Arsenal earned a 2-0 victory over Manchester City at Etihad Stadium on Sunday, the most impressive win for the Gunners in recent memory given the club's road struggles against top competition. Arsenal collected three points partially thanks to the play of forward Olivier Giroud, who scored a trademark header in the 67th minute to double the club's lead and cap one of the Frenchman’s best performances of the season.
Giroud spoke to SI.com on the phone the day after the victory to discuss Arsenal’s form, U.S. men’s national team prospect (and Arsenal teammate) Gedion Zelalem, and his swift recovery from injury earlier this season (Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity):
SI.com: In Sunday’s 2-0 win, Arsenal seemed to play a very defensive game, apparently content to let Manchester City have most of possession. Was that Arsene Wenger’s strategy going into the game?
Giroud: Not really. The boss’s words were, “Be brave defensively, be compact, be all together. Defend well, and we will always create chances to score.” The boss didn’t say to stay back and counterattack.
SI.com: Why do you think your tactics worked so well against City?
Giroud: I think we learned from our previous mistakes. Last year, against big teams, we lost maybe every away game. We used to play our game and they used to play us with a counterattack. They know that we like to have the ball.
I think in staying deeper and awaiting them, we did really well. We were one compact block, and we were really brave and we did really well tactically.
SI.com: The win over Manchester City was hugely important for the squad in the race to finish top four. But do you think it gives you enough to get back in the title race?
Giroud: Yeah. We need to finish in the top four. The teams in front us, like Manchester United and Southampton, are not so far ahead. But if you look up - obviously, Chelsea and even City, who we beat yesterday - Chelsea is maybe 13 points ahead. It will be tough to come back, but you never know. We need the momentum and we need to take game after game. We need to just focus on our quality and our game. For the title, we’ll see. It will be difficult, but we want to finish as high as we can.
SI.com: Arsenal’s biggest acquisition over the last year has been Alexis Sanchez, who is certainly a candidate for player of the year. What aspect of Alexis’s game has impressed you the most?
Giroud: It’s a basic answer, but it is the first time I have seen someone who is really talented but also has so much determination. He is doing everything at 100 percent, and he is passionate about his job. He could play maybe all day. He’s just in fantastic physical condition. We call him “Duracell,” like the battery. He’s running everywhere all the time and he never stops.
SI.com: In the United States, there’s been a lot of excitement recently about Gedion Zelalem, who appears ready to join the U.S. men’s national team. You see him regularly in training and on the pitch. Can you describe Gedion and what he’s like based on what you’ve seen at Arsenal?
Giroud: Out of the field, I don’t know him very well. But he looks like a guy who is really shy and really respectful. He always listens to advice from his teammates. He’s still young. He still can improve himself.
I think he can put more aggressiveness in his game. I know he’s not a strong fellow, but he’s a fantastic footballer. Technically, he’s amazing, and he sees everything before the other players. I think he will be a really great player, but he needs game time. He needs to play more. But he has fantastic quality.
He’s really clever. He’s got really great technique. The main thing I think we would love to improve is the impact in the physical way. He will get muscles (laughs) - he will get strong. He’s still so young.
SI.com: Some have said that Gedion might be the type of player the United States has been missing. What kind of impact would you expect him to have for the U.S. men’s national team?
Giroud: Honestly, I don’t know. But he’s a really talented player. I think he will need to play several games at the high level internationally. He will take advantage of it, and his confidence will increase. I’m sure he will be an important player for the U.S. national team, especially because he is really clever and his technique is fantastic.
SI.com: You suffered a pretty serious leg injury early in the year, but you managed to return quite rapidly - you were back in training less than three months after you sustained the injury in late August. How were you able to recover so quickly?
Giroud: After an injury, I think you have to be strong mentally. It’s really difficult for a player when you are at the stadium or the training ground and you can see your teammates enjoy playing football. You’re ready to play, and you are a bit frustrated. So you have to keep the faith and work hard in training to come back as early as possible.
SI.com: You recently became a “global brand ambassador” for HYPERICE, a fitness tech company that you credit with helping your recovery. You’re the first European soccer player to partner with the firm. How did HYPERICE help you recover from your injury?
Giroud: I needed ice to put on my ankle. And it was really easy with HYPERICE. It’s really simple and easy to understand, and yeah it’s a simple product but really efficient. I used it a lot during the first two or three weeks, especially when I worked out and I needed to ice my ankle after a session.
SI.com: Arsenal has dealt with a lot of injuries this year, to players like you, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil and a host of others. Recently, it was announced that Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Debuchy were facing extended time on the injury list. Do you consider Arsenal’s injury problems to just be bad luck?
Giroud: I’m not part of the medical staff, but every year we know that during the season we’re going to have injuries. Jack (Wilshere) has had problems with his ankle, Aaron (Ramsey) with his hamstring, Mikel Arteta is out, (Laurent) Koscielny was as well. So yeah we used to have a lot of injuries. I don’t know why - I don’t know if it is about the rehab. I’m not sure. I think that it could be bad luck. I don’t think it’s because of the way we train. So I don’t know - I can’t explain it. If someone could explain it and have the right solution, I think he should tell it to the boss.
SI.com: Before you came to Arsenal in 2012 you played in France. How would you compare the physicality of the English Premier League with France’s Ligue 1?
Giroud: The biggest difference between the two leagues is that in England you play every game to win the game. You are not playing the game to not concede a goal. Everyone wants to win and wants to attack and there is a big intensity from the start to the end of the game. The big difference is the intensity. It’s box-to-box. You have to be ready physically and athletically. We play a lot of games as well. We play for the winter and we don’t have a break, so it’s really tough for the body.
SI.com: This year, Arsenal will most likely be competing in the Premier League, the Champions League and FA Cup all at once, just like last season. How difficult is it for a player to stay fit and avoid fatigue while playing in all these grueling competitions at once?
Giroud: We are pleased to play every three days because we love competition and we are competitors. We need the adrenaline. The games are what we love - that’s our passion. The best thing for us is to play games. It is really nice to play in the Champions League, because we play against the best teams and the best competition in Europe.
Football, if I can say, is an everlasting new beginning. You always question yourself, but you have to be ready not just mentally but physically as well. You have to be fit and take care of your body. You need to have a great way of life - you have to eat well, to sleep well. If you get it, you’re going to play maybe every game if you are lucky. That’s what I did last year and unfortunately at the beginning of the season I had surgery on the leg, but I’m used to playing a lot of games and I’m OK with that.
SI.com: Most important question: You always seem to find a way to make your hair look good during matches. How long do you spend on your hair before kickoff?
Giroud: (Laughs) Not a lot of time. Maybe five minutes. I put wax in it to fix it. I use a hairdryer. But nothing more than five or 10 minutes.