Olivier Giroud

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World Cup qualifiers: Dutch disaster persists; Greece hold Belgium

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s World Cup qualifying fixtures, as Groups A, B and H hit the halfway point in Europe…

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Bulgaria 2-0 Netherlands

Spas Delev scored both Bulgarian goals (5th and 20th minutes) to secure all three points and send Danny Blind’s Netherlands side (7 points) into fourth place in Group A, six points back of leaders France and three back of second-place (qualifying playoffs) Sweden.

17-year-old Matthijs de Ligt was handed his international debut for the Dutch; he was ultimately at fault for both of Delev’s goals; he was subbed off at halftime (as was Georginio Wijnaldum).

Luxembourg 1-3 France

Olivier Giroud scored twice (28th and 77th minutes) for France, and Antoine Griezmann added the other (37th minute – penalty kick), as Les Bleus maintained their three-point lead in Group A. Kylian Mbappe, Monaco’s 18-year-old rising star, made his international debut in the 78th minute, when he replaced Dimitri Payet.

Portugal 3-0 Hungary

Cristiano Ronaldo bagged the 69th and 70th goals of his international career (36th and 65th minutes), as Portugal (12 points) kept pace with an unbeaten Switzerland side (15 points) which managed a 1-0 victory over Latvia to keep their 100-percent record intact. Andre Silva scored the opener (32nd minute) for Portugal, the 21-year-old Porto striker’s fifth goal in six international appearances.

Belgium 1-1 Greece

Romelu Lukaku‘s 89th-minute rescued a point for Group H leaders Belgium (13 points), but it did little to mask an otherwise uninspiring performance from Roberto Martinez’s side. Kostas Mitroglu put Greece ahead in the first minute of the second half, but Panagiotis Tachtsidis saw his second yellow of the game in the 65th minute, and that was the start of Greece’s unraveling. The draw was just enough to keep Greece (11 points) in second, ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose 5-0 thrashing of Gibraltar moved them to 10 points with a superior goal differential.

Elsewhere in UEFA’s World Cup qualifying

Group A

Sweden 4-0 Belarus

Group B

Switzerland 1-0 Latvia
Andorra 0-0 Faroe Islands

Group H

Bosnia-Herzegovina 5-0 Gibraltar
Cyprus 0-0 Estonia

Giroud says Arsenal players “want Wenger to renew his contract”

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As if you needed further proof that no one associated with Arsenal is on the same page, Olivier Giroud says the club’s players want Arsene Wenger to stay, while the club’s fans have been holding near-weekly protests in an attempt to force the 67-year-old legend out.

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While he’s on international duty with the French national team, Giroud has been speaking to French television channel Canal Plus, and revealed the players’ preference regarding Wenger’s immediate future — quotes from the Guardian:

“We want Arsene Wenger to renew his contract, to continue his adventure, because we support him. We hope we can win the [FA] Cup and that Arsenal qualify for the Champions League.”

[ MORE: The “mature” one — Mourinho says he’s matured at Man United ]

Wenger, for whatever his opinion and/or preference may be worth in the matter, hopes to stay at Arsenal beyond this summer — when his contract expires — but the final decision will be made in conjunction with members of the club’s executive board, whom are said to be undecided.

Everything sounds totally fine.

Arsenal 2-1 Burnley: Arsenal into second in stunning fashion

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What appeared a straightforward result for Arsenal ended in stunning fashion as a pair of penalties in stoppage time saw Arsenal through to second in the Premier League table.

A 59th minute header by Shkodran Mustafi had Arsenal 1-0 in front, and it remained that way for much of the game. Granit Xhaka was sent off again in the 65th minute, but it didn’t appear to make much of a difference to the Gunners.

Then, things exploded in stoppage time with seven added minutes due to earlier injuries. Referee Jon Moss pointed to the spot two minutes into stoppage time for a kick from Francis Coquelin, and Andre Gray buried the chance to level things up, appearing to have wrapped up a point. But in the final tick of seven added minutes, Arsenal themselves earned a penalty when Ben Mee produced a high boot to the face of Laurent Koscielny, leaving the referee no choice but to point to the spot. Alexis Sanchez cooly went down the middle, and Arsenal came out on top.

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Burnley started brightly, but it was Arsenal that had the best early chance. With six minutes gone by, Alexis Sanchez broke down the left and delivered a good ball in, but Olivier Giroud‘s flick header was from too far out, and the Frenchman probably should have let it go with the ball set to arrive at the feet of Aaron Ramsey.

That chance sparked Arsenal to begin pummeling the Burnley box, mostly up the left edge with Sanchez. The visitors packed in the box, forcing the Gunners to get creative, and Mesut Ozil fired wide on the half-volley past 20 minutes.

Laurent Koscielny was needed at the back after a mistake in possession by his defensive partner Shkodran Mustafi, but the Frenchman was calm, cool, and collected to dispossess Andre Gray on the break. Koscielny had a chance on the other end as well, past the half-hour mark as he headed a free-kick on net but it looped agonizingly over the bar, settling on the top netting.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Arsenal continued to attack the packed-in Burnley box, and Sanchez whipped a shot in three minutes before halftime that swerved just wide of the post. The Gunners kept at it right out of the break, as Grioud fed Ramsey with a header, but the Welsh international tried a scorpion kick, and it went over. Sanchez fired a fizzing shot on net on 50 minutes, but it curled just beyond the top right corner. Arsenal should have had a penalty, with Mustafi going down under a silly challenge from Gray, but no call was awarded.

