Giroud repays the faith to give Arsenal perfect Christmas present

The Frenchman scored a crucial late winner against West Brom to get the Gunners back on track in the Premier League and prove his worth to Arsene Wenger

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There was an apathetic atmosphere inside Emirates Stadium as Arsenal took to the pitch against West Brom on Boxing Day, just a week after two consecutive defeats to Everton and Manchester City.

The plethora of empty seats were most likely down to the fact that no trains were running on a public holiday but you could have been mistaken for thinking the first 45 minutes were part of a protest over the Gunners' recent form.

It would indeed be an exaggeration to define Arsenal’s previous few weeks as a crisis but the match against a typically well-drilled Tony Pulis side certainly wouldn’t have been Arsene Wenger’s most ideal opponent at such a crucial point in the season - and it almost ended in a drab stalemate.

Kieran Gibbs was handed a start at left-back ahead of the inconsistent Nacho Monreal and did enough to show why he is more than capable of forging a regular spot in the Arsenal defence. The Englishman created three chances in the 70 minutes he was on the pitch before being replaced by the Spaniard after being kicked on the knee in the second half.

Alex Iwobi was selected in attack ahead of the injured Theo Walcott while Wenger opted for Olivier Giroud up front in a bid to a add some physicality to the Gunners' frontline. 

The Baggies' defensive-minded approach paid dividends in the first half as Arsenal struggled to muster up any opportunity of note, with Alexis Sanchez providing the only shot on target from a deep central role up front which he’s become accustomed to in recent weeks. 

Giroud repaid the faith shown in him by Wenger with a thumping header past Ben Foster four minutes from time. An inch-perfect delivery from Mesut Ozil, another player who has received undue criticism over the past few weeks, provided the perfect tonic for those who claim that Arsenal are unable to come up with the goods when required.

Persistence is key in these gritty domestic encounters and Arsenal will be boosted by Giroud's return to prominence ahead of a congested January fixture list. Danny Welbeck, Santi Cazorla and Per Mertesacker are all set to return in the coming games and the reduced injury list gives Wenger's men added depth in a title race which is being dominated by an irresistible-looking Chelsea side.

Arsenal had nearly 80 per cent possession and 89 per cent passing accuracy in a game which only got the pulses racing towards the end. 26 shots to West Brom’s three certainly emphasised that clear dominance, although questions will remain over why they managed to surrender 1-0 leads in two of the biggest games in December.

At least today the response in the final few minutes has kept Arsenal in a Premier League title race and rejuvenated a striker whose header handed the Gunners a hard-fought three points in north London.