LONDON • Arsene Wenger hailed the performance of stand-in Arsenal captain Olivier Giroud after the France striker's 89th-minute goal sealed a 2-1 FA Cup third- round win at Championship side Preston North End on Saturday.
The Gunners managed to complete a comeback victory to go with their remarkable 3-3 draw at Bournemouth earlier in the week, a game in which Giroud also scored a late, vital goal.
Wenger had also made his countryman captain for the trip to Deepdale and the manager, who retained his proud and impressive record of having never exited the FA Cup at the first hurdle, explained: "At the moment, he is in good form and in the last month he has scored goal after goal so I named him captain as I like to rotate it a bit.
"He 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."
There was also good news for another Arsenal forward, Danny Welbeck, who returned as a late substitute, his first competitive football game in eight months after recovering from a knee ligament injury.
"It is a great moment as he has been out for such a long time, just for him to get 15 minutes was great," said Wenger. "I had a hesitation but he thought he had 20 minutes in his legs and in the end he nearly scored so that is good."
REWARDED FOR SCORING FORM
At the moment, he is in good form and in the last month he has scored goal after goal so I named him captain as I like to rotate it a bit.
ARSENE WENGER, Arsenal manager on his decision to make Olivier Giroud the captain on Saturday. The injured Per Mertesacker is the club captain while fellow defender Laurent Koscielny, who did not feature against Preston, typically wears the armband in his absence.
But the victory disguised a dreadful first-half showing from Arsenal, who were fortunate to trail only to a Callum Robinson goal at the interval. An equaliser from Aaron Ramsey within a minute of the restart was the beginning of a vastly-improved second-half showing from the Premier League side.
"Yes, I was angry," said Wenger of his half-time reaction. "We are top-level Premier League 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.
"You do not want to have that kind of performance but this team respond when they are in trouble. Maybe physically they struggled to get into the game but they want to do well. Since the start of the season we have had many, many, many comebacks and many goals in the final minutes."
Ramsey's first goal of the season was another boost for Wenger.
"One of his qualities is getting in dangerous situations and sometimes he felt he lost a bit of confidence to finish. But hopefully this goal will give him the confidence to get many more," said the manager.
Preston's superb performance eventually ended in disappointment for their manager Simon Grayson, who will concentrate on his side's hopes of gaining promotion to the top flight.
"It was difficult to know what to say to the players," said Grayson, whose side are 11th in the Championship on 36 points, 18 behind leaders Brighton and six points adrift of the play-off places. "I was proud but we wanted to win, or at least draw, the match and we didn't get what we deserved."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE TIMES, LONDON