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Arsene Wenger Praises Olivier Giroud After Arsenal Ease Past Newcastle

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IN the end this was the most Arsenal-ish of Arsenal-flavoured occasions. In front of a supportive, if not quite defiant full house, Arsène Wenger’s team sauntered past Newcastle United with a display of fast attacking football, remaining effortlessly out of reach while at the same time never quite seeming to shut Newcastle out of the game until the final few minutes. Even a widely talked-up show of support for the world’s most unembattled embattled manager ended up treading the mildest of middle grounds: the home fans sang “one Arsène Wenger”, but politely, in the closing minutes, and without any real sense of answering defiance.

At the end of which, and away from the shadow world of Wenger factionalism, Arsenal are once again zeroing in on the comfortable old creaky leather armchair that is fourth place in the Premier League. While thoughts can now turn to Monday’s Champions League knockout phase draw in Nyon.

“I don’t think many teams want Real Madrid,” Wenger said before a draw that will see Arsenal face one of six group winners. “We [also] do not want Bayern Munich and I’m sure they do not want us either.”

There is also a chance of playing Monaco, Wenger’s coaching alma mater with whom he reached the semi-finals of the competition in 1994. “It would be a visit to my first home,” Wenger said. “I have great memories. In Monaco they gave me a chance when I was a very young manager, we had many Champions League games there. When I arrived they’d never passed the first round in the European Cup.”

Whoever Arsenal face they will hope to build on the best parts of this performance. Newcastle played quite well here in a match that did not often have the feel of a 4-1 defeat. Jack Colback was purposeful in midfield and Newcastle might have equalised in the first half but for Wojciech Szczesny’s double save.

The real difference, and for Wenger it is a significant one, was the quality and speed of Arsenal’s midfield interplay when they attacked with purpose. There has been a slight narrowing of their threat in recent times. Of the starting front six here Danny Welbeck has four goals in his past 22 Premier League matches for Arsenal and Manchester United; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who provided thrust in the centre, has three in his last 42 games; before the kick-off Santi Cazorla had one in 28.

An excellent moment then for Arsenal to score four in the Premier League for the first time since February, and for a more compact 4-3-3 formation to give glimpses of what Wenger believes to be the case: that beneath the creaky joints and odd square pegs there lie a genuinely promising Arsenal team just waiting to get out.

Certainly there was a change of temperature here as a mobile and muscular front three of Welbeck, Alexis Sánchez and Olivier Giroud pressed with real – and for Arsenal rare – tenacity in the first half, offering a much-needed stiffening from the front. Giroud also provided the cutting edge, scoring two brilliantly executed centre-forward’s goals – the first a wonderfully emphatic header back across the goalkeeper from Sánchez’s cross.

“It was a typical 1970s goal. You love it because you see it less now,” Wenger said, praising a player who brings not just adhesiveness, but a wider sense of positivity. “He gives us different options, we can go for longer balls. We have plenty of players who can play short and he gives us variety. He was not the best at Stoke and he had something to show. He responded well today.

“There is something as well, I believe, in his mentality. He’s a positive guy. Even when he misses something people forgive him. He has a positive mental impact, with his physical impact as well.”

There were other positives. The 4-3-3 provided a less porous midfield, the central trio here offering Oxlade-Chamberlain to run, Cazorla to pass and Mathieu Flamini to point at people. Héctor Bellerín was bold and full of craft shuttling up and down the right flank. Best of all there was further evidence of a return to incisive attacking form for Cazorla, who scored Arsenal’s second and fourth goals, the first a sublime running left-foot dink from a tight angle. The only really bad news was a flaring up of Oxlade-Chamberlain’s lingering groin injury, which can now be rested before next Sunday’s trip to Anfield. “We cannot afford to lose him at the moment,” Wenger said.

Man of the match Olivier Giroud (Arsenal) – The Guardian

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