ARSENE WENGER insists Olivier Giroud has become an ‘animal’ at Arsenal.

The French striker, 28, faces league leaders Chelsea today with Wenger hailing his ­physical transformation over recent months.

Giroud, according to the Gunners boss, is unrecognisable from the £13million forward bought from Montpellier in July 2012 – thanks to a rigorous training regime introduced earlier this season.

Wenger had ordered Giroud to beef himself up and the Emirates chief has been delighted by the results after watching 6ft 4in Giroud plunder 18 goals in 30 appearances to date.

Ahead of Chelsea’s crunch visit to N5 this afternoon, Wenger said: “Olivier Giroud has fantastic body strength.

‘’But sometimes he needed to be challenged really physically to become the animal he is.

“You see pictures of him when he arrived at Arsenal compared with today and he is a completely different player.

“Let’s not forget, this guy makes 14st 4lbs, so when he steps on your feet, you feel it!

“On the other hand, he has improved tremendously technically. It’s all about ­combining skill with strength.”

Despite finishing 2013-14 as Arsenal’s top scorer, with 22 goals, Giroud was still prone on occasion to go missing amid the combative, helter-skelter nature of the Premier League.

And then there were the times when, in the face of brutal treatment from bruising ­defenders, the Gallic ace would lose the plot, lash out and see red. Keeping a lid on that temper appears to have been key to his latest excellent campaign.

Wenger added: “Sometimes, he became ­really aggressive when he was challenged – and you do not want him to be like that.

“Giroud plays with his back to goal and that means he gets hit a lot – every week. That’s why I have to rest him ­sometimes. But he’s now more durable to the tackles and challenges.”

If the French striker needed to pump more iron, Wenger never had any ­worries about the man’s inner steel or resilience.

Those characteristics have come to the fore of late – ­following Giroud’s personal horror show in front of goal against Monaco in the last 16 of the Champions League.

He missed three sitters in what proved a fatal 3-1 first-leg home defeat, eventually being subbed on the hour mark.

And, yet, since that miserable mid-February night, Giroud has found the target for fun, scoring seven times during Arsenal’s on-going nine-match winning streak in all competitions.

That sizzling form has helped take the FA Cup holders back to Wembley – and just about kept them in contention for an highly ­improbable first championship in 11 years.

“What I admire in Olivier is his mental strength,” said Wenger, whose troops kick off ten points behind Jose Mourinho’s Blues.

“When a guy, at 20, plays in the French Third Division and then gets up into the national team, you know there’s mental strength there.

“It’s not easy to do that, when you’ve gone through the lower levels and had to look up and dream.

“That’s why once up there, this type of player stays there.”

But what hope have the north Londoners got of staying in the title race today with a TENTH victory on the bounce – and Wenger’s first in 13 attempts against his most bitter rival, Mourinho?

Ignoring his own shocking record versus the Special One, the French coach, 65, said: “We have three targets for the rest of the season.

“One is to continue our run. Two is to strengthen our position in second place over the teams behind us.

“And three is to reduce the distance with Chelsea at the top of the table.”

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