LONDON, February 15- Arsene Wenger believes Olivier Giroud has transformed as a player during his time at Arsenal, as the French striker scored twice at the Emirates to beat Middlesbrough 2-0 and send the FA Cup holders into the quarter-finals.
Giroud hit two goals in two minutes just before the half-hour, with Wenger especially pleased with the manner of the goals.
The first, after 27 minutes, came at the end of a flowing move than involved every player in the Arsenal starting XI. The second, on 29 minutes, involved a piece of quick thinking as Giroud reacted first to Alexis Sanchez’s rapidly taken corner.
Wenger believes the finishing, at the least, is the product of the evolution Giroud has undergone since arriving at the Emirates in 2012.
“I believe Giroud is a different player from the guy who arrived here,” Wenger said.
“He understands what top-level football demands, works with great concentration in training, improved on his mobility, technical quality. Of course his body is very strong and he uses it very well.”
Wenger was also hugely enthused with how the different characteristics of both goals showed alternate qualities of his side.
“The first goal is what we tried to do in our build-up,” Wenger said.
“The second goal shows the game belongs to the players as well. It’s a consequence of two players who respond quickly to a situation and analysing quickly what they want to do well. That’s basically what it was, a consequence of intelligence and technique.”
The other main positive for Arsenal, from what was a very easy win, was the performance of new signing Gabriel Paulista.
The defender prevented one Middlesbrough attack with a hugely industrial foul, but was generally composed.
“It was interesting to observe Gabriel today,” said Wenger.
“His first game in a cup game which we had absolutely to win, he showed important qualities, great concentration, great urgency to defend, good pace, especially on the recovery tackle he made in the box.
“He played a little bit with the handbrake because he didn’t want to make a mistake.
“From what I’ve seen, there’s a lot to come.”
– eager Sanchez –
Wenger believes the strong team he picked indicates his desire to defend the FA Cup, as he revealed Alexis Sanchez was again eager to play, despite expectation he might be rested.
“Alexis became strong as the game went on. I took a gamble, and took him off with 20 minutes to play.
“He always wants to play. Everybody is like that, but he is bit more like that. He didn’t miss too many games.
“What was important for him was to get through without injury.”
Aitor Karanka meanwhile said he “didn’t like anything” about Middlesbrough’s first-half performance, as his side — who have rightfully received much praise this season, not least for the defeat of Manchester City in the fourth round — were simply brushed away.
The Spaniard said that earlier victory might have made his players think the game would be “easier” and that they were far from the “perfect” level shown at the Etihad.
“If you want to take something from games against Arsenal today, you have to be perfect, like at Etihad Stadium and you have to take advantage of your chances. If you make mistakes, it’s difficult.
“I don’t know if it’s frustration. A little bit disappointed because everybody was expecting a game like against Liverpool or Man City. This is my biggest concern. We didn’t go to the pitch in the way we usually go.
“The second half was better, but the first half I didn’t like anything.”