By support

27th Dec, 2016 | 1:41pm

Alan Smith: Arsenal must bring this fringe player back into the fold

By Matt Farr

Former Arsenal striker Alan Smith insists the Gunners must start Olivier Giroud in more games.

The 30-year-old striker made his first Premier League start of the season against West Brom on Monday, and played a starring role as the Gunners snatched a last-gasp victory.

Giroud met Mesut Ozil’s cross to head home the game’s only goal just five minutes from time, to hand Arsenal a much-needed victory and keep them clinging on to Chelsea in the title race.

Back-to-back defeats against Everton and Manchester City last week allowed the Blues to open up a nine point lead over Arsenal, which could have been made even greater had the Gunners failed to find a way through a stubborn West Brom side.

Despite being restricted largely to substitute appearances, Giroud has already contributed six goals and three assists from 16 appearances for Arsenal this term, and former Arsenal man Alan Smith believes he could be of much further use to Arsene Wenger in the coming months.

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Smith told TalkSport that the striker’s knack of scoring important goals could be Arsenal’s greatest asset in their bid to close the deficit on the league leaders.

He said: “Giroud has chipped in with a few important goals this season.

“It’s important that those on the fringes of the squad have a good attitude when they do come in, and Olivier has shown a good attitude, as much as he’d want to change things in terms of his starting place.

“It was a very important goal for Arsenal – if they had drawn that game, the gap between them and Chelsea would be a very big one.

“Giroud has been forced to sit on his hands and bide his time. But, having scored now, will Olivier keep his place? It’ll be interesting to see what Wenger will do for their next game [at home against Crystal Palace], but I think he would warrant it.”

Giroud started the season on the injury-table, allowing Alexis Sanchez to start the campaign as Arsenal’s leading-man. However, with the Chile international in such superb form, Giroud has found first-team opportunities few and far between since returning to action.

Sanchez has contributed 14 goals and 12 assists from 24 appearances in all competitions. With Lucas Perez also in contention, competition for places in Arsenal’s first-team is about to get a whole lot more competitive, with Danny Welbeck nearing a return from a seven-month injury lay-off.

In other Arsenal news, was Gabriel Paulista and Lucas Perez’s post-match spat on Monday a sign of pressure at the Emirates?