LONDON • If this season is to conclude with Arsene Wenger's grand vindication - a triumph to wash away all those years of "if only' and "for pity's sake" - then the campaign must consist of many smaller victories for the Frenchman.
So, he was encouraged by a double triumph in midweek, when victory at Olympiakos kept Arsenal alive in the Champions League and Olivier Giroud's hat-trick confirmed to the English football club's manager that he is one of the best strikers in Europe.
Since joining Arsenal from Montpellier in 2012, Giroud, 29, has not convinced all Arsenal fans that he belongs in the same category as some of his illustrious predecessors - one of whom, Thierry Henry, said in April that Giroud is not the man to spearhead a successful assault on the Premier League title.
But Wenger says it is high time Giroud's class is recognised, especially after he has scored 11 goals in his last 14 games for Arsenal.
"If you look at the number of goals he has scored, you have to give him credit," Wenger said.
"And he is not only a scorer - he works a lot for the team. He is among the best strikers in Europe."
When asked if Giroud deserves to be ranked alongside players such as Barcelona's Luis Suarez, Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski and Manchester City's Sergio Aguero, Wenger replied: "Of course.
"And (Theo) Walcott as well.
"We have Walcott, Giroud and(Alexis) Sanchez that can all score goals. And they all have different styles, which is very important as well."
Giroud and Walcott will be available when Arsenal return to Premier League action at Aston Villa today but Wenger must still contend with a long casualty list. There is encouragement with regard to Sanchez, at least, as the manager said the Chilean should return to full training tomorrow after a hamstring injury.
At Villa Park, Wenger will be seeking to add to the woes of his friend and former player Remi Garde. The latter has presided over two draws and two defeats since agreeing to become the manager of the Premier League's bottom club on the advice of Wenger.
The Arsenal manager reckons his protege has to adapt his ideas to recognise the difficulty of Villa's predicament. "He is in a situation where he has to bank more on efficiency and have more of a short-term plan," said Wenger.
"He has to tighten up his defence to restore the team's confidence. I expect a more physical match with... a big emphasis on the defensive aspects."
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE RANCE-PRESSE
ASTON VILLA V ARSENAL
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