'The Giroud goal' is what football's all about: a geometry-defying, logic-defying strike that will transcend the years
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.
“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.” 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 such is the nip and tuck nature of the top six clubs this campaign 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 the mascot ‘Harry the Hornet’ at Watford in his first game in charge on Boxing Day, here was another sting and one that left him searching for an answer as to how he can lift players so apparently bereft in confidence and hovering dangerously above the relegation places. Changes will be made with the January transfer window now open; that can be guaranteed – just as Allardyce did at Sunderland this time last year to save them.
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 win at Vicarage Road. 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, the spirits soaring, that fires the imagination. For Arsenal fans it was an ‘I was there moment’ on New Year’s Day; a geometry defying, logic defying PlayStation goal of the season. Giroud almost broke the internet. And it was up there, Wenger also said, among the top five goals Arsenal have scored during his goal-laden 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 then 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 hugely disappointing first-half for them when they simply 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 cross-bar on its way into the net with Wayne Hennessey helpless.
“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.”
Astonishingly it also came a few minutes after Giroud, who has polarised opinion throughout his Arsenal career and has remained on the margins this season, 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 just 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. It proved crucial. A goal then would have changed the dynamic, would maybe have diverted away from Giroud but instead it was Arsenal scoring with a header – 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. It is a mark of a good goalkeeper that he can be under-employed for vast swathes of a game only to come alive when there is danger and there was Cech – 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 with Giroud and that goal that will transcend the years. He made his mark. “It will be remembered,” Wenger said again. It certainly will.