Arsenal: Why Olivier Giroud Is the Best Striking Option Arsene Wenger Has
The latter has been much more vocal in his pursuit of that elusive goal, though actual goals have been more elusive for Walcott when Arsène Wenger has played him up front.
Nevertheless, the Englishman has used it as a major piece of leverage in his prolonged and much-dramatized contract negotiations. On several occasions, beginning with a Premier League match against Reading on December 17, Wenger has acquiesced, deploying Walcott in a central position.
But is he taking Arsenal hostage? Is he really that good in his favorite position?
According to the manager, he has a bright future there. He stated today (via The Daily Mail):
If you compare Theo today with three years ago, he is a different animal. Today he finishes in a calm way and very accurately. And he can improve. He's 23 years old, that's usually when players start their career. For a striker, he's coming into the best age now.
However, some remain unconvinced about Walcott's ability to help Arsenal right now, even considering the relatively meager options that Arsène Wenger has at his disposal.
Most obviously, Walcott does not appear to have the stature necessary to be a lone striker in the Gunners' system. While Robin van Persie, the man who occupied the role with such lethal effectiveness last season, is 6'1", Walcott is a meager 5'10".
Perhaps he could make up for this with a physical style of play, but he is not hefty enough to go toe-to-toe with the most physically dominating center-backs in England. And there are a lot of them.
Take Arsenal's match against Manchester City, for example. Walcott was completely anonymous, failing to create space for himself or get behind the brick wall that is Vincent Kompany.
The stats prove it: Walcott attempted only 10 passes the entire game. That's only two more than Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who was taken off after 12 minutes, and one less than Olivier Giroud, a 57th minute substitute.
And he had, by far, the worst percentage of forward passes of any Arsenal player on the field—20.
So, to do a little mental math for you, Walcott only played two forward passes during the entire 90 minutes of play.
Admittedly, this was probably his worst game at striker since Arsène Wenger entrusted him with the role. But shouldn't we measure Walcott against the very best in England?
If he wants to be the starting striker at a club that at least nominally hopes to compete for titles, he must excel against the reigning champions.
According to Arsenal stats man 7amkickoff, Olivier Giroud had more touches of the ball after coming on in the 57th minute than Walcott did during the entire game.
Walcott has two main strengths: his speed and his speed. This un-coachable trait is enough to merit a starting place (most of the time) and consideration for starting striker. His finishing is decent, but certainly not anywhere close to the Premier League's elite.
The stats prove this too: Walcott does not rank in the top 30 in minutes per goal, minutes per shot, minutes per shot on target, chance conversion percentage, total clear-cut chances or clear-cut chance conversion percentage for players with at least 30 shots and 900 minutes played.
He's simply not as good as he thinks he is right now.
Arsenal don't have very many strikers at the moment (a point that has been well-belabored). But the only other legitimate option that Arsène Wenger has up front is in the top 30 in all the aforementioned statistical categories.
That man is Olivier Giroud.
I took the defensive stats from what I believe to be Giroud's best Premier League game of the season (the 3-1 win over West Ham) and Walcott's (the 7-3 demolition of Newcastle). A striker, after all, must be able to help the team in all areas of the pitch.
Here's how they compare:
Giroud also had more passes, accurate passes and a higher percentage of completed passes in his best game than Walcott.
And just for the sake of comparing apples to apples, let's look at how Giroud and Walcott compare in the Newcastle game.
That's how lethal the Frenchman was in just 16 minutes of play. And he should have had a hat-trick, but cracked the underside of the crossbar near the end of normal time.
That is Olivier Giroud: The man with the powerful 6'4" frame of a traditional No. 9 and the technique to play two positively delicious lobbed passes to Lukas Podolski and Kieran Gibbs.
Olivier Giroud: The only Arsenal player that can score equally easily with his head and feet.
Olivier Giroud: By far the most complete, dynamic striker that Arsenal have—the man who can offer the most in more areas of the pitch than anyone else.
Olivier Giroud: The only Arsenal player who deserves to be the starting striker.
All stats from EPLIndex.com, unless otherwise noted.
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