Monday 22 May 2017

Wenger hails artistry of 'Scorpion King' as Giroud stings Palace

Olivier Giroud – who scored a wonder-goal in the victory against Crystal Palace – in action against James Tompkins. Photo: Reuters / John Sibley
Olivier Giroud – who scored a wonder-goal in the victory against Crystal Palace – in action against James Tompkins. Photo: Reuters / John Sibley

Jason Burt

It was so good that Arsene Wenger even trademarked it afterwards. "The Giroud goal," the Arsenal manager stated in describing the extraordinary 'scorpion kick' that striker Olivier Giroud executed in this regal victory over Crystal Palace.

Arsenal 2 Crystal Palace 0

"He transformed that goal into art. Art because of the surprise, the beauty of the movement," Wenger eulogised. "It will be remembered as the Giroud goal that nobody will forget. Every striker will be remembered for one or two or three special goals. That will certainly remain with him forever."

Crystal Palace's James Tomkins and Joel Ward fail to stop Arsenal's Alex Iwobi scoring their second goal. Photo: Reuters / Stefan Wermuth
Crystal Palace's James Tomkins and Joel Ward fail to stop Arsenal's Alex Iwobi scoring their second goal. Photo: Reuters / Stefan Wermuth

There are 364 days to go in 2017 and it will be some strike that betters it this year. It certainly is the strongest contender, also, for goal of the season and the nip and tuck nature of the competition between the top six clubs this campaign is such that it came a little over a week after the previous best goal was scored - by Manchester United's Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

And that, too, was a scorpion kick. Whatever you can do...

For Sam Allardyce, the Palace manager, after the hoo-ha over of a mock dive by the 'Harry the Hornet' mascot at Watford in his first game in charge of the club on December 26, here was another sting and one that left him searching for an answer as to how he can lift players so apparently bereft of confidence and hovering dangerously above the relegation places.

Just as Allardyce did this time last year to keep Sunderland up, he will make changes now the transfer window is open; that can be guaranteed.

Arsenal's Olivier Giroud and Crystal Palace's James Tomkins battle for the ball. Photo credit: Adam Davy/PA Wire
Arsenal's Olivier Giroud and Crystal Palace's James Tomkins battle for the ball. Photo credit: Adam Davy/PA Wire

Arsenal's own belief will soar after this. Back-to-back victories and clean sheets, after back-to-back defeats have lifted them back into the top four - into third - having been temporarily dislodged prior to kick-off by Tottenham Hotspur's 4-1 win at Watford.

It is now Manchester City - along with United - who sit outside the Champions League places but no-one can confidently predict which way this is all going as they pull away and then begin to bunch.

Giroud, meanwhile, will dominate the headlines. His goal is what football is all about, what memories of the game are all about, what sends the pulse racing.

For Arsenal fans it was an 'I was there moment' on New Year's Day; a logic-defying PlayStation goal of the season. Giroud almost broke the internet.

Crystal Palace's goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey fails to save a goal from Arsenal's Alex Iwobi. Photo: AP Photo/Frank Augstein
Crystal Palace's goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey fails to save a goal from Arsenal's Alex Iwobi. Photo: AP Photo/Frank Augstein

And it was up there, Wenger said, among the top five goals Arsenal have scored during his two decades at the club - alongside strikes by Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp. Such is their peerless quality that those two players claimed two apiece in Wenger's five - with a nod also to Nwankwo Kanu. That is some company for Giroud to keep.

Is that taking his goal too far? In this social media, instant verdict, hyperbolic age there is always that danger but it will stand the test of time. The goal came from a sweeping counter-attack as Palace lost the ball outside the Arsenal penalty area on a rare foray forward in what was a disappointing first half for them when they appeared fearful.

Quickly the ball was ferried out wide left to Alexis Sanchez only for his cross to drop behind the onrushing Giroud who improvised acrobatically to deliver a back-heel volley with his left foot that was all the more dramatic and delicious because it thudded off the crossbar on its way into the net with Wayne Hennessey helpless.

Tellingly

"What is maybe not acknowledged enough by people, maybe by me too, is that Olivier scores important goals," Wenger added, tellingly, of the 30-year-old. "He scores at Manchester United with a special header, he scored against West Brom in the 86th minute. He scores goals that have a weight in the team's result.

"It was an exceptional goal at the end of a fantastic collective moment, which is what our game is about," Wenger said. "Olivier had a little reflex, and he transformed that goal into art. Art because of the surprise, because of the beauty of the movement, the efficiency of the move. The moment the ball went in, that will be remembered as the Giroud goal that nobody will forget. Every striker is remembered for one, two or three special goals, and that will be what he is remembered for. He brings the unexpected, and we all come to football to get the unexpected."

Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez in action. Photo: Reuters / John Sibley
Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez in action. Photo: Reuters / John Sibley

Astonishingly, it also came a few minutes after Giroud had perpetrated one of the misses of the campaign as he got his feet in an awful tangle in a clumsy attempt to turn home Nacho Monreal's volleyed cross from a couple of yards out.

Arsenal should have been out of sight by half-time with 20-year-old Alex Iwobi excelling in the 'number 10' role in the absence of Mesut Ozil, ruled out through illness, and Lucas Perez running hard down the right with Hennessey saving Palace just before the break as he kicked away Sanchez's close-range shot.

Palace needed something and it almost came when, finally, Christian Benteke had a cross to attack but his header drifted across goal and narrowly wide.

Dynamic

It proved crucial. A goal then would have changed the dynamic, would maybe have diverted away from Giroud but instead Arsenal scored through a powerful, clever header from Iwobi, who met the ball as it dropped back into the area from Scott Dann's skied clearance. Joel Ward tried to clear off the goal-line but the ball bounced in off the bar.

It seemed game over and Petr Cech made sure it was. Firstly he pushed away Benteke's towering header, then recovered well to claw out Yohan Cabaye's volley before parrying an Andros Townsend shot.

It meant there would be no way back for Palace and it was then only a case of whether Arsenal could add to their tally. Substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came closest with Hennessey doing well to turn away his precise shot in injury-time.

It also meant the attention would, rightly, stay firmly on Giroud and that goal that will survive the test of time. He made his mark.

"It will be remembered," Wenger said again.

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