LONDON • Arsene Wenger hailed Olivier Giroud's fighting spirit after the Arsenal striker marked his first Premier League start of the season with the winning goal against West Bromwich Albion.
The Frenchman headed home four minutes from the end of a game that had seemed destined to finish goal-less at the Emirates.
Before Monday's 1-0 victory, Giroud had come off the bench 10 times in the league this season and scored three goals. He had started only in the Champions League.
But Wenger insisted that the striker did not have anything to prove to him despite his repeated absence from the starting line-up.
"He always makes a point when he comes on because he has scored many times when he comes in," the Arsenal manager said. "He has qualities in our squad that are needed. He's a fighter too, Olivier, and has a fantastic mentality.
"It has been frustrating for him because he didn't always play but I think we have an honest relationship. He knows that he was not always playing but despite that he kept a strong motivation level.
"The fighters are always ready."
Olivier Giroud's strike rate as a substitute this season - three goals in 10 Premier League games.
That Wenger can afford to use an established international so sparingly is why West Brom manager Tony Pulis sees Arsenal as strong challengers to leaders Chelsea.
"If you look at the players who were not playing and not in the team today, and then you look at Chelsea's, I think Arsenal have definitely got the stronger squad," the Englishman said. "So they have most probably got the staying power to see them through."
With matches between now and the end of next month against Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, Swansea, Burnley and Watford, there should be optimism that Arsenal's title challenge may not be over just yet.
But Wenger will know his hopes of overhauling a Chelsea side who have now won their last 12 league games may be out of their hands.
"Maybe, yes," he said when asked whether the team are more resilient than they have been in recent years. "It's normal to say yes but we have to show that for the whole season to maintain that resilience.
"We are quite a big distance behind Chelsea and we will need a special resilience to come back.
"But I hope that the other teams will have their moments of weakness as well. We can only take advantage if we continue like that."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN