Bergkamp vs Newcastle. Vieira at White Hart Lane. The one goal Hleb accidentally scored against Charlton. Thierry Henry at Real Madrid. Fabregas vs Tottenham. The Eduardo beach goal vs Burnley. Arshavin goal against Barcelona. The return of King Henry at Leeds. Ramsey winner in the FA Cup final. Rosicky flaming hair goal vs Tottenham. Wilshere tippy-tappy goal vs Norwich… These are the moments that football fans live for, moments that transform our everyday lives into art.
We are only half way through the 2016/17 season and already Arsenal have scored three of the most memorable goals in Arsenal history: Mesut Özil’s “let the bodies hit the floor” goal against Ludogorets, Alexis Sanchez’ dummy shot goal vs West Ham United, and yesterday Olivier Giroud took a page from Henrik Mkhitaryan’s playbook and one-upped him with the hands-down goal of the season candidate.
The goal itself is a moment of magic, pure and simple. It was the kind of goal that makes spectators gasp or yell “no” in disbelief. It was the kind of goal that you have to see three or four times to be sure that what you just saw was real.
But the entirety of that play, leading to the goal, is more than the sum of the goal and deserves to be highlighted:
First, Crystal Palace are in a strong position and tried to make a cross-field pass to Zaha.
But Perez puts in a burst of pace and steals the ball, passing to Bellerin.
With Xhaka on his left, Bellerin makes a decision to play vertical, to Giroud. This quick verticality is a feature of Wenger’s coaching philosophy: it pushes the opposition defenders back and allows his defenders and midfielders to run into space.
The vertical pass bypasses five Crystal Palace players, Giroud collects, and backheels to Xhaka who had continued his run.
At this point Arsenal’s furthest forward player is Alexis Sanchez (off screen top). Giroud has to run 60+ yards to get into position for the goal but first.. Xhaka makes a quick pass to Iwobi.
Iwobi drives forward, all of the Arsenal forwards are now running at top speed, Xhaka trails the play perfectly set up to be the outlet if needed.
Iwobi plays another vertical ball. This time to Alexis who is wide.
Alexis has already picked out his target but he can see that Giroud is well behind the play so he lets the ball run…
Like a conductor building the drama in a movement, Alexis waves everything to a halt with a quick touch. He’s beat his marker, he’s created the space needed to play the cross, he’s waited for Giroud to make his run. He’s composed the play.
Giroud is covered by three men, but he makes a quick little last step to get free.
Alexis plays in a cross, it’s not the best but Giroud adjusts and tries something crazy.
There shouldn’t be any question about goal of the season so far. Mkhitaryan’s goal is similar and was good but he was a yard offside. More importantly, the play leading up to Mkhitaryan’s goal was rather tame. No beatiful flow, no counter attack, just a simple cross. And finally, Mkhitaryan’s goal was scored in the six yard box, about half the distance of Giroud’s goal.
There is no question, Giroud scored the goal of the season.
As for Giroud, he remains a divisive figure and this match shows you exactly why. He missed two simple sitters from crosses on the goal line. He also struggles at times to make simple straightforward passes. And he’s slow. You can’t tell me watching that entire play, where he’s huffing and puffing to get up the pitch, that his footspeed isn’t a problem.
But at the same time, he scores amazing goals. Known for his propensity to score one-touch crosses at the near post, a shot that is easily one of the most difficult to score. He also makes flicks and passes which mere mortals couldn’t pull off: he was the one who provided two of the one-touch passes with Wilshere for his goal against Norwich. This goal had all of that, a backheel pass, and a crazy one-touch shot. This game, this goal, perfectly captured Giroud’s Arsenal career.
Giroud Arsenal career: 89 goals, 204 appearances, 13,644 minutes, average a goal every 153 minutes, 37 assists, 2 FA Cups, one goal of the season assist, one goal of the season