Arsenal progressed to the fifth round of the FA Cup after an entertaining tie with Brighton, who can consider themselves a little unfortunate not to have earned themselves the payday of a replay of the Emirates.
The back and forth nature of the game was demonstrated as early as the 15th minute. Wojciech Szczesny made a superb save at one end to prevent Brighton taking the lead, yet within seconds it was Arsenal who were in front. A swift counter-attack looked to have petered out when Lukas Podolski dribbled in to the midst of several defenders, but the German managed to lay the ball off to the waiting Giroud, who bent an expert finish in to the top corner from the edge of the box.
Parity was restored, unsurprisingly, from a set piece. Our dreadful zonal marking system allowed Ashley Barnes a free run at Wojciech Szczesny. As inevitably happens in such a situation, the man with the run up won the leap for the ball, and the net bulged. 1-1.
After half-time it was Giroud again who put us in front. Abou Diaby lifted a beautiful pass over the top of the centre-backs; Giroud latched on to it, held off his man, and used an outstretched left leg to thump the ball high in to the goal. It was a really fantastic finish, showcasing the best of Giroud: the movement, the determination and the power.
It only took Brighton five minutes to strike back, and it won’t surprise anyone to know it came from a cross. It also came down our left-flank, where Andre Santos was ambling around with a palpable lack of confidence, desire and positional sense.
The cavalry were called for, and with twenty minutes to go Arsene introduced Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott. The latter proved to be the match-winner, meeting a goalkeeper’s punch with a volley that deflected before finding the corner of the net. Cruel on Brighton; crucial for Arsenal.
Walcott now has 17 goals for the season. It’s some record: he’s only made 17 starts.
The star of the show, however, remained Olivier Giroud. Four goals in his last two games have taken his tally to 13, but his performance in this game was about more than statistics. He worked tirelessly, and the finishes he produced were of real quality. It’s no exaggeration to say that Robin van Persie would have been proud of the second – and indeed the chipped through-ball from Abou Diaby made this goal particularly reminiscent of the Song / Van Persie connection of last season.
Let’s not kid ourselves: however well Giroud played, he’s no Van Persie. However, in the last few days he’s made a convincing case for a prolonged run of games at centre-forward. I still feel we would benefit from a signing in this area, but if someone does arrive they’ll have to oust a Frenchman in form.
One lingering criticism of Giroud is that his goals tend to come against weaker opposition. The upcoming Premier League tie with Liverpool would be a perfect time to put that to bed, and put our league campaign firmly back on track.