Muscular Giroud makes his presence felt with double strike
Brighton 2 Arsenal 3:Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud stamped his authority on this FA Cup fourth round tie when the visitors, out-passed at times, might otherwise have drifted towards elimination.
His two goals swelled his season’s tally to 13, to go with the nine assists that have made him integral to the collective.
Arsene Wenger has likened him to Alan Smith, such an integral member of George Graham’s title-winning teams.
Giroud can feel like a throwback. “He could have played 20 years ago in England, 10 years ago and today, because he has everything you need to play centre forward,” said Wenger. “He has physical presence.
“Usually we go more for mobile players who are just on the move but he gives us something different. When he gets in the fighting mode he is difficult to handle . . . Without him up front today it would have been difficult.”
There was finesse in his first goal, collecting Lukas Podolski’s lay-off, clearing his feet and curling a sweet shot into the top corner. The second, his fourth in two games was set up by a delicious first touch before a half-volley finish, all the while holding off Adam El-Abd.
“I chose this championship because there is more intensity, more physicality, you have to be ready in an athletic way,” said Giroud. “I like it but I like to play good football as well.”
The France international still has plenty to prove, primarily that he is no flat-track bully. He was certainly less effective against Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill the previous weekend and he still needs to hurt a contender. But, for a first campaign in English football, his impact has been encouraging.
This was no time for Brighton to lose captain Gordon Greer, who limped away early. Al-Abd is a Rottweiler of a centre-back but Giroud brushed him aside.
“I knew he was strong but he was massive,” said Poyet. “He put himself between ball and player and didn’t lose too many challenges. It surprised me, perhaps because I’m not used to the Premier League.”
The Uruguayan may have to reacquaint himself with the flight quality soon. Brighton are a slick side and even after the injuries they stretched Arsenal.
Argentinian Leonardo Ulloa’s diving header to meet Ashley Barnes’s centre provided the second equaliser and boded well. He was signed from Almeria and is an expression of Brighton’s ambition.
“Leo should give us that power . . . and strength we didn’t have,” said Poyet.
“I know where we are and I am quite calm. It’s unbelievable, the feeling in the dressing room. It’s like we lost promotion . . . If we maintain this level against Championship teams we have a great chance. It’s in our hands.