Arsenal FC: Evalutating the Gunners' Striking Options Without Olivier Giroud
Make no mistake, this top four race will go down to the wire.
Just three points separate third-place Chelsea and fifth-place Spurs at the moment, with fourth-place Arsenal sandwiched in between. The three London rivals now head into the final stretch of games knowing that every single point counts, and it's looking like it will go down to the very last day of the season.
Arsenal, though, will be without Olivier Giroud, their main man up front, for the next two matches, as the Frenchman was shown a straight red in the Gunners' 1-0 win over Fulham last weekend. For all the criticism he's received, Giroud has 17 goals in all competitions, which isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination considering it's his first season in England.
That being said, the former Montpellier man has had his ups and downs. When he's not in one of his purple patches of form, Giroud can be frustratingly wasteful, and on more than a few occasions he's missed chances that a certain Dutchman surely would have buried.
Arsene Wenger has been overly reliant on Giroud up top this season as he seems to be the only out-and-out striker at the club, and the Arsenal boss will be forced to improvise now that the French international is suspended.
The way I see it, there are three possible contenders for the position of lone striker in a Giroud-less Arsenal side, although none of them seem to be proper strikers.
I think I speak for most Arsenal supporters when I say that out of the three options, this is the player we least want to see up front.
Although Gervinho had a good spell of form as striker in the beginning of the season, scoring some goals in the Premier League as well as the Champions League, his confidence dropped to rock bottom when he endured a terrible run of form in the winter, highlighted by this miss.
The Africa Cup of Nations couldn't have come sooner for the Ivorian, who regained his form by having a great tournament, despite Ivory Coast being knocked out in the quarterfinals. Gervinho was then slowly brought back into the first team after returning from his national duties, before finding another good patch of form in which he scored two goals and notched up three assists in just three games.
Now back to making substitute appearances, Gervinho will have to impress again to find himself back in the starting 11, and it doesn't look like he'll be the one getting the nod to play up front due to the fact that his finishing is just so frustratingly inconsistent.
Similar to Giroud, Lukas Podolski has had his ups and downs this season. There's no arguing with his 14 goals in all competitions—a very respectable tally considering he's spent most of his time on the left wing—and he's even scored a few crackers with his infamous left foot.
But statistics and YouTube highlights aside, Podolski's tendency to drift off in games simply cannot be ignored. There have been countless times this season—in particular during the big matches—when I forget Podolski's even on the pitch, only to be reminded when he's taken off by Arsene Wenger.
And this brings up another point about Podolski, which is his inability to complete 90 minutes. Apparently it's a niggling ankle injury that's been plaguing him all season, which could also be the reason why he was inexplicably out of the first team for most of March and April.
As mentioned before, Podolski has been used at left wing for the most part this season, although he's more than capable of playing striker, scoring 18 goals from that position for FC Cologne in the Bundesliga last season.
It was Podolski who was given the go-ahead to start up front in Arsenal's 1-1 draw with Manchester United, but ultimately put in a disappointing performance where he seemed to lack energy and had trouble getting into the game, before characteristically being substituted in the 71st minute.
Nonetheless, I can give him the benefit of the doubt for a dull performance against United. He hasn't played striker in over a year, let alone against the league champions, so going into the final three matches of the season, I'd like to see Podolski given a few more chances up front.
The German international is probably the best finisher at the club, and against the likes of QPR, Wigan and Newcastle, he could definitely do some damage.
Walcott has had by far his best season in an Arsenal shirt, scoring his 19th goal in all competitions in the Gunners' 1-1 draw with Manchester United.
Most of his goals have come as a right winger, but Walcott has finally been given the chance in a central striking role this season, getting four goals and two assists in his six games played as a striker—but the numbers don't tell the whole story. Three of the goals and both of the assists came in that dazzling performance against Newcastle, meaning he's scored just once in the other five games as a forward.
In my opinion, Walcott is best suited to the wing and not as a central striker. His hold-up play is non-existent, as are his aerial abilities, meaning the only attribute he has is pace. He isn't going to score from getting a head on a cross or holding up a defender before turning and having a shot; rather, he'll score from hugging the shoulder of the last defender, getting on the end of a through ball and finishing it.
Luckily for Theo, Arsenal's last three fixtures have Walcott's name written all over. The 23-year-old's best performances often come against so-called "smaller clubs" with weak defenses, so already-relegated QPR, an 18th-placed Wigan team playing three at the back, and a Newcastle side which have already felt Walcott's full wrath are all the types of teams that the England international thrives against.
He may not have a future at the club as a striker, but Theo Walcott could be crucial in that position in Arsenal's top four run-in.
Who should start as Arsenal's striker without Olivier Giroud?
Arsene Wenger's options up front are limited due to his own shortcomings in the transfer market, but his best bet would be to go with either Walcott or Podolski, giving Podolski another chance against Queens Park Rangers next weekend and letting Walcott play striker in the following match against Wigan.
It's these types of decisions that earn managers the big bucks, so Wenger's choice will have to be a good one as Arsenal absolutely must get nine points from their final matches of the season in order to secure that top four spot.
Come on, you Gunners.
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