his arrival last summer. And yet, seven months into his career, the Frenchman is finding a niche and starting to forge his own reputation.

Giroud bullied Arsenal's passage into the FA Cup fifth round, stamping authority on an occasion when the visitors, out-passed at times, might otherwise have drifted towards elimination. His two goals swelled his season's total to 13, to go with the nine assists that have made him integral to the collective. Van Persie is more prolific but other comparisons are more helpful for the 26-year-old, and not merely that he is clearly no Marouane Chamakh.

Arsène Wenger has likened him to Alan Smith, such an integral member of George Graham's title-winning teams whose contribution should never go forgotten. Smith can appear an unsung hero but he registered at Anfield in 1989 and was the club's leading scorer for four successive seasons. Giroud can feel like a throwback. "He could have played 20 years ago in England, 10 years ago and today, because he has everything you need to play centre-forward," said Wenger. "He has physical presence. Usually we go more for mobile players who are just on the move but he gives us something different. When he gets in the fighting mode he is difficult to handle and he is quicker than people think. Without him up front today it would have been difficult."

There was finesse in his first goal, collecting Lukas Podolski's lay-off, clearing his feet and curling a sweet shot into the top corner. The second, his fourth in two games was set up by a delicious first touch before a half-volley finish, all the while holding off Adam El-Abd.

"I chose this championship because there is more intensity, more physicality, you have to be ready in an athletic way," said Giroud. "I like it but I like to play good football as well.

"I play better when I'm not angry but determined. When you don't have the hunger you can't play very well and succeed. You need it. We didn't start this game as we wanted to because we didn't put in good commitment and didn't really have enough determination. But we improved." That was largely down to his impact. The France international still has plenty to prove, primarily that he is no flat-track bully. He was certainly less effective against Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill the previous weekend and he still needs to hurt a contender. But, for a first campaign in English football, his impact has been encouraging.

This was no time for Brighton to lose their captain, Gordon Greer, who limped away early with his manager, Gus Poyet, left to laugh at the irony of a player who "never gets injured" hobbling off against Arsenal. Al-Abd is a Rottweiler of a centre-back but Giroud brushed him aside. "I knew he was strong but he was massive," said Poyet. "He put himself between ball and player and didn't lose too many challenges. It surprised me, perhaps because I'm not used to the Premier League."

The Uruguayan may have to become re-accustomed to top-flight quality soon. Brighton are a slick and free-flowing side overseen by an impressive manager and, even after the injuries, they stretched Arsenal. Their style has been consistent since promotion from the third tier and, with ambition expressed in signings such as Leonardo Ulloa from Almeria, they remain in contention to go up again. Liam Bridcutt is a tidy midfield distributor and their attacking forays are delivered at pace. If Ulloa can provide the bite they have lacked at times, they can flourish.

The Argentinian's debut was delayed while Brighton ensured any third party ownership issues were addressed but the diving header to Ashley Barnes' centre that provided the second equaliser boded well. "Leo should give us that power, that holding and strength we didn't have," added Poyet. "I know where we are and I am quite calm. It's unbelievable, the feeling in the dressing room. It's like we lost promotion. It'd be good to have that but we have to be realistic. If we maintain this level against Championship teams we have a great chance. It's in our hands."

Man of the match Olivier Giroud (Arsenal)

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