The hosts finally and deservedly broke through in the 59th minute as Mustafi expertly headed in off a corner. The header was from a very tight angle, as Mustafi met the ball ahead of the near post, angling it all the way across the face of goal and tucked inside the far corner past a diving Tom Heaton.

Arsenal was pegged back when Granit Xhaka earned his second red card of the Premier League season for a two-footed lunge on Steven Defour. Xhaka had passed the ball straight to Defour and as the Burnley midfielder distributed it to a teammate, the Swiss international went in studs showing, and after a conference with the assistant referee, head official Jon Moss sent Xhaka off.

With 15 minutes remaining, Burnley lost a steady man as Dean Marney was forced off after a heavy challenge with Mesut Ozil that earned him a yellow card. The stretcher was required after what appeared to be a serious injury to his right knee which took the full brunt of Ozil’s weight in an awkward position.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

As the game wound to a close, there were seven added minutes due to the Marney injury. Early in stoppage time, Burnley won a penalty and appeared to have earned themselves a point. Substitute Francis Coquelin kicked Ashley Barnes in the lower leg, and the penalty was awarded. Gray buried the penalty down the middle, and things were level with just minutes remaining.

Arsenal poured forward, and with an angry Arsene Wenger sent to the tunnel, the Gunners produced a winning moment. A free-kick looped in to the far post, and Mee’s boot contacted Koscielny in the side of the head, again forcing the referee to award the penalty. Sanchez broke out the panenka finish, dinking the ball down the middle and in for a last-gasp 2-1 lead. Replays show the penalty was the correct decision, but Koscielny was in an offside position when the delivery came in, the flag failing to punish the Gunners.

The win moves Arsenal past Liverpool and Tottenham, into second place with 47 points, five behind leaders Chelsea who are yet to play this weekend. Burnley, meanwhile, remain with just a single point all season away from home, sitting in 13th place with 26 points, having been passed by Southampton who won in the early Sunday match.

French trio sign new contracts at Arsenal

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Olivier Giroud, Laurent Koscielny and Francis Coquelin have all signed new contracts at Arsenal.

[ MORE: Lackluster Liverpool lucky ] 

The deals for the French trio were announced on Thursday morning with Koscielny announcing he has signed on until 2020, but the Gunners haven’t revealed any length on the deals apart from saying they are “long-term contracts” for Giroud, Koscielny and Coquelin.

Here’s what Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has to say about the deals.

“We are very pleased that three important members of our team have committed to us for the long term,” Wenger said. “Francis has made tremendous technical strides over the past few years because he’s so focused every day. Olivier has big experience in the game now and has become a more and more complete player since joining us. Laurent is of course a key part of our squad and I believe one of the best defenders in the world today. So overall, this is great news for us.”

Giroud has scored four goals in his last four games in all competitions, including an incredible scorpion kick goal against Crystal Palace over the festive period, and he scored 24 goals last season as Arsenal’s top scorer. The 30-year-old has had to be patient for his chance this season as Alexis Sanchz has led the line but Giroud has been in fine form with a better goals per minute played ratio than any other player in the Premier League.

Koscielny’s importance to Arsenal is clear with the French international defender, who joined in the summer of 2010, captaining Arsenal in Per Mertesacker‘s absence. His calming presence is key on Arsenal’s defense, while Coquelin has added extra bit to midfield over the past two seasons as he’s become an integral part of the side and one of the first names on the teamsheet in the holding midfield role.

Of course this is all great news for the Gunners but there are three other current members of the team/staff who need to commit their future to the club.

Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil (both have 18 months left on their deal) and manager Wenger (his deal runs out this summer), you’re next.

Giroud confirms Arsenal contract talks; extension expected soon

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Raw numbers tell us that Olivier Giroud is one of the Premier League’s most productive strikers.

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Our eyes, and the hearts of Arsenal supporters the world over, tell us he’s also one of the PL’s most frustrating strikers. You can’t really argue with either (see below numbers for proof). Giroud is the very definition of an enigma. (We’ll never, ever, ever forget the scorpion kick.)

Regardless, he remains a favorite of Arsene Wenger, and seems set to remain at Arsenal for the foreseeable future, as the 30-year-old French international is close to signing a long-term new contract (his current deal expires in the summer of 2018) — quotes from the Guardian:

“We are about to reach an agreement for an extension [to my contract]. It was also a gesture of confidence, I want to continue the adventure here in this family of Arsenal. I feel good here.”

“When I spoke to the coach, he always told me that I was an important player. I know what I am capable of. I just needed to be patient, to work in training and wait for my hour to come.”

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundupSunday | Saturday | Friday ]

Giroud has scored 63 goals in 148 PL’s appearances for Arsenal (a goal scored every 1.7 starts, and every 2.3 appearances). Complete list of players who have scored more league goals in the four and a half seasons Giroud has been in the PL: Sergio Aguero (90) and Romelu Lukaku (71). That’s it.