It wasn’t a classic Boxing Day performance by Arsenal, but they got over the line and are still in the title race. With a win and a clean sheet – but not a convincing performance – there are questions to be asked before Arsene’s team can embark on a points haul – and they mainly revolve around Arsenal’s number 12.
The visit of West Brom on Boxing day was a winnable game, but also a must win game for Arsene Wenger after disappointing results lead to Chelsea opening up a nine-point gap between themselves and Arsenal. The calls for Wenger to leave would have become earsplitting if Arsenal had followed up consecutive defeats against Manchester City and Everton with anything else other than three much-needed points. For eighty-six minutes it looked like the Tony Pulis game-plan was going to succeed in frustrating The Gunners, as they were limited to a few chances that Baggies Goalkeeper Ben Foster was equal to. In the end, it took a player who has been on the periphery of the team for much of the season to get on the end of Mesut Ozil’s cross and put the ball in the net to allow Arsenal fans to feel good for the last game of 2016.
For Olivier Giroud, the goal justified his managers’ faith in him by presenting the player with his first Premier League start of the season – which could be the catalyst for a run of starts and goals for the thirty-year-old Frenchman. He looked sharp against a notoriously defensive West Brom side and both Giroud and Alexis Sanchez were unlucky not to be on the scoresheet earlier in the game. With a good performance and a goal, the manager will need to consider if now is the time for a tactical switch to welcome Giroud back into the first eleven. With the team about to embark on a run of games against teams in the bottom half of the table, January represents a great opportunity to pick up more points and apply pressure to the leaders. Nothing is predictable as an Arsenal fan and for those that put some cash on the games, it’s prudent to click here for live betting so you can first evaluate which Arsenal team has turned up to play; the team that is capable of both thrashing weaker sides and grinding out a win when necessary or the team that capitulates so easily once the opposition start to show some fight.
With crucial goals in the Champions League and against Manchester United plus West Brom in the Premier League, Giroud hasn’t been forgotten by the fans, but clearly doesn’t fit into Wenger’s ideal eleven and has become a plan B. For a player who scored sixteen Premier League goals last season it is unlikely that he will be happy at being viewed as a last resort to turn to when the chips are down. There is no doubt that he gives Arsenal something different as he’s a player that likes a tackle, will fight for the ball, win aerial duels and offer layoffs for others to attack. His latest goal was all about determination and fight to get his head to the ball before the defender . With Arsenal often being accused of lacking fight, it’s that kind of attitude that can become infectious and win football matches. The trouble for Giroud is simply that Sanchez is too good and can’t be moved to the flanks to make way for the Frenchman. With Sanchez deployed through the centre, Arsenal have looked unstoppable at times, just ask West Ham!
For Wenger, it is now a question of managing game time to ensure that Giroud is happy and prepared to come on and contribute when called upon and that Sanchez doesn’t burn out. There’s still lots of football to play and players like Giroud, Lucas Perez and the returning Danny Welbeck will get modest amounts of game time, but will need to produce some magic if Arsenal are to catch Chelsea and make it a special 2017.