Olivier Giroud’s Arsenal career has been littered with love and hate. Is that why he’s been so inconsistent? Is that why we think he’s the answer as well as the problem? We are now at a defining stage in both his career as well as the way in which we as a club play football. He’s been the go to man in times of real need. When we needed a performance away at Olympiacos last season, at home to Bayern last season, in the FA Cup final of 2014, Man City away in 2015. There are multiple occasions where he has been the reason we have got back into games or gone on to win important games in the last four years. However he still continues to divide opinion and we have now arrived at a glaring cross roads.
The truth is our style of play has been gradually changing over the last four years to incorporate Olivier Giroud into the team. His target man stature has led us to generate slower build up play and requires us to be far more incisive in the final third and in fairness it has produced one of the finest goals that Arsenal football club has ever scored, Jack Wilshere vs Norwich. However as the brand of football is so difficult due to how incisive it needs to be, we see it much less often than we would like. Gone are the days of break neck counter attacking football and eloquent as well as physical play that intimidated teams into submission before they even took to the hallowed Highbury turf. However with Giroud currently being somewhat marginalised (we speculate at best!) we could be breaking toward something different. Something new. Redefining the Arsenal we know, or the one we’ve known for the last four years anyway. The fact of the matter is we even played some quite attractive football with the likes of Denilson, Eboue, Squillaci, Sylvestre and the common theme was that we had a more mobile centre forward at the forefront of the team. Adebayor and Robin Van Persie were less target men and played with the ball at their feet which allowed for a more crisp brand of football. With Giroud as the centrepiece to Arsene’s lavish dinner table we can’t quite recapture that type of football. The summer has led to Wenger addressing this fact, something that he’s been trying to do since Thierry Henry left. We had somewhat of a solution through Adebayor and Van Persie, however the team behind them wasn’t quite up to scratch. Today is a different story. We have depth from back to front and we finally have some mobile centre forwards to pick from. With Lucas Perez, Alexis Sanchez looking to emulate the role he plays for Chile and Walcott with a new found love for the game this season we seem to have some more mobile options to work with and Wenger looks to be exercising them.
Where does this leave Olivier Giroud? He’s a more than capable centre forward and in the 7 or 8/10 bracket of strikers around. He’s managed 20+ goals in his last three seasons for us (yes I’m including the goal vs Man City in the 2014 Community Shield!) so it’s not as though he doesn’t deliver. I think that he will still be relied upon to get us 15-20 goals this season, however the key questions are; has the purchase of Lucas Perez and the adaptation of Alexis Sanchez been in aid of Giroud? Or have the aforementioned solutions been brought in to displace Giroud? If I know Wenger (and I really don’t, I’m not sure anyone aside from David Dein does!), I think it will be a combination of the two. We’ll see different styles of play in conjunction to the opposition that we are playing, we’ll see a lot more of Giroud coming on in the last 20 minutes to see out a game or to give us a plan B, however we’ll also see the likes of Giroud play against quicker defences who aren’t so good at set piece defending. The point is that for the first time in a long time, not only do we have options up top, we actually have a variance of options. Giroud is a target man, Perez is a tireless speedster, Alexis is a dynamic talisman and Walcott is our on the shoulder front man. They are all massively different and now have the midfield options that suit each and every one of their games, so rather than a complete style change we may see a more chameleonised (yes I just coined that word) Arsenal. We are likely to see a more horses for courses approach simply because we have the personnel to do so. We’ve all seen and are now bored of his face of anguish at missing a chance so hopefully we’ll see a happier, more goal scoring Giroud.
This new approach is likely to actually eke the best out of Giroud rather than ask him to do jobs that he simply cannot do. He’s not going to be great in a high press and so is not going to be completely run into the ground when chances present themselves in games that are conducive to his style. We may yet see a more efficient Giroud (stop laughing) because the burden isn’t solely on him throughout the season. This could finally be the season where he’s a beacon of hope rather than the lightening rod for criticism.