By Robert Woodward
LONDON, Nov 23 (Reuters) - Manager Arsene Wenger hailed Olivier Giroud's fighting spirit after the France striker scored both goals in Arsenal's 2-0 win over Southampton on Saturday and forced visiting goalkeeper Artur Boruc into a dreadful blunder.
The Premier League leaders were being held in check by Southampton, third at the start of play, despite hitting the post twice when Boruc received a back pass on the edge of his area midway through the first half.
Giroud ran towards the Pole more in hope than expectation and the goalkeeper dithered, beat the striker once and then seemed to forget where he or the ball was in a pirouette of calamity as his defence looked on in horror.
Giroud nicked the ball as Boruc fell in a heap and flicked it into an empty net to give Arsenal the lead.
He then added his second goal from the penalty spot in the final minutes after Germany defender Per Mertesacker had his shirt pulled at a corner, giving the north London side a four-point cushion at the top of the table.
"We played a good Southampton side who tried to stop us playing, they were well organised," Wenger told reporters. "We didn't take our chances but we took advantage of their two mistakes.
"He (Giroud) maybe surprised the goalkeeper but he did that very well. Olivier is a positive character who is always ready for a battle - he is a little bit different from the rest of the team but he gives us so much with his physical qualities."
Surrounded and supported by ball-playing midfielders half his size, Giroud has now scored 10 goals in all competitions for Arsenal this season and Wenger said his spirits had been lifted by France's qualification for the World Cup on Tuesday.
"Strikers always tell you they are not obsessed by scoring goals but if they don't score they are sick. It is a relief for him and a boost for his confidence - and I don't think he expected to score so many from the start of the season," said the manager.
Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey hit the post early in the game but Southampton were quick on the counter-attack, with Jay Rodriguez a real handful, while Victor Wanyama was a major presence in the visiting midfield.
Wenger said the win was important after the "big defeat" at Manchester United before the international break and Arsenal were further boosted by the return of England winger Theo Walcott after seven weeks out injured.
"It would have been very different if we had conceded the first goal," added Wenger. "We have a long way to go but we have ambition and the desire is there."
Saints manager Mauricio Pochettino declined to blame Boruc for the game-changing goal.
"Things can happen, people can have a bad day," he said through a translator.
"We were clearly unlucky in the way we conceded our goal - footballers need to learn from their mistakes and accept them." (Editing by Josh Reich)