Firstly, an apology for a lack of blog after the West Brom win. I picked up a rather un-classy illness over Christmas so was unable to write anything after the game. Normal order has been restored though, and it comes with something extraordinary to write about.
Through a combination of the opposition and the injuries to Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain, Olivier Giroud finally got his opportunity to start a Premier League this season on Boxing Day, and he took it with a superb header to seal the win late on against West Brom. It was a goal no other player in the squad is likely to have scored in the way Giroud fought off the centre-back and headed the ball beyond the goalkeeper. But better was to come at the end of the week. Giroud isn’t just about strength as a big centre-forward. He has some subtle and, at times, sublime touches as well.
In the 17th minute against Crystal Palace on New Year’s Day, Lucas Perez intercepted a cross-field pass, allowing Hector Bellerin to find Giroud with his back-to-goal and in his own half. The Frenchman flicked the ball into the path of Granit Xhaka, who then released the pace of Iwobi and Alexis on the counter-attack. Iwobi fed the Chilean, who had Giroud thundering into the penalty area to complete the counter-attack. Alexis’ cross was slightly behind the Frenchman, but it only led to a more spectacular goal.
How Giroud finished it is hard to explain and do justice to it. Call it a scorpion kick, call it whatever. It was just instinctive brilliance. Giroud used all of his athleticism to hook the ball with his heel from behind him, planting the ball over the goalkeeper and in off the underside of the bar, instantly improving it as a goal.
It was a truly breathtaking moment that made you wonder if it had actually happened. The big screen replays in the stadium confirmed that it was real, and as much as we celebrated going 1-0 up, the fans rose to just applaud the magnificence of the goal. It was one of those rare moments where you have an overriding sense of privilege that you’d been able to witness such a special moment. Forget the opposition, forget the position in the league table, forget what competition that match was in. As a pure footballing moment, that goal was truly wonderful.
The unsurprising debate surfaced over whether Giroud’s effort was better than the similar goal scored by Mkhitaryan for Manchester United on Boxing Day, and while the Armenian’s goal was superb, what made Giroud’a extra special was that it came at the end of a sweeping counter-attack that had earlier been blessed by Giroud’s initial back-heeled flick. It was a brilliant team goal that was finished by a moment of indiviual inspiration.
There has been discussion about where the goal sits in the pantheon of great Arsenal goals. In the modern, social media era, it is easy to overhype goals that make great vines and go viral on Twitter, but this goal will stand the test of time as one of the best in the Premier League. Choosing a number one for Arsenal is nigh on impossible, but Giroud’s effort deserves to the be mentioned in the same breath as Bergkamp against Leicester and Newcastle, Henry against Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham, and Kanu against Chelsea.
Everything else in the game on Sunday was always going to be a slight disappointment after such a wonderous goal graced the game so early, but the 2-0 win was fully merited for Arsenal and contained plenty of positives. With Mesut Ozil unavailable through illness, Alex Iwobi shone playing in the number 10 role. He always plays with his head up and looks to play a forward pass, plus he can be a dangerous runner going forward to support the striker. It was a very mature performance from the youngster, and one he capped with a clever cushioned header over the goalkeeper to double the lead in the second half.
Alexis was his usual energetic self, while the full-backs got forward well and, on the whole, dealt with the threat posed by Crystal Palace’s two wingers; Zaha and Townsend. Gabriel quietly had an excellent game alongside Koscielny, while Petr Cech produced a few excellent saves when called upon.
But the other real stand-out performance came from Granit Xhaka in central midfield. His range of passing is exceptional, and he displayed the full repertoire on Sunday. Almost like an NFL quarter-back, Xhaka was able to thread some beautiful passes through the channels, particularly for Alexis Sanchez. Arsene Wenger often says it takes half a season for newcomers to the Premier League to get up to speed, and the Swiss international looks like he has completed his bedding-in period and is controlling games superbly.
But for all the other good performances, the game will only be remembered for one thing, the majestic moment from Olivier Giroud. The stupid schedule means that Arsenal have a day off and go straight into a big away game with Bournemouth on Tuesday, and it does leave little time to revel in that goal. So before the serious stuff gets going again on Tuesday night, go back to watching it.