Explaining Olivier Giroud's Hot Form with Arsenal This Season
Fans who followed him after he arrived at the club last summer will know how starkly different his beginning to this season is from the one before.
Giroud appeared to be strangled both by pressure to fill the humongous void left by Robin van Persie's departure and the inevitably arduous transition from Ligue 1 to the Premier League. His quality was obvious, but he was unable to translate raw skill into goals during his first several appearances for the club.
There was never a single moment or game during which one could say that anything in particular "clicked" for Giroud. He progressively improved throughout the season (partly due to necessity, as he was Arsenal's only traditional striker) and evolved into a quite competent forward.
After the end of last season, something definitely changed within Giroud—he figured something out about his technique or the style of the English game. For as soon preseason began, the Frenchman began to sweep in goals with stunning consistency and coolness.
Perhaps somewhat deservedly, Giroud's goalscoring frenzy did not create an equally rabid response in the media; he was, after all, destroying such sides as the Indonesia Dream Team and Vietnam XI.
Yet it was not a fluke. Arsenal's only striker is already proving himself to be one of the most lethal and complete in the Premier League this season. The Gunners have played five matches so far, and Giroud has featured in every one. He has scored in four of those.
So, to put it plainly, what's the difference between the merely above-average Giroud and the world-beating, clinical version that is in such scintillating form right now?
Part of the answer lies in his perfect physical appropriateness for English football, and, more importantly, the fact that he is now using his massive stature to his advantage.
The Premier League is often discussed as a the most physical in the world, and while certain immovable proponents of the Bundesliga might disagree, it is generally true that succeeding in the Premier League requires a special sort of physical specimen.
Few who have seen Giroud at his best can truthfully deny that he possesses these largely unteachable qualities. An image of his six-pack, visible through his jersey, was widely circulated around the internet after a rain-soaked game a couple weeks ago.
This muscular prowess and imposing height allow Giroud to stand up to and fight through some of the most powerful and rough defenders in the world. Not every striker possesses the physical tools to outmaneuver Ryan Shawcross on a set piece, for example, but Giroud certainly does.
Because he can marry this bulk with laudable finite technique and skill with the ball at his feet, he has been able to hone some of the more specific aspects of his game, which arguably were undeveloped last season.
It has been extremely encouraging, in particular, to see Giroud holding the ball up for midfielders and his fellow forward before passing the ball on to a faster or more creative player.
This is truly a mark of a player who has mastered the English game. Because many defenses man-mark strikers when they encroach too far into the final third, the ability to lure a defender toward the ball before passing it off is a crucial attacking tactic.
And if nothing else, it simply allows the entire attack to operate more efficiently, while minimizing giveaways due to temporary dearths of creative nous or space.
Of course, anyone who watched the North London Derby observed how clinical and imaginative Giroud is in his finishing. His subtle flick of the boot was a sign of a striker whose confidence is coursing through his veins and who actually possesses the ability to execute.
But this is not something that Giroud has recently developed. After all, this is a man who attempted a 40-yard strike from the left side of the pitch during his very first competitive appearance as an Arsenal player.
The difference this season is simply that he has honed his raw physical giftedness and technical quality to produce something closer to the archetypal modern Premier League striker.
Arsene Wenger doesn't really have a choice about whether to play him, and wouldn't even if Giroud was in horrendous form. Luckily, Arsenal fans can disregard this, at least for the moment.
Because Giroud has progressed in virtually every respect that Wenger could have hoped he would, the Gunners can feel extremely confident in the man who is now truly leading their forward line.
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