Arsenal

Why the Time Has Come for Arsenal to Seek out Alternatives to Olivier Giroud

Arsenal's Olivier Giroud sits on the pitch after a chance to score during the English Premier League soccer match between Arsenal and West Bromwich Albion at the Emirates Stadium in London, Thursday, April 21, 2016.  (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Matt Dunham/Associated Press
James McNicholasFeatured ColumnistMay 11, 2016

When Olivier Giroud ended his goal drought with a header against Manchester City, Arsenal fans would have been mostly delighted for him.

It’s never nice to watch a player bereft of confidence enduring that sort of run. However, there will also have been some supporters concerned by Giroud’s presence on the scoresheet—they will fear his return to goalscoring form might convince Arsene Wenger he doesn’t need to recruit a new centre-forward this summer.

The reality is Giroud’s goal at the Etihad Stadium is fairly inconsequential—Arsenal need a new striker regardless. 

They’ve actually needed one for some time. When Robin van Persie left in 2012, the Gunners lost a world-class finisher.

Lukas Podolski and Giroud were bought to replace him, but it quickly became apparent that while the Germany international shared the Dutchman’s lethal left foot, he wasn’t able to operate as a lone striker.

With Podolski confined to the left flank and eventually the substitutes' bench, Giroud became Arsenal’s default centre-forward.

Arsenal's French striker Olivier Giroud tries to head the ball during the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and Norwich at the Emirates Stadium in London on April 30, 2016.  / AFP / BEN STANSALL / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use wi
BEN STANSALL/Getty Images

It should be made clear at this point that, for all his faults, Giroud has probably exceeded expectations at Arsenal. He arrived from Montpellier with a reputation as a journeyman forward. Like Arsenal team-mate Laurent Koscielny, he had dropped down the divisions in France with Tours before climbing back to the summit of Ligue 1.

Given that he arrived without enormous pedigree, the fact he was able to establish himself as Arsenal’s starting striker within his first season is impressive. However, it also speaks to the lack of alternatives.

Podolski was unfit for purpose, and at one stage Giroud’s only real rival as Arsenal’s target man was uncouth youth Yaya Sanogo. 

Year on year, Arsenal were linked with established, world-class strikers, yet none arrived. That is understandable—there isn’t a club in the world that wouldn’t want to recruit an elite goalscorer, but there aren’t many to go around.

However, the club now has the financial muscle to lure the world’s best players, as evidenced by the signings of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez. It’s time to buy a striker of that calibre to complement their other marquee players.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 30: Olivier Giroud of Arsenal reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Norwich City at The Emirates Stadium on April 30, 2016 in London, England  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

It’s not that Giroud has been bad—it’s difficult to name a target man in the Premier League who is more consistently effective. The France international has scored more headed goals than any other player in England’s top division this season, but he’s far more than just a battering ram.

More eye-catching than his goal against City was his assist for Alexis Sanchez. When the Chilean played a ball into Giroud on the edge of the area, the Frenchman produced an impudent backheel to lay it back into Alexis’ path. It was a piece of skill that showed real imagination and technical excellence.

For several seasons now, Giroud has been integral to Arsenal’s style of play. Their creative players lack his physical presence, so they attempt to use him as a pivotal anchor as they ping balls around the edge of the penalty area. Their attempts to break down opposition defences can resemble a pinball game, but occasionally Giroud is able to produce a moment of outrageous skill to fashion a chance for a colleague. 

That approach has its problems. When Arsenal encounter teams who are happy to sit deep with a tightly packed defence, the chances of a ricochet off Giroud proving fruitful are decreased. 

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 08:  Olivier Giroud of Arsenal (L) celebrates scoring his side's first goal with Mohamed Elneny of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium on May 8, 2016 in Manch
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

This season, Wenger chose to experiment with a new attacking style. He began the season with an unusual degree of depth in the forward department. Not only did he have Giroud available, but he also had Danny Welbeck and Theo Walcott—converted to inhabit a central berth.

However, both those players have had their problems this year. Two knee problems meant Welbeck’s contribution was limited to a promising but painfully short three-month spell. As for Walcott, he began brightly but saw his form desert him in the second half of the season. It would be folly to rely on either player as Arsenal’s main man next season. 

Nevertheless, there were positives to be drawn from their displays. Welbeck and Walcott share an attribute that Giroud infamously lacks: speed. The Frenchman’s movement is arguably the most intelligent of the trio of attackers, but it is also the slowest. 

With a pacy forward up top, Arsenal’s threat suddenly became multi-faceted. With Giroud, they tend to look to get the byline and cut the ball back, or creep through a resolute defence with an immaculate one-two. Without him, they were able to play their striker in behind or over the top.

What’s more, they suddenly had a new-found threat on the counter-attack. By way of example, take the 3-0 win over Manchester United in October. With Alexis and Walcott in their ranks, Arsenal were almost impossible to contain.

Arsenal's French striker Olivier Giroud (R) congratulates Arsenal's English striker Danny Welbeck (C) after Arsenal's English striker Danny Welbeck scored the opening goal during the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and Norwich at the
BEN STANSALL/Getty Images

Giroud’s recent run has probably created a disproportionately poor impression of his abilities.

It has been a dire sequence of displays—Giroud did not score a Premier League goal between January and May, a period comprising more than 20 appearances. However, his contribution at the Etihad shows there is still a good player lurking beneath the self-doubt.

It’s clear Wenger retains a lot of faith in Giroud. Speaking after the City game, he told Arsenal Player: "Olivier Giroud was questioned recently, and I’m happy I kept confidence in him because I thought he had a top-level performance. He was fighting, he had control of the ball, he was finishing and he gave an assist."

Wenger’s admiration for Giroud is no bad thing. His skill set is relatively rare in modern football, and he can be an effective weapon for Arsenal in certain situations.

However, it’s surely now appropriate to relegate him from Plan A to Plan B. Arsenal need a striker who shares more of Welbeck and Walcott’s athletic attributes. They need someone with mobility and electric speed who is happy interchanging positions with Alexis and racing onto Ozil’s through balls.

Crucially, they also need someone with composure, who can be relied upon to finish the half-chances as well as the clear-cut ones. They need someone who won’t go almost half a season without a goal.

Giroud has had plenty of chances to prove he can be the 30-goal man Arsenal need, and he's fallen short every time. It’s time to give somebody else the opportunity.

 

James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and is following the club from a London base throughout 2015/16. Follow him on Twitter here.

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