As the team news was announced ahead of an intriguing fixture, plenty of eyebrows were raised at the sight of Olivier Giroud’s inclusion in the starting XI.
Theo Walcott, rested, was amongst the substitutes’ bench for the trip of Everton, highlighting the selection headache that Arsène Wenger has to ponder each matchday at the moment.
After some rather harsh criticism over his performances for both club and country in the early weeks of the campaign, plenty of critics have gradually begun to change their tune. At 29, Giroud’s reaching the peak of his career and needs to be playing regularly to enjoy a run of consistent games, where he’ll score plenty of goals too.
So, you could excuse the frustration creeping into his game with Theo Walcott beginning to stake his claim as a recognised centre-forward.
But no. Competition for places within the side has helped Giroud to collectively improve as a player since his arrival three summers ago, and his overall performance against Everton has reiterated his desire to wrestle his spot back within the starting XI on a weekly basis.
Within the first fifteen minutes, he could have had a goal as well as an assist to boot. A leaping header flashed narrowly wide of the mark from a corner-kick, before he was penalized for being too physical in an aerial challenge with John Stones just seconds before his touch led to Mesut Özil having a one-on-one chance to slot home, which was well saved by Tim Howard.
With ten minutes before the interval, he finally got his deserved finish. Although the headlines will be solely focused on the fact Howard probably should have saved his header, there will be no notable mention of how Giroud darted past the whole Everton backline within a flash, and made his move with Mesut in possession on the far side before flicking his effort goalwards.
As soon as Oxlade-Chamberlain teed the ball up nicely for Özil with Galloway backing off, Giroud instinctively knew what to do. As if they’d practiced it a hundred times in training, he peeled away from Seamus Coleman, Stones and Phil Jagielka within a few seconds as he’d pointed to where he wanted the ball.
Özil kindly obliged and as the teasing delivery was floating across towards the six-yard box, all three defenders were left watching and Giroud was left with a subtle flick on, into the corner of the net.
His celebration was quite telling too – one of renewed happiness, hoping that Wenger, as well as his teammates, had seen his magic in full flow.
It could have been a hat-trick, but the towering Frenchman was unlucky not to net more in the second 45. After some intelligent link-up play in midfield between himself and Oxlade-Chamberlain, the final touch was needed in the box with Giroud in space but Alexis overran the ball ever so slightly, giving Howard the opportunity to rush out and clear the danger in his area.
His hold-up play was on-show once more as he shrugged off an aerial challenge in the box before a one-two with Oxlade-Chamberlain almost restored Arsenal’s two-goal lead. His acrobatic effort, sweetly struck, was thwarted by an important diving hand by the under-fire Howard, before the woodwork came to the American’s rescue.
After some smart work to curb his run and stay onside on the edge of the area, he latched onto Mesut’s through ball and curled his effort goalwards. Howard was beaten but the crossbar was rattled, as Everton were handed another lifeline in their pursuit of grabbing a result.
In the end, their efforts were too little too late. Giroud was excellent, deservedly Man of the Match, and highlighted just why Arsenal are benefiting from their counter-attacking exploits.