It was as the night drew in back in December, in the corridors of Napoli's Stadio San Paolo, that it first became apparent that Olivier Giroud was in for a long, long season. Arsenal had just been beaten 2-0 in southern Italy in their final Champions League group game. It was a defeat that ultimately cost Arsene Wenger's side, catapulting them into a last-16 tie with Bayern Munich, rather than Zenit St Petersburg.
As Giroud fulfilled his post-match media duties, it seemed like the interviewer, and viewers, were keeping him up. He looked spent, and one wondered how much longer he might plough a lone furrow for the Gunners with precious little relief or support in numbers.
He told French television station beIN Sport shortly after the final whistle that they were simply happy to have qualified given how tired they all were, noting that he himself was particularly exhausted (via French outlet football.fr).
All of this might be a well-worn tale as far as Arsenal fans are concerned, but it makes Giroud's recent performances for France all the more remarkable. His appearance in Sunday night's friendly with Paraguay was his 61st since 2013/14 began.
Still, the Gunners frontman looked the real deal at the Allianz Riviera. Les Bleus often played with a directness intended to best exploit his attributes, but when the ball reached Giroud, there was plenty of finesse in his contribution.
He combined well with Loic Remy throughout the first half, which must have been heartening for coach Didier Deschamps in the continuing injury absence of Franck Ribery.
One superb Giroud dribble bamboozled the visiting defence, and his deft pass would have ended in a fantastic goal had Remy's scissors kick dropped a little lower, rather than grazing the crossbar.
The display reminded us of how often he is underrated. He is more than just a workhorse and has been ever since his contribution to Montpellier's shock 2012 title win. The stats tell us that he made nine assists to go with his 21 goals in Ligue 1, via WhoScored.com, but he created many more with his intelligent running, leaving space for Younes Belhanda in particular to flourish.
Seeing him looking at his best—he scored a magnificent volley against Norway at the Stade de France days before Paraguay's visit—is slightly surprising given an arduous campaign, where Nicklas Bendtner and the inexperienced Yaya Sanogo (with the greatest respect to both) have been the nearest to adequate cover for him.
So where has Giroud's second wind come from?
Given the knockbacks earlier in his career, it is clear that he couldn't have gotten this far without generous helpings of determination. Deemed not good enough for the top level by Grenoble as recently as 2007, Giroud clawed his way to the game's summit, starting at third-tier Istres and progressing to Ligue 2 with Tours before his 2010 switch to Montpellier.
On top of this the World Cup is, clearly, the biggest moment of his career to date. Playing for France means an enormous amount to Giroud, as was clear when he beat the crest on his shirt after lashing in that strike against Norway.
In a modern context where club football seems to dominate and consume all, with internationals merely subordinate, it is fantastic to see a man so plainly inspired by representing his country. In these last few games, Giroud has been making the most of the moment, not just preparing for what's to come.
International football is bringing more out of him than some thought possible. As we prepare for the big kick-off in Rio de Janeiro, it's a welcome reminder of how playing for one's country still matters so much.
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