By Josh Clarke
When Phil Dowd pointed to the spot, four minutes into stoppage time in the oscillating 3-3 draw with Fulham, Arsenal were presented with the perfect opportunity to put a demoralising week to bed and, at the same time, elevate Olivier Giroud to a higher plane at the Emirates.
Giroud had been the home side’s standout performer for the entire 90 minutes, thumping home two crucial headers in a full-bodied and menacing display that continued his steady acclimatisation to life in north London. It was by far and away his best performance in an Arsenal shirt.
That Mikel Arteta – not Giroud – then, took the decisive penalty, is absolutely criminal.
Given the rampaging and assertive nature with which Giroud finished the game, conditions could hardly have been more optimal for the Frenchman to step up and it’s difficult to envision him missing.
The combination of a last-minute, match-winning hat-trick in front of home fans, to decide a pulsating local derby would have instantly given Gunners fans the goalscoring hero they urgently require at the moment.
Arsene Wenger revealed after the game that these decisions run a set course, that Arteta was the assigned penalty taker, with Santi Cazorla next down the list; and in the interest of professionalism and routine this is understandable.
However, yesterday was a situation where circumstance should have prevailed. Never mind that Giroud had missed the one penalty he has taken for Arsenal (in the Capital One Cup against Coventry), or that Arteta missed only his second penalty from 12 Premier League attempts.
The Spaniard was enduring an uncharacteristic off-day, was at fault for the penalty which edged Fulham in front and was looking increasingly ragged towards the end. The differing mentalities of the two could hardly have been more bipolar.
Fair enough though, that Giroud didn’t just snatch the penalty for himself; the ex-Montpellier man can hardly be criticised for obeying team orders. Such wanton exhibitions of self-interest are probably best saved for Mario Balotelli.
However, an interesting counterpart was provided by Giroud’s opposite number on the day.
Dimitar Berbatov ran the show at the Emirates in the way almost only he can. If Giroud’s centre-forward performance was a bustling physical specimen streaked with productivity in the final third, Berbatov’s was the same, but intensified by his own brand of nonchalant disdain.
It was Berbatov’s ability and – arguably more important – attitude that dragged Fulham back from a two-goal deficit and up to the Bulgarian’s own lofty standards.
Both acted as talismanic focal points for their sides yet with Berbatov, the ruthlessness and self-confidence radiated out of him – exemplified no better than by the casual roll of his penalty beyond a befuddled Vito Mannone to complete the Cottagers’ comeback.
It was inconceivable that anyone but Berbatov would take that penalty, even with the set-piece skills of John-Arne Riise and Bryan Ruiz at hand.
Which is how it should be. The chance to boost the tally with a free strike from 12 yards should leave any striker positively frothing at the mouth. If it doesn’t, they’re in the wrong profession.
This isn’t to say that Berbatov and Giroud are identical talents separated by opposing psychologies. It’s just that the certainty with which Berbatov both claimed and dispatched Fulham’s spot-kick notably inspired belief in his team-mates, while perpetuating his status as the go-to man for goals.
If Giroud wants to develop his recent form to the kind of stuff that will push him towards the top of the goalscoring charts, he could do a lot worse than adopt Berbatov’s monomania.
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The Frenchman has enjoyed a fantastic month – scoring six times in eight starts for club and country – and is one of few positives in what are turbulent times at the Emirates. That the Gunners are beginning to learn to play to his strengths only spells good news for the evolution the club is undergoing.
If Giroud can transform himself into a Premier League goalscorer with even a fraction of the potency of Robin van Persie, then things need not be as doom and gloom-laden for the Gunners as they currently appear. It may be that a pinch of Berbatov-esque swagger is all that is required.
Anyway, you could say such a mind-set is a well-established Arsenal institution. It’s hard to imagine any of the great forwards from Arsenal’s modern history – Ian Wright, Thierry Henry or Van Persie – letting anyone else anywhere near a spot-kick.
All three possessed a confident, assured air of invincibility, a whiff of which Giroud may need to detect in order to become the ruthless figurehead Arsenal desperately need.