The Right Combination

Eye for Detail - The Right Combination

As Tomas Rosicky dinked the ball over the onrushing Vito Mannone to extend Arsenal’s lead over Sunderland in February, the majority of the 60,012 crowd at the Emirates had the same thought.

They weren’t thinking about how Arsenal had effectively sealed the game before half time, nor that Rosicky had registered his first league goal in almost a year. They were thinking about how the goal was remarkably similar to Jack Wilshere’s strike against Norwich in October – the finish might have been very different, but the build-up play was vintage Arsenal.

"The finish might have been very different, but the build-up play was vintage Arsenal"

Wilshere’s goal against Norwich featured the best passing triangle you’ll witness all season. Santi Cazorla received the ball wide on the left, then dribbled inside into a position between the lines. He found Wilshere, who played a return pass to the Spaniard with the outside of his foot, before continuing his run into the box. Cazorla passed to Olivier Giroud, who backheeled it to Wilshere, who flicked it back to Giroud. The Frenchman then turned the ball around the corner, breaking the Norwich defensive line, and Wilshere finished instinctively with his right foot.

From the moment Wilshere received possession, the move featured three players, saw four first-time passes, took five seconds, and beat six Norwich players. It was a beautiful goal.

Arsène Wenger couldn’t hide his delight. "It was certainly one of the best Arsenal goals, one that I enjoyed because it was a team goal," the manager told Arsenal.com.

"A mixture of technical quality, speedy thinking, quick reaction and being calm in front of goal - it had nearly everything you want, combined speed and calm... it was improvised combination play."

Rosicky’s against Sunderland was slightly different, but that trio was involved again: Cazorla, Wilshere and Giroud. Again, there were four first-time passes followed by a first-time finish.


Tomas Rosicky scores against Sunderland

Tomas Rosicky scores against Sunderland


Again, Giroud played the crucial pass and was the first to celebrate with the goalscorer. Again, it was at the Clock End, again it was in the first half of a 4-1 victory.

"[Rosicky’s] goal was one of the top goals we have scored," said Wenger.
These strikes are also reminiscent of a goal Patrick Vieira scored at Anfield in 2004, a brilliant one-touch passing move featuring Thierry Henry and Robert Pires.

"Interestingly, Giroud has focused on improving his play with his back to goal since joining Arsenal"

That was actually slightly unusual for Arsenal at the time, because it featured Henry linking play with his back to goal, which wasn’t instinctively his game. "I had to learn how to play with my back to goal," he once told France Football magazine. "I had to adapt to a way of playing that wasn’t naturally mine."

A ‘classic Arsenal goal’ in that period would have been a counter-attacking move, starting from deep and featuring pace and power on the break - think of the goal Vieira scored in the title- clinching match at White Hart Lane in 2004, for example.

Things have become more intricate.

Interestingly, Giroud has focused on improving his play with his back to goal since joining Arsenal. "I control the ball more when I receive it, and I read the situation," he says, although he’s always been a permanent central pivot, someone who others can play off - Wenger was on commentary duties to see Giroud play some absurdly good one-touch passes during France’s Euro 2012 warm-up games, shortly before he joined Arsenal.


Olivier Giroud

Olivier Giroud

Theo Walcott, in particular, has appreciated some of Giroud’s excellent one-touch link-up play. "His touch was fantastic and allowed me to hit it first time," Walcott said after hitting an equaliser against Liverpool in a 2-2 draw last season, teed up by Giroud. "I think I caught the keeper by surprise."

That’s a common theme: Giroud’s smart touch allowing the onrushing midfielder to strike the ball immediately, something Arsenal Magazine columnist Robert Pires – Arsenal’s top goalscoring midfielder in the Premier League era – pointed out in December, when discussing Wilshere’s Norwich goal.


"It sums up for me what Arsenal is all about... Jack’s goal is Arsenal through and through," he wrote. “You can see how much Olivier has improved his touch, his lay-off was perfect and he looks so much like an Arsenal player."

Stylistically, Giroud is arguably not a stereotypical Arsenal striker, but his selfless, back-to-goal link-up play is enabling his team-mates to score some classic Arsenal goals.

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