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EYE ON EPL

Giroud has developed a striking knack of scoring when it matters

I am the first to admit that I've never been a big fan of Olivier Giroud and have criticised him in this column a few times.

But credit must be given when it is due and fair play to the Arsenal striker for proving doubters like me wrong - because there is no question the Frenchman, at 29, is playing the best football of his career.

His goal from the penalty spot against Aston Villa on Sunday was his 50th Arsenal strike, and comes after his midweek hat-trick against Olympiakos in Greece, which is never an easy place to score, considering the hostile atmosphere in that stadium.

In fact, he now has nine goals in his last nine away games, proving that big occasions do not deter him in the slightest.

Aside from being able to hold up the ball, harass defenders and bring team-mates into play, Giroud is far more clinical this year, and has slowly but surely developed the knack of being in the right place at the right time.

But what is more impressive is how he is now the third-fastest striker in the club's history to reach the half-century mark.

He lies just behind club legends Thierry Henry and Ian Wright, and ahead of top Arsenal strikers like Dennis Bergkamp and Robin van Persie.

It is ironic to think that Henry and Wright were two of Giroud's biggest critics last season.

He is an easy target because of his good looks. Before his recent scoring run, the Frenchman was known more for his hairstyle, numerous tattoos, endorsing Hugo Boss fragrances and the fact that he was named the English Premier League's (EPL) sexiest player.

Wenger knows he can expect an industrious performance from his player, but this season Giroud has raised his game.

Aside from being able to hold up the ball, harass opposition defenders and bring team-mates into play, he is far more clinical this year, and has slowly but surely developed the crucial knack of being in the right place at the right time.

The competition for a central striking spot with Theo Walcott could be one reason to explain his improvement.

At one point, the England man was keeping Giroud out of the starting line-up, including the big games against Chelsea and Manchester United, which must have hurt the Frenchman's pride.

But he kept working hard and duly grabbed his chance when Walcott got injured.

Giroud also has an excellent supporting cast, including playmaker Mesut Oezil, who now has a league-leading 13 assists, and Aaron Ramsey, whose box-to-box runs help pull defenders away from Giroud.

Arsene Wenger said Giroud is "among the best strikers in Europe", and on current form, it is hard to disagree with that.

Yes, Giroud may never be mentioned in the same breath as other strikers like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez and Neymar.

But that's partly because he is not a flashy player, the type who will beat four to five players on the dribble to score.

But he does his job, which is to score goals.

There is no doubt he will be recognised as one of the best strikers to play for Arsenal in time to come.

If he keeps banging them in, don't count against Giroud adding another personal accolade - such as the Golden Boot - to his name.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 15, 2015, with the headline 'Giroud has developed a striking knack of scoring when it matters'. Print Edition | Subscribe