Arsenal face Crystal Palace in the Premier League at Selhurst Park on Saturday.
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Olivier Giroud may not have scored in four Premier League games, but his contribution has been considerable as Arsenal have risen to the top of the table.
In his first season in the Premier League, the France international claimed three assists - a total which he has already surpassed this term. In fact, Giroud has more assists than any other player in the top flight, with three coming in the past four games as the Gunners beat Stoke, Swansea and Norwich and drew at West Brom.
"In his first season in the Premier League, the France international claimed three assists - a total which he has already surpassed this term"
Giroud's performance against Norwich highlighted the improvements he has made this term in becoming a complete 'team player'. Leading the line as the lone striker, the 27-year-old played fairly rigidly through the middle (see his heatmap above), but regularly dropped off into areas to play the ball through to the midfield runners bursting past him.
As our chalkboard above shows, Giroud played the majority of his passes (green arrows) in the area between the Norwich midfield and defence - and often with his back to goal. His key role in THAT Jack Wilshere goal will live long in the memory, involving two perfect flicks to create the chance, while he showed real precision in picking out Mesut Ozil with a pinpoint cross for Arsenal's second.
Following the game, Arsene Wenger hailed Giroud's technical progression as "amazing" and with goals and assists flowly freely, the striker has clearly established himself one of the most improved players in the Premier League.
KEY BATTLE - DELANEY v GIROUD
Giroud is likely to come up against Republic of Ireland international Damien Delaney at Selhurst Park - and can expect a brusing battle with this physical centre half.
"Giroud will hope to make an impact is by holding Delaney at bay and playing in the midfield runners"
Delaney may be part of a Palace side with the second-worst defensive record in the Premier League, but he remains one of the most influential members of the side and a teak-tough defender. The 32-year-old has won 71.2 per cent of his duels overall and is even stronger in the air, winning 73.1 per cent of his aerial duels.
Where Giroud will hope to make an impact is by holding Delaney at bay and playing in the midfield runners - just as he did against Norwich. The Irish defender can find life difficult when up against real pace and fast feet, and that is what Giroud, Mesut Ozil and the rest of the Gunners' attack must produce if they are to find a way through.
CRYSTAL PALACE v ARSENAL - MATCH FACTS
- Crystal Palace have won just five points and scored five goals in their previous eight Premier League meetings with Arsenal
- Since their opening day defeat to Aston Villa, Arsenal have won 19 of a possible 21 points in the Premier League (W6 D1)
- Crystal Palace have now lost five successive Premier League games. They haven't lost six in a row in league competition since March 2001
- Arsenal are unbeaten in 13 competitive away games, winning 11 and drawing twice
- Palace have won just 40 points in their 44 Premier League London derbies
- Two of Arsenal's three Premier League title winning campaigns (1997/98 and 2001/02) have seen them pick up fewer points from their opening eight games of the season than they have this term (19)
- Despite having been relegated in each of their previous four top-flight seasons, Palace have made their worst start to a Premier League campaign; picking up just three points
- No team has used more different players in the Premier League this season than both Arsenal and Crystal Palace (24)
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