LONDON (Reuters) – Olivier Giroud is proving the sceptics wrong and steering Arsenal, who face holders Barcelona in the last 16 of the Champions League, towards what may be their best season of modern times, according to club manager Arsene Wenger.
The French international joined a magnificent seven of Gunners’ strikers by scoring his 50th Premier League goal in their 2-0 win at Aston Villa on Sunday.
His composed strike from a penalty helped to steer them to victory and the top of the league after a week in which they also secured their Champions League passage in dramatic fashion, with Giroud scoring a decisive hat-trick against Olympiakos in Greece.
“He is at the top of his game but is sometimes questioned,” said Wenger. “Finally the numbers get people to realise he is a good player.”
He added that Giroud’s lack of “electric pace” meant he was often overlooked. “He is more of a player who plays with his back to goal and brings other people in,” he explained.
“Maybe he is not spectacular individually but he is very efficient and a very important player for the team. He is also mentally very strong,”
On Monday, Arsenal were drawn to meet Barcelona in a tie that, despite the Catalan club’s free-scoring forward line, could see them prove their mettle on the European stage.
“Arsenal and Barca have a very similar system of play,” said Barcelona director Albert Soler. “I’m convinced the fans will enjoy the football. The way we understand football is the same. They will be two great games.”
Barcelona beat Arsenal in the Champions League final in Paris in 2006 and have won their two meetings since but the London team’s current form, and Giroud’s goals, have rebuilt their self-belief since their 5-1 thrashing by Bayern Munich on Nov. 4.
At 29, Giroud is only the seventh Arsenal player to reach 50 goals in the Premier League, joining Thierry Henry, Ian Wright, Robin van Persie, Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pires and Theo Walcott in an illustrious club.
Giroud has struck a total of 72 goals in 121 appearances in all competitions since joining Arsenal from Montpellier in a 12-million-pound ($18.17-million) move in 2012.
($1 = 0.6605 pounds)
(Reporting by Tim Collings; editing by Clare Fallon)