Arsène Wenger has welcomed the return of Olivier Giroud after a two-week enforced winter break. "He was a bit tired recently but now he is refreshed, he is back, and I am sure he will have a major impact on the second part of the season," said the Arsenal manager.
With Theo Walcott and Nicklas Bendtner, who covered for Arsenal's target man, both injured, and Lukas Podolski short of the sharpness to be at his best, Wenger is thrilled to have Giroud back in business in time for their Premier League game at Villa Park on Monday night. He praised Giroud's toughness, after the striker played most of his last outing at Newcastle with a badly gashed ankle after a tackle from Mike Williamson split his boot. "He played the whole game at Newcastle with an open ankle and without complaining. And when I took him off, he didn't want to come off. He needed five stitches."
Wenger suggests this absence came at a good time, allowing Giroud to recharge when he was beginning to show the effects of being Arsenal's main striker. "I was always there thinking: 'I have to rest him.' Then on Friday night, I always changed my mind. He's a tough boy. Even when the medical people say he should rest, he says: 'I'm all right'. He's always ready for a fight even when he's tired.
"He has qualities that the rest of the squad has not got. He always gives us that strength. We have small players who combine quickly, so to find someone who can hold it, keep the ball, make some room for other players, he does that very well. He gives us a very good balance."
Arsenal are conscious that it is a gamble to bank on a high level of performance, and an injury-free run, for the second half of the season. "That is why we are out there," said Wenger, reflecting the desire to strengthen the squad in January. As was the case last summer, he is not hunting to replace Giroud but to enhance options. "Last summer I looked for a striker that could play with Giroud and without Giroud. In my mind it was not absolutely to replace Giroud, it was to play with or without him."
Arsenal travel to face a Villa side on a poor run of form: they have won one and lost five of their last seven games in all competitions. Paul Lambert has once again emphasised he does not feel unsackable, insisting he "never stops worrying" about it.
"I'm not immune from it," the manager said. "The relationship between me and Randy [Lerner] is what it is. You just keep going – there is no secret formula to it."
Lambert has also been keen to stress how bad a week he had after the FA Cup defeat to Sheffield United.
"I don't sleep great, I don't eat great. The usual stuff. It is just the life of a football manager. It is a great job, but you don't feel great [after defeats]," he said
The fitness of the defenders Ron Vlaar and Nathan Baker, suffering calf and hamstring problems respectively, needs to be assessed. Gabriel Agbonlahor, who missed the Cup tie, and the goalkeeper Brad Guzan are fit despite having had niggles but the Arsenal game has come too soon for the midfielder Chris Herd and the defender Joe Bennett to make their comebacks.