Giroud's improved tremendously: Wenger
ARSENE Wenger paid tribute on Sunday to his FA Cup match winner Olivier Giroud, recognising how the Frenchman has improved and become a more complete striker over his three years in London.
Giroud again demonstrated the quality which persuaded Cup holders Arsenal to pay around £10 million (S$21 million) for his services, as he scored both goals in a decisive two-minute spell to sink Middlesbrough 2-0 in the fifth round.
The player - who has not always been convincing at Arsenal despite that peacock strut about him - is these days properly showing off the feathers, this brace taking his tally for the season to 10 goals, even though he missed nearly three months of the campaign with a broken foot.
It was a year ago that Giroud's future at the club seemed up in the air, after he apologised for taking a female companion back to the team hotel.
Yet, even with Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck having subsequently taken the spotlight from him, Giroud's huge and growing importance to Arsenal was again underlined by Wenger, who explained why his No. 12 actually remained the club's most natural No. 9.
"I believe that he is a different player today than the guy who arrived here," said Wenger of the 28-year-old, who seems tougher and more industrious than when he joined the club.
"He understands what top-level football demands, works with a great concentration in training and has improved tremendously on his mobility, his technical quality. And, of course, his body is very strong. He uses it very well."
Giroud's first goal came straight out of the Arsenal manual of beautiful team goals, a neat first-time finish to end some bewilderingly fine interplay involving all the players.
The second was the sharpest of instant volleys from Sanchez's corner. "A consequence of intelligence and technique," said Wenger.
While Sanchez and Welbeck buzz around, there remains only one job for Giroud.
"I believe Welbeck's doing extremely well. He can play central striker, like he did for a long time, but the most natural centre forward we have is Giroud," said Wenger.
"All the strikers we have can play in different positions. The only one who can play only centre-forward is Giroud, so when Giroud plays, the others have to move out wide."
It seems simple enough: Feed the peacock and he will score.
Meanwhile, third-division Bradford City continued their remarkable progress in the FA Cup by beating Premier League side Sunderland 2-0 to reach the quarter-finals.
Bradford, beaten League Cup finalists in 2013, stunned Chelsea 4-2 at Stamford Bridge in round four and they pulled off another upset at Valley Parade, courtesy of a John O'Shea own goal and a strike by Sunderland old boy Jon Stead.
At Villa Park, a half-time rallying cry from new manager Tim Sherwood inspired Aston Villa to beat Premier League rivals Leicester City 2-1 and reach the FA Cup quarter-finals.
Leicester enjoyed the best of the first half. But Sherwood, watching from the stands after being appointed as the successor to Paul Lambert on Saturday, made a visit to the home changing room at the interval and Villa were a different team in the second period.
Leandro Bacuna broke the deadlock in the 68th minute. A terrible blunder from veteran goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, who allowed a tame shot from Villa substitute Scott Sinclair to squirm past him, saw the home side double their lead in the 89th minute.
Andrej Kramaric replied for Leicester with a magnificent header in the first minute of stoppage time, but it was too little, too late.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE