London (AP) — Arsene Wenger is relieved Olivier Giroud didn’t take him up on the offer to leave Arsenal.
Ever since France striker Alexandre Lacazette joined in July for a club-record 60 million euros ($68 million), the future of compatriot Giroud has been in doubt.
But after deciding to stick it out for a sixth season at Arsenal, Giroud was the north London club’s match-winner on the opening day of the new Premier League campaign after coming off the bench.
While Lacazette netted the opener after two minutes against Leicester on Friday, a collapse left Arsenal trailing with seven minutes remaining. An equalizer by Aaron Ramsey was followed by a header from fellow substitute Giroud sealing a 4-3 victory over the 2016 champions.
“It’s fantastic,” Wenger said. “I must tell you I opened the door for him at some stage (to leave) because it’s important for him to play. But I don’t want him to go and in the end he decided to stay. It was one of the great days of recent weeks for me because I know how important he is. Not only as a player, he’s a fantastic player but as well in the group. He has a big weight in this squad and it was a relief for me that he decided to stay.”
Giroud appears willing — if a little reluctantly — to accept his role as an understudy to Lacazette.
“I prefer to be on the pitch,” the 30-year-old Giroud said, “but as much as I can I try to help the team reach its target.”
Despite only starting 17 games last season in all competitions, Giroud still scored 16 times — including an eye-catching scorpion-style kick against Crystal Palace.
“I love the man and the player because he’s a fantastic guy … committed (and) he loves the club,” Wenger said. “He doesn’t want to leave.”
Asked if Giroud could still leave before the transfer window closes on Aug. 31 until January, Wenger replied: “No. It’s a determined no.”
Giroud was on the pitch for almost half an hour against Leicester with the 26-year-old Lacazette, who joined from Lyon.
“Lacazette is simple. In every game he is stronger since he has joined us,” Wenger said. “Even when I played Giroud through the middle and him on the left he did very well on the left. So overall I think he adapts slowly to the way we want to play and is a collective player and an intelligent player as well.”
Arsenal are not just pursuing a first league title since 2004 but also a return to the top four — and Champions League qualification — after finishing fifth in May. The defence will need to become firmer if far sterner opponents than Leicester are to be beaten.
“We kept going and the spirit of the team was absolutely outstanding,” Wenger said. “If you were a manager and you were on the bench, 3-2 down with 20 minutes to go and you win 4-3, you’re more happy than concerned you know.
“I feel as well that the goals we conceded we can work to get rid of that because one was a corner, one was a ball we lost in the build-up and the third goal was on a corner again so we conceded two goals from corners. We were quite good last year on corners and overall I believe that with a bit of work we can get that out of the system.”