Giroud to the rescue again with another late strike as Gunners come from behind – and it’s Millwall who score the big upset of the FA Cup third round
It took Olivier Giroud a long time to re-establish himself in the plans of Arsène Wenger this season but having done so the Frenchman is now the man to whom Arsenal turn when they need a big goal in a big game, or even an FA Cup winner in Lancashire just in the nick of time.
When he stepped forward to notch the winner against Preston North End after 89 minutes of third-round action, Giroud was embarking on his second rescue act in the space of five days following the comeback at Bournemouth on Tuesday. At Deepdale, Giroud had the captain’s armband and the fire in his belly to win a tie in which Arsenal had fallen behind.
Recalled to the team against West Bromwich Albion on Boxing Day, the striker scored in that game and the subsequent three including the first goal in the 2-0 win over Crystal Palace on New Year’s Day, then Bournemouth and now Preston. There was no repeat of the celebration with which Giroud marked his equaliser against Bournemouth, and that was probably for the best, but no questioning his commitment.
There was no Alexis Sánchez in the squad – the Chilean being given the weekend off whether he liked it or not – and with five changes from the side that started the Bournemouth game Giroud was made captain. Wenger said: “He [Giroud] went through a period where he was in discomfort as he didn’t play and during this period, which was quite long, he kept his focus and worked so I thought he has shown leadership qualities, which is why I made him captain.”
As for Preston, the 2017 team of this famous old club, 11th in the Championship, did their heritage proud with an assertive first-half performance. Simon Grayson picked a 4-4-2 formation and the old-fashioned strike partnership of Jordan Hugill and Callum Robinson caused major problems for Arsenal in the first half, with the latter opening the scoring.
It was a different story in the second half after what Wenger admitted were some strong words at half-time. Aaron Ramsey’s equaliser came within the first minute and after that it was always a tough task for Preston.
“Yes, I was angry [at half-time],” Wenger said. “We are a top-level Premier League side and we were dominated in the first half. Preston had chances and we were just not at the pace that the game demanded. We didn’t want to go home and be out of the Cup.”
There was a long-awaited return for Danny Welbeck, a late substitute for Arsenal at a club where he was once on loan and after eight months away following knee surgery he was applauded on by both sets of fans. With one of the final attacks of the game, Welbeck struck a trademark big hit from the edge of the area which the Preston goalkeeper, Chris Maxwell, only just managed to push over the bar.
The Preston goal came after seven minutes, when Aidan McGeady spun through a full 360-degree double dragback, bamboozling the Arsenal midfield and giving himself the space to play the ball out to Hugill on the right. The 24-year-old striker got the ball across goal for Robinson to finish.
The pair of them were an effective partnership, Robinson having had the more gilded route into professional football via Aston Villa’s academy and a run in the England junior teams during his teenage years. In midfield Preston had another former junior England international, the 22-year-old former Manchester United midfielder Ben Pearson, who looked at home in the company.
Alongside Daniel Johnson, another former Villa boy, the pair of them were outstanding in midfield in the first half and balanced nicely with the experience of McGeady and Paul Gallagher on the wings. Another header from Robinson was cleared by Shkodran Mustafi and the German was obliged to do the same later on when Gallagher lobbed David Ospina.
Wenger said that Héctor Bellerín was injured and Ainsley Maitland-Niles was used in his place. He struggled at times against McGeady.
Arsenal played the last few minutes of the first half with 10 men after Gabriel retired to the changing rooms for treatment to a head injury.
By half-time Arsenal had barely managed a sight of goal, apart from one chip from Giroud which might have been a cross – perhaps the most generous explanation for the fact it was so wayward it did not go out for a goal-kick. Wenger got the appropriate response within a minute. Ramsey scored his first goal of the season with a right-footed drive from Alex Iwobi’s lay-off, which the Welsh midfielder struck on the edge of the Preston penalty area.
It was a pity for the home team that they had not been able to turn all that first-half possession into better scoring chances and as Arsenal began to take the initiative, the second half stretched out far in front of Preston.
The winner came from a long ball from the Arsenal right struck towards Giroud at the back post, where the French striker won the initial header.
There was a fine back-heel from Lucas Pérez as the ball looked to be going out of play and Giroud was in the right place to force the return in at the near post in front of the away fans.
Welbeck very nearly added a second with a fine shot and that was it for Preston, who simply did not have the quality in attack to make a second breakthrough once Hugill and Robinson had tired. As Bournemouth proved, even three goals are not necessarily enough against Arsenal.
Late show: Olivier Giroud celebrates after his 89th-minute winner helped Arsenal come from behind to beat Championship side Preston at Deepdale yesterday
Now hear this: Callum Robinson celebrates after putting Preston ahead