Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has insisted his six-month search for a new striker has never been a mission to find a replacement for lead marksman Olivier Giroud in his starting line-up.
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Wenger made an audacious bid to sign Liverpool’s Luis Suarez last summer and is being linked with a host of strikers in this month’s transfer window.
Yet the Gunners boss has moved to assure the French forward, who has taken on a huge workload this campaign, that his future in the Arsenal team is not in question.
“I looked for a striker last summer to play with Giroud and without Giroud,” Wenger told reporters. “In my mind, it was absolutely not to replace Giroud, it was to play with or without him.
“After, we took [Mesut] Ozil, who is a bit off-the-striker, but we could have taken someone who plays up front and play in a 4-4-2.
“People always want new names. What is important for us is that he [Giroud] is back. He was a bit tired recently but now he is refreshed, he is back, and I am sure he will have a major impact on the second part of the season.
“When you speak to other coaches after a game, they say ‘Oh, what a player he is’. He has qualities the rest of the squad haven’t got. He always gives us that strength.
“We have small players who combine quickly, so to find someone who can hold it, keep the ball, make some room for other players. He does that very well. He gives us a very good balance.”
Wenger also complimented the France international’s toughness, revealing that the 27-year-old played with a deep cut on his ankle when the Gunners face Newcastle.
“He’s a tough, tough boy,” Wenger continued. “Even when the medical people say he should rest, he says: ‘I’m alright.’
“He needed five stitches after the game at Newcastle. He played the whole game at Newcastle with an open ankle and without complaining and when I took him off, he didn’t want to come off.
“He’s tough. He’s always ready for a fight even when he’s tired. I was always there thinking, ‘I have to rest him, I have to rest him, I have to rest him.’ Then, on the Friday night, I always changed my mind.”
Wenger went on to suggest Giroud will miss the absent Theo Walcott after a cruciate knee ligament injury in the FA Cup third round clash with Tottenham ended the England winger’s season prematurely, with the Arsenal boss keen to promote the use of width in his team.
“I think Giroud suffered a little bit when Theo Walcott was out, in his goalscoring,” said Wenger. “Walcott gets the crosses in and we played more inside. When Walcott is there, he gives us more width and more penetration on the flanks and Giroud takes advantage of his crosses.
“He suffered a bit more when Walcott was not there, so we have to play with some width, but I think Serge Gnabry and Lukas Podolski can do that.”
Meanwhile, Wenger believes his side deserve more respect for their surprise title charge, as he claims pundits are still reluctant to consider the Gunners to be strong contender for the Premier League crown.
“Man City are the favourites from everybody’s specialist eyes, but we are here to deny that and at the moment we are in front of them [if we win at Villa],” he added.
“Nobody gave us any points, we have earned them. We just have to keep a strong belief and I am sure we can do it. It is linked with belief and we need to continue to develop as a team because this team is still growing.”
Giroud will join Mesut Ozil in making a return to the Arsenal line-up when they travel to take on Aston Villa on Monday.