Giroud double keeps Arsenal on course for top four finish

Olivier Giroud tormented Newcastle yet again as he scored twice for Arsenal in a 2-1 away win that cemented their place in the Premier League’s top four on Saturday.

France striker Giroud has now scored eight times in his last six games against Newcastle, who have not achieved a home win against Arsenal in the past decade and have now lost their last seven meetings with Arsene Wenger’s side.

The Gunners remain third, one point behind second placed Manchester City and six ahead of fifth placed Liverpool as the battle to qualify for the Champions League approaches its finale.

Yet, what appeared likely to be an embarrassing day for Newcastle when they went two goals behind inside the opening 28 minutes, ended with an ovation from their fans after a splendid second-half revival which warranted more than a solitary goal from Moussa Sissoko.

It had looked bleak for United after they went behind in the 24th minute when they needlessly conceded a free-kick which was headed on by Danny Welbeck before Giroud’s knee diverted it past goalkeeper Tim Krul.

Then Welbeck was off-target with a volley before Giroud added his second goal from a corner taken by Santi Cazorla and headed inside an unguarded post by the forward who so relishes facing United.

Newcastle had already been warned because Arsenal had gone close to the opening goal when Krul saved from Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey’s first touch betrayed him after he was set up by Giroud.

Such early domination by Arsenal did not come as a surprise to Newcastle’s supporters, who had been warned beforehand of the difficulties facing their manager John Carver.

Injuries and suspensions left him with only 13 senior outfield players and his team inevitably possessed a makeshift look, with midfielder Jack Colback forced to play at left-back and right-back Daryl Janmaat starting at centre-half for the first time in his career.

Arsenal made three changes from the team that won at Monaco in midweek.

– Total control –

They still went out of the Champions League on away goals despite that victory and, worryingly for Newcastle, had performed well in the past two seasons following their departure from that competition.

They were to continue that trend with ease as Giroud’s goals gave them total control and, in truth, it seemed to be only a question of how many Arsenal would score after the second one went in.

However, they failed to add further goals before the interval, leaving Newcastle in a better position than four years ago again when they trailed 4-0 in the same fixture.

On that occasion, they fought back to draw 4-4 and Newcastle hinted at a similar revival in the opening stages of the second-half.

They pulled back a goal inside three minutes when Ryan Taylor and Remy Cabella combined down the right flank before the Frenchman’s cross was steered in by Sissoko, the midfielder who is regularly linked with Arsenal.

And they went in search of an equaliser with an appetite that had been largely absent in the opening half when no Newcastle fan could have predicted such a fightback.

Yoan Gouffran directed a 61st minute chance straight at keeper David Ospina and Sissoko was only denied a second goal by a point-blank save by the keeper from his glancing header.

Janmaat was also close with an ambitious effort from more than 30 yards and Cabella almost opened the Arsenal defence with a surging run that suggested the France midfielder is coming to terms with the demands of the Premier League.

Arsenal’s response was muted, although Krul did well to block a 79th minute shot from Welbeck after the England striker outpaced Mike Williamson on his way inside the United area.

And Newcastle were only denied a deserved equaliser when the outstretched leg of Ospina diverted a shot from Ayoze Perez in the 87th minute. It proved to be Newcastle’s final chance.

Photo Credits : AFP

Giroud helps Arsenal bolster top four bid

Arsenal cemented their position in the Premier League’s top four as Olivier Giroud’s blistering strike inspired a 3-0 rout of West Ham on Saturday.

Arsene Wenger’s third-placed side are aiming to qualify for the Champions League via a top-four finish for the 18th year in a row and they are well on course after a fifth successive league victory.

It was also the ideal preparation for next week’s Champions League last 16 trip to Monaco, who hold a 3-1 lead from the first leg.

Giroud broke the deadlock seconds before the break as the France striker cut in from the right edge of the penalty area to lash an unstoppable left-footed shot into the far corner.

Wales midfielder Aaron Ramsey got Arsenal’s second, and his first since December, in the 81st minute when he played a one-two with Giroud and finished with aplomb.

Mathieu Flamini came off the bench to seal the points with an 84th minute goal that lifted the Gunners four points ahead of fourth-placed Manchester United and six clear of fifth-placed Liverpool.

