Football

Giroud to Gunners' rescue


France striker scores crucial late goal in first Premiership start to halt Arsenal's losing run

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger praised Olivier Giroud as a "fighter" after he celebrated his first Premier League start of the season by hitting a Boxing Day winner against West Brom.

The 30-year-old has seen his chances severely limited this campaign due to Wenger's decision to deploy Alexis Sanchez as his main striker.

But, with Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain both out injured, Giroud was handed his maiden league start of the season and, after a frustrating afternoon, the Frenchman headed home an 87th-minute goal to secure a 1-0 win.

Until then, Tony Pulis' side had kept Arsenal at bay, with goalkeeper Ben Foster pulling off a string of saves as the Baggies looked set to leave the Emirates Stadium with a well-deserved point.

Giroud would ruin that as he met Mesut Oezil's cross after tussling with Gareth McAuley and Wenger was quick to back the former Montpellier man.

"It has been very frustrating for him because he didn't always play and when he played well I didn't always play him in the next game," he said.

"But I think we have an honest relationship. I have a big respect for him and he knows that.

"He was not always playing and despite that, he kept a strong motivation level.

"Our job, when you're a football player, you have to be always ready. That's part of the job. When you're selected, it's fantastic. When you're not selected, you have to be ready. And the players who are always ready when they get their chance, they are there.

"The players who feel sorry for themselves, they get their chance and they give you one more reason to justify why you didn't select them. The fighters are always ready."

Giroud said that the win reflects the tenacity of Arsenal, who had come under heavy criticism after back-to-back defeats by Everton and Manchester City going into Boxing Day.

On both occasions, they failed to hold on to their leads.

BIG RELIEF

He said: "It has been a big relief," said the France striker.

"We pushed to the end, kept believing in our game. We were very strong altogether and showed a good strong mentality.

"It was very important to win. We have shown a big mental strength."

West Brom have now lost three of their last four league games, albeit to Chelsea, Manchester United and the Gunners.

Pulis saw his side well beaten by United (2-0) but the defeat by league leaders Chelsea all but mirrored the display at Arsenal as West Brom conceded another late goal to lose 1-0.

The former Stoke manager accepted he could have "no complaints" with the loss, nor with Giroud for getting the better of McAuley.

"That's a little bit deja vu with the Chelsea game," said Pulis.

"Gareth's got pinned by Giroud, and you can't allow him to do that, because he's such a strong player and he's excellent in the air. We've no complaints with that." - WIRE SERVICES

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