Over the course of this Premier League season, Olivier Giroud has been silencing his critics, but giving them reasons to criticize him shortly after. Solid hold-up play here, but a missed sitter there; a technically brilliant goal here, but a selfish play there.
His first year at the Emirates, filled with frequent ups and downs, has left Gooners divided on the topic of the tall Frenchman. Although one cannot help but draw a parallel between Giroud and Chamakh—both tall players plucked from the defending Ligue 1 champions—it's fair to say that so far Giroud's trajectory isn't showing that he will go the way of Chamakh.
In fact, in Arsenal's two latest games, Giroud has looked like he could put his name up there with some of the best strikers in the Premier League. What's interesting about his four goals in two recent games against West Ham and Brighton is that all of them showcased one technically sound aspect of his game—except for his best one, heading.
His first goal against West Ham was a very difficult ball at shin-height which he was able to volley on target with a fair amount of pace, demonstrating great technique and coordination. His second goal of the match was a back-heel chop off of a nice cross played from Podolski on the left wing, showing a little flare and craftiness.
Giroud's first goal against Brighton, a picture-perfect curled shot from outside the box, showed his ability to shoot from distance, which we haven't seen too many times so far this season. His second goal at the AMEX Stadium was set up by a brilliant ball from Abou Diaby, and a deft first touch by Giroud showed sublime control.
For those who have dismissed Giroud's skill set as confined to aerial ability, his goals in the last two matches seem to be a direct answer to that claim, answering his critics that he isn't a one-dimensional player (which, I may as well mention, is a common accusation of Chamakh's game). One of his flaws seems to be his right foot, on which he misses chances and should improve on.
But you wouldn't be going too far if you called him a complete striker. One thing that strikes me about Giroud is his athleticism for a guy who is 6'4" (1.92 m). He may not be the fastest player to latch onto through balls from the midfield like Walcott. However, this guy is not only flexible but can get up high for a header and a bicycle kick—which isn't a skill beyond Giroud's capability.
But the Frenchman needs to step up under pressure.
As far as big games go, Giroud hasn't performed at his best. He did grab a goal in the thrilling (for Arsenal fans, at least) 5-2 victory against Tottenham, but missed crucial sitters in both encounters with Chelsea that could have changed the outcomes of the matches.
And now that he has displayed the means to cause damage to opponents, we have to look to the future.
One obstacle in Giroud's potential success is Theo Walcott. Everyone knows that the speedy Englishman's dream is to move from the wing to center forward, as Thierry Henry did at Highbury, and Theo was getting his wish in December 2012.
The only question is, was that an simply incentive put out by Arsene Wenger to convince Walcott to re-sign an Arsenal contract? Walcott recently "signed da ting," so does that mean that he will be moved back to the wing? Or will he occupy Giroud's role of striker? Certainly now, as the current attack is hitting its groove, Wenger won't want to change the personnel up front, with a front line of Podolski, Giroud and Walcott.
One may argue that the four goals which Giroud scored were against fairly weak sides—a valid argument, considering West Ham are in twelfth in the Premier League and Brighton sit seventh in the Championship. Nonetheless the main lesson to draw is that Olivier Giroud is capable of playing great football.
Fifteen Premier League games still lie ahead for the Gunners, including ones against Liverpool, Everton, Tottenham and Manchester United. Meanwhile Giroud's current tally of eight goals in the league puts him tied in twelfth place in the top flight, something that will undoubtedly change if he and Arsenal find top form.
But almost no one has an easy time in their first year in the Premier League; just ask Giroud's teammates Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker.
So far, Giroud has done better than most in their first season, and it seems as though there is only one way to go now for the Frenchman: up. His start at Arsenal should be very encouraging for fans, because the talent and technique are there, but there's something mental holding him back in big moments.
He should be able to break the psychological block soon, and when he does, defenders had better watch out.
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