Aston Villa’s revival under new manager Tim Sherwood gathered pace as they boosted their bid to avoid relegation with a crucial 4-0 win at fellow strugglers Sunderland.

Villa had scored only four away league goals all season, but they have been transformed since former Tottenham boss Sherwood took charge and have now won their last two league games to climb above Sunderland, who drop to fourth bottom after their sixth consecutive game without a win.

The visitors took the lead when Belgian striker Christian Benteke fired home in the 16th minute for his fifth goal of the season.

Just two minutes later, Gabriel Agbonlahor ran clear to slot home after Sunderland defender John O’Shea made a hash of dealing with Ciaran Clark’s pass.

Agbonlahor netted again eight minutes before half-time, prompting a group of angry Sunderland fans to surround the home bench to berate boss Gus Poyet.

Stewards and police moved in to protect Poyet and the majority of the crowd were streaming towards the exit by the 44th minute as Benteke netted.

The chaos enveloping Sunderland was summed up when they played several minutes at the start of the second half down to 10 men after Seb Larsson emerged late from the dressing room.

– Relegation mire –

Crystal Palace pushed QPR deeper into the relegation mire with a 3-1 victory over their London rivals at Selhurst Park.

Alan Pardew’s side swept into a three-goal lead by half-time thanks to strikes from Wilfried Zaha, James McArthur and Joel Ward.

Matt Phillips produced one of the goals of the season in the closing stages, but the winger’s brilliant drive, from at least 40 yards out, came too late to spark a QPR fightback.

QPR’s fourth successive Premier League loss extended their miserable run to nine defeats in their last 10 games, leaving the west Londoners third bottom and four points from safety.

Leicester wasted a chance to improve their survival hopes as 10-man Hull held on for a 0-0 draw at the King Power Stadium.

Hull had to play the final 18 minutes with 10 men after midfielder Tom Huddlestone was sent off for a second booking following his foul on Jamie Vardy.

But Nigel Pearson’s bottom of the table team couldn’t find a winner and they remain seven points from safety.

West Brom ground out a 1-0 win against Stoke at the Hawthorns.

The only goal arrived in the 19th minute when Craig Gardner’s cross was met by Brown Ideye, who beat Stoke defender Phil Bardsley to head in his seventh goal of the season.

Later on Saturday, second-placed Manchester City will aim to close the gap on leaders Chelsea when they travel to Burnley.

Chelsea, currently five points clear, are in action at home to Southampton on Sunday.

Also on Sunday, Manchester United host Tottenham and Everton face Newcastle, while Liverpool travel to Swansea on Monday.

Photo Credits : AFP

Arsenal boss Wenger praises Giroud’s mental strength

Arsene Wenger praised Olivier Giroud’s mental strength and insisted he was never tempted to rest the striker after his misfiring display against Monaco.

Giroud had been replaced after missing a number of chances during the 3-1 Champions League defeat.

But Arsenal manager Wenger kept faith in the forward as his side bounced back in the Premier League with Giroud scoring the first in a 2-0 victory over Everton at the Emirates Stadium.

The manager said: “Oliver has one great quality when he has his back to the wall. He has the personality and the strength to respond.

“Because I know him better now, it is one of the reasons I kept him in the team. Because he was not one out, he acknowledged that he missed his game and when he is conscious of it, he will respond because he has the strength to do it.

“I think he responded very well. I am not just happy because he scored a goal but as well for the work-rate he put in today from the first to the last minute as well.

“He is an important player in the box with his presence up front. Even defensively. He played only an hour the other night so those ingredients were important in my decision to select him.”

Giroud put Arsenal ahead in the 31st minute and Tomas Rosicky wrapped up the victory that keeps Arsenal third with a deflected 89th minute effort.

Wenger added: “I am very proud of the response we have shown today. Our defensive concentration was at a much higher level than on Wednesday night. We know with the ball we can do better but overall what was important for us was to respond with a win and we got that.

“Not everyone can produce that after such a disappointment and it was vital for us for the rest of the season to win the game today.”

Wenger handed a first Premier League start to Gabriel Paulista and the defender drew praise from his manager.

