Olivier Giroud stole the show as the Arsenal striker’s outrageous “scorpion kick” stung Crystal Palace and inspired his side’s 2-0 win at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
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Giroud produced an audacious mid-air shot from behind his back to open the scoring and illuminate a dank afternoon in north London with one of the goals of the season.
The France international’s breath-taking strike deserves to be ranked alongside any of the wonder goals conjured by Arsenal legends Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp.
Fittingly, it came in the 200th league match at the Emirates and provided the foundation for a win that was confirmed by Alex Iwobi’s second-half goal, keeping third-placed Arsenal nine points behind Premier League leaders Chelsea.
A second successive win following consecutive pre-Christmas defeats offers Arsenal renewed hope of a sustained title challenge in 2017.
But while the specifics of this otherwise routine victory will soon fade, the memory of Giroud’s gem will remain emblazoned in the minds of all who were privileged enough to witness it.
Palace won’t feel quite so warm and fuzzy about a defeat that leaves them without a win in two matches under new boss Sam Allardyce and just two points above the relegation zone.
Despite the absence of ill playmaker Mesut Ozil, Arsenal started brightly and went close to an early goal when Nacho Monreal’s cross eluded Giroud and ran to the back post, where Iwobi teed up Mohamed Elneny for a shot that deflected over.
Alexis Sanchez was next to threaten as the Arsenal forward cleverly worked himself into space on the edge of the penalty area before unleashing a fierce strike that curled just wide.
Sweeping forward with typically extravagant passing moves, Arsenal looked at their elegant best and never more so than when Giroud opened the scoring in the 17th minute.
– Exquisite –
When Arsenal took possession on the edge of their own penalty area, Palace’s overwhelmed players must have hoped for a moment’s respite.
But the Gunners launched a ruthless counter-attack as a flurry of one-touch passing moved the ball out to Sanchez on the left of the Palace box.
Sanchez’s cross was just behind the diving Giroud but the Frenchman’s reaction was exquisite as he flicked his left foot behind him to guide an instinctive shot over Palace keeper Wayne Hennessey and in off the crossbar.
Giroud’s seventh goal of what had previously been an underwhelming season for the 30-year-old was such a bolt from the blue that even the man himself, grinning from ear to ear, wore the incredulous look of someone who couldn’t believe what he’d just done.
Anything either team accomplished for the rest of the half seemed prosaic in comparison, although that didn’t stop Arsenal pressing for a second goal as Elneny drove a low shot just wide.
Sanchez should have doubled Arsenal’s lead seconds before the interval, but he rushed his close-range effort and Hennessey saved with his legs.
Palace had barely reached the Arsenal penalty area in the first half, but they almost snatched an equaliser immediately after the interval when Christian Benteke headed wide from Andros Townsend’s cross.
That miss was Palace’s one and only chance to snatch a point and Iwobi delivered the knockout blow in the 56th minute.
Sanchez passed to the over-lapping Monreal and the left-back’s cross was deflected high into the air and, with the Palace defence statuesque, Iwobi had all the time he needed to loop his header over Hennessey.