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Michael Cox: How Giroud answered his critics – and pleased more than one boss

Olivier Giroud finally ended his long goalless run in Sunday's 2-2 draw with Manchester City, justifying Arsene Wenger's decision to start his fellow Frenchman up front.

Giroud netted a bullet header from a corner, having lost his marker Eliaquim Mangala, to net Arsenal's first equaliser. His expression underlined his incredible sense of relief – and he went on to play an important role in Arsenal's impressive second-half performance.

For all the talk about Giroud's poor goal return, his lack of them isn't disastrous if the Frenchman is teeing up onrushing attacking midfielders, which remains his best quality.

There are better Premier League targetmen at winning aerial duels, but no one better at the art of playing with his back to goal, holding off defenders and helping pacy team-mates get in behind the opposition. It was what first attracted Wenger to Giroud: his selfless link-up play, rather than his goalscoring.

That's been lacking in the second half of the season, which has arguably been more problematic for Arsenal than Giroud's poor goalscoring contributions. The likes of Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey, who depend upon Giroud's lay-offs, have struggled to find the net too.

All in the head?

In a bad run of form, he loses belief too easily and is affected too badly by missed opportunities

Giroud is a massive confidence player, which is perhaps his biggest weakness. When in form he can sometimes appear unstoppable, like when he netted a crucial hat-trick at Olympiakos to seal Arsenal's progression to the Champions League knockout stage earlier this season.

In a bad run of form, however, he loses belief too easily and is affected badly by missed opportunities. He doesn't like criticism, as Thierry Henry discovered after the Arsenal legend questioned whether Wenger's side could lift the Premier League title with Giroud up front.

Others would use that as a source of motivation, some would ignore it entirely. Giroud, however, seemed to be genuinely upset.

And while plenty of forwards in the modern game offer so much more than a goalscoring threat, they remain judged primarily on their scoring figures, and their level of confidence is therefore closely related to their goalscoring return.

Therefore, it wasn't entirely surprising that, after Giroud ended his goalscoring run, his link play became much more impressive. Arsenal frequently used direct passing to supply him, with Petr Cech and Laurent Koscielny's forward passes particularly notable.

Arsene’s tweak

Giroud's improvement also owed much to a rare tactical change from Arsene Wenger. Forced to replace the injured Danny Welbeck with midfield Jack Wilshere, Wenger initially played the latter in the No.10 role of his 4-2-3-1, with Alex Iwobi moving left.

At half-time, however, Wenger decided Arsenal's midfield would make more sense in a 4-3-3 formation, and therefore moved Mohamed Elneny slightly deeper into the holding role, with Ramsey and Wilshere ahead. The wingers, Iwobi and Sanchez, moved higher and made runs past the opposition full-backs.

When Wenger introduced Walcott in place of Iwobi, the transformation was complete. Walcott played on the right, Sanchez switched to the left, and Arsenal now had great balance in the final third with Giroud coming towards the ball, plus Walcott and Sanchez going in behind the opposition. Sure enough, Giroud's familiar flicks started to become more obvious.

Walcott should have scored Arsenal's second equaliser, when Giroud's touch sent him running in behind the Manchester City defence in his usual inside-right position, but a heavy first touch made the finish impossible.

Happy ending

That might have been Arsenal's last chance – but, shortly afterwards, a one-two between Sanchez and Giroud put the Chilean running through on goal.

Giroud's backheeled flick was absolutely magnificent, ensuring the Frenchman ended the game with a goal and an assist. The goal answers the critics and provides a confidence boost, but Wenger will have been equally pleased with the assist.

Didier Deschamps will have been delighted, too. With Karim Benzema not considered for selection at Euro 2016, Giroud is France's first-choice centre-forward and will be tasked with supplying the likes of Anthony Martial, Antoine Griezmann and Alexandre Lacazette this summer.

His link play, more than his goalscoring threat, will be crucial if France are to triumph on home soil.

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