Wenger said: “He had an encouraging performance overall. He was once or twice surprised by the intensity of the challenges but overall he made as well, especially in the first half, a great tackle against Romelu Lukaku in the box. He was highly focussed. A good concentration level. He is quick.”

Everton manager Roberto Martinez was left frustrated after a defeat that means his side have won just once in their last eleven league games.

Nonetheless, Martinez sees grounds for optimism and insists his side is improving.

He said: “I think the second goal was a reflection of our season. We have six players in good positions and it ends up in the back of the net.

“You read the 2-0 scoreline but it doesn’t reflect our game and that’s story of our season. We have never had the momentum you need to win games by doing enough. We have had to be perfect to win games and that is something we have to change in the next eleven games.

“Maybe a bit harsh but when we came back in pre season we had incredible high hopes of being able to carry on where we finished last season.

“But we had two games when we dropped four points in the last minutes and psychologically it felt very, very tough to enjoy our football. It’s been more of a chore having to get those points and I don’t see that enjoyment in the league.

“But I do feel the group is becoming stronger. The dressing room now is really down, something we shouldn’t be sharing after a performance like that at Arsenal, but young players going through these experiences could be the final tick for fulfilling our potential and becoming a winning team.”

Photo Credits : AFP

Giroud a different player now, says Arsenal boss Wenger

Arsene Wenger believes Olivier Giroud has transformed as a player during his time at Arsenal, as the French striker scored twice at the Emirates to beat Middlesbrough 2-0 and send the FA Cup holders into the quarter-finals.

Giroud hit two goals in two minutes just before the half-hour, with Wenger especially pleased with the manner of the goals.

The first, after 27 minutes, came at the end of a flowing move than involved every player in the Arsenal starting XI. The second, on 29 minutes, involved a piece of quick thinking as Giroud reacted first to Alexis Sanchez’s rapidly taken corner.

Wenger believes the finishing, at the least, is the product of the evolution Giroud has undergone since arriving at the Emirates in 2012.

“I believe Giroud is a different player from the guy who arrived here,” Wenger said.

“He understands what top-level football demands, works with great concentration in training, improved on his mobility, technical quality. Of course his body is very strong and he uses it very well.”

Wenger was also hugely enthused with how the different characteristics of both goals showed alternate qualities of his side.

“The first goal is what we tried to do in our build-up,” Wenger said.

“The second goal shows the game belongs to the players as well. It’s a consequence of two players who respond quickly to a situation and analysing quickly what they want to do well. That’s basically what it was, a consequence of intelligence and technique.”

The other main positive for Arsenal, from what was a very easy win, was the performance of new signing Gabriel Paulista.

The defender prevented one Middlesbrough attack with a hugely industrial foul, but was generally composed.

“It was interesting to observe Gabriel today,” said Wenger.

“His first game in a cup game which we had absolutely to win, he showed important qualities, great concentration, great urgency to defend, good pace, especially on the recovery tackle he made in the box.

“He played a little bit with the handbrake because he didn’t want to make a mistake.

“From what I’ve seen, there’s a lot to come.”

– eager Sanchez –

Wenger believes the strong team he picked indicates his desire to defend the FA Cup, as he revealed Alexis Sanchez was again eager to play, despite expectation he might be rested.

“Alexis became strong as the game went on. I took a gamble, and took him off with 20 minutes to play.

“He always wants to play. Everybody is like that, but he is bit more like that. He didn’t miss too many games.

“What was important for him was to get through without injury.”

Aitor Karanka meanwhile said he “didn’t like anything” about Middlesbrough’s first-half performance, as his side — who have rightfully received much praise this season, not least for the defeat of Manchester City in the fourth round — were simply brushed away.

The Spaniard said that earlier victory might have made his players think the game would be “easier” and that they were far from the “perfect” level shown at the Etihad.

“If you want to take something from games against Arsenal today, you have to be perfect, like at Etihad Stadium and you have to take advantage of your chances. If you make mistakes, it’s difficult.

“I don’t know if it’s frustration. A little bit disappointed because everybody was expecting a game like against Liverpool or Man City. This is my biggest concern. We didn’t go to the pitch in the way we usually go.

“The second half was better, but the first half I didn’t like anything.”

Photo Credits : AFP