Alexis Sanchez might have been the match-winner, but Arsenal undoubtedly owe a debt of gratitude to Olivier Giroud for this vital win over Southampton.
Giroud’s contribution has sparked the butterfly effect of opinion, evolving swiftly from the initial and innocent musing as to why he didn’t start in to the bellowing demand that he play every game from now until May.
It’s not as simple as that. This performance doesn’t prove that Giroud is the answer to our striking situation, just as Danny Welbeck’s match-winning display at West Brom didn’t see him crowned as our de facto centre-forward.
As the pattern of this game developed, it became clear we needed Giroud. That’s something difficult to anticipate: had Arsenal scored early on, we might have shifted in to a counter-attacking strategy in which the pace of Welbeck, Alexis and Oxlade-Chamberlain would have been more useful.
As it was, we needed someone who could help us lay siege to the Southampton goal and provide a focal point for our crossing game. Giroud did that and more. Although Alexis Sanchez will rightfully grab headlines for another priceless goal, the game really swung on Giroud’s arrival and the exit through injury of Toby Alderweireld.
Giroud is unique among Arsenal’s forwards. His aerial presence and hold-up play are superb, but there’s one quality that really makes him stand out: his vision. His physique gives him the platform to receive the ball with his back to goal, but it’s his brain that allows him to be so effective with it. The deft flicks and neat touches don’t only show a player of considerable technique — they show a player with of creativity and imagination. Southampton couldn’t handle him.
However, it won’t always be thus. There will be times when Giroud starts and has to be withdrawn for the speed and movement of Danny Welbeck. Presumably we’ll then go through an inverted version of the same discourse, with people anointing Welbeck as the solution and casting Giroud aside.
Instead, Arsenal fans should simply be grateful for the variety they now have in their attack. Neither Giroud nor Welbeck are of real world class. However, between them they have the requisite attributes to beat most defences we’ll encounter. Crucially, they’re supplemented by Alexis Sanchez: a Swiss army-knife of a player who seems able to adapt to any opposition.
Based on the evidence of the last two seasons, we already know that Giroud is not the man for every occasion. However, as he proved this evening, he is undoubtedly the man for some.