During the summer Olivier Giroud filmed a video for Puma advertising the new Arsenal kit under the tagline “I want to be top-scorer”.
As he watched Giroud floundering during their Champions League qualifier with Besiktas, Gary Lineker tweeted: “Playing in front of Arsenal’s midfield should guarantee a minimum of 25 goals a season for a striker of note. Alas....”
The quality of Arsenal’s midfield has seldom been in doubt but since Thierry Henry left for Barcelona only two men have scored more than 25 times in a season – Emmanuel Adebayor in 2007-08 and Robin van Persie in the season before he was sold to Manchester United.
Last season Giroud’s tally was 22 in all competitions, which given Arsenal’s recent history counts as a reasonable return. Certainly, having dropped him after the goalless draw in Istanbul, Arsène Wenger’s decision to remove his marquee summer signing, Alexis Sanchez, and bring on his big Frenchman turned what seemed likely to be a rout at Goodison Park into a precious point.
For the second successive Saturday, Arsenal swung the game at the death. Grabbing the winner at home to Crystal Palace is one thing, coming from two goals behind at Everton, quite another.
“How can he [Lineker] be sure that Olivier is not that man?” Wenger asked after a breathless 2-2 draw. “He scored 16 in the league last season and when he came on he was for me very convincing. You should not set any limits on a player. For me there has been an improvement and I am convinced the goals will come.”
Wenger added that, although Mario Balotelli had been touted Arsenal’s way, he saw no reason to take a risk on the Italian, arguing that he already had sufficient fire power in attack.
“We have Yaya Sanogo, we have Alexis Sanchez who can play centre-forward, we have Theo Walcott who is coming back,” he said. “It does not make any sense to sign Balotelli.”
It is not essential to possess a 25-goal a season centre-forward to win the Premier League. In both Jose Mourinho’s title-winning teams at Chelsea, Frank Lampard was the leading scorer, finding the net just 13 times in 2004-05 and scoring 16 the following season. The greatest contributor to Manchester City’s championship in May was Yaya Youré with 20 goals.
If Arsenal are again to become a title-winning side before Wenger’s long reign over north London is done, the resilience they have shown at the end of last season and the beginning of this might be more important.
From Stamford Bridge, to the Etihad, Anfield and Goodison, Arsenal’s tours of the great stadiums of England last season was a shambolic procession, in which they conceded 20 goals in four matches. They even managed to lose at Old Trafford.
“Last season we were beaten here and it is good for the group to know we can come back,” said Wenger. “For us it is a strong point, for Everton maybe it is a disappointing one after being 2-0 up at home but they played well and it can happen. For us it is a real confidence boost because we did not want a repetition of last season and we have shown a completely different response to going behind.”
Nevertheless, Wenger hesitated when asked if a similar performance would be enough to see Arsenal through to the group stages of the Champions League on Wednesday night. If they do go two goals down to Besiktas, there will be no Aaron Ramsey because of suspension and Giroud, who left Goodison with a cast protecting an injured ankle, may also be missing. Arsenal have never screwed up a Champions League qualifier but they have managed to make a mess of the Premier League fixtures that surround them.
In between beating Udinese in 2011, they lost at home to Liverpool and were then massacred 8-2 at Old Trafford in Wenger’s most hopelessly one-sided confrontation with Sir Alex Ferguson.
These days a point at Goodison Park counts as a very fine one. Roberto Martinez relentlessly accentuates the positive but the Everton manager could say only that his players had run out of energy with 20 minutes remaining.
For a club with not especially deep resources and facing one of sport’s most exhausting competitions, the Europa League, that is rather more worrying than Everton’s opening two results. Despite conceding late in both, Everton earned a point in Leicester’s first Premier League fixture in a decade and outplayed Arsenal. That represents a decent beginning.
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