Saturday 18 January 2020

Wenger: Olivier Giroud can solve our goal 'crisis'

Everton 2 Arsenal 2

Everton's Sylvain Distin and Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez during the match.
Everton's Sylvain Distin and Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez during the match.
Everton's Seamus Coleman scores a goal against Arsenal
Everton's James McCarthy challenges Arsenal's Jack Wilshere

Chris Bascombe

There was a moment in the second half at Goodison Park when it seemed that Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud had been infused with the spirit of Duncan Ferguson.

A second-half substitute with his side two down to Everton, the French striker's introduction was signalled with a purposeful on-field warm-up, before he removed his tracksuit jacket with the menace of a WWF wrestler who had just been issued the most provocative of challenges. What followed was a transformation courtesy of Arsenal's 'mighty quiff'.

In the search for compelling evidence of a new, less fragile Arsenal, this was a most reassuring sight for Arsene Wenger.

Although the scoreline suggests the revival began with Aaron Ramsey halving the deficit on 83 minutes and ended with the French striker's injury-time equaliser, the momentum shift was evident once Giroud started closing down Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin like a man rattled by the revival of the 'Arsenal need a new striker' festival held every August bank holiday.

It was a second-half performance of physicality and aggressive intent rather than graceful football that earned the point.

There is always so much to enchant when Arsenal are in one-touch football mode, but too often they are flawed without the ball.

There was a phase of play in the first half when Everton retained possession for three minutes, Jagielka, Distin and the outstanding James McCarthy exchanging passes while the Arsenal midfield observed.

Wenger threw his arms to his side in incredulity at the lack of urgency.

Scurrying

Giroud, scurrying, hassling and pressing from the front, was the catalyst for the home side's increased discomfort in the second half, his headed equaliser a reward for a performance that makes a mockery of claims that Arsenal are bereft of a nuisance in attack.

It was put to Wenger (pictured) at full-time how prolific tweeter Gary Lineker was among those observing Arsenal's need for a 25-goal centre-forward. "How sure are you he [Giroud] won't be that man?" Wenger replied. "He scored 16 last season and what he demonstrated today when he came on was very convincing. You never have to set limitations or targets for any player, but for me he is improving every year. I wouldn't rule out that he will get to 25 goals."

Wenger did not sound like someone on a striker hunt. He said he rejected a potential move for the Liverpool-bound Mario Balotelli because he was no better than what he had. "All our opponents have been looking for strikers and no one has found a world-class one now available better than the one they have," he said.

"He [Balotelli] has been in England before, and I believe we have [Yaya] Sanogo - who will be important for me. We have Giroud, Joel Campbell can play as centre-forward, and of course [Alexis] Sanchez, and Theo Walcott coming back too, don't forget. You don't put a pot of players together and bring in people just to have them there. It doesn't make sense."

However, there must be a liberal sprinkling of caution to accompany praise for his side's recovery. For 45 minutes, it was the same old Arsenal on Merseyside. They looked more lightweight than a Mesut Ozil tackle, as erratic as Jack Wilshere's distribution and in need of an urgent reunion with what passes for a spine. Sanchez played like a man intent on proving that his aversion to playing on Merseyside (he rejected a move to Liverpool) was not exaggerated.

By the end we were considering the emergence of an altogether different beast from north London - one in possession of such attributes as character, resilience and mental strength.

Certain mitigating circumstances in the late rally cannot be ignored, not least an alarming dip in the physical fitness of Roberto Martinez's side - the premature departure of Romelu Lukaku was especially significant.

Lukaku's pace and power created Everton's second for Steven Naismith on the stroke of half-time after Seamus Coleman had headed his side ahead.

Where Arsenal's substitutions added the verve that had been so lacking while Sanchez and the extraordinarily unremarkable Wilshere were on the pitch, Everton succumbed to fatigue as much as incessant pressure.

The equalising goal in injury time had as much to do with Jagielka's misjudgment and incapacity to leap high enough as Arsenal's force of will to claim the point, but you could not say it was not coming. © Daily Telegraph, London)

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