“You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.”
Those words are from “Man of Steel”, a movie in which I am not personally fond of, but the line struck me when I sat down to write an analysis of Olivier Giroud. A man who has lived these words, in order, throughout his Arsenal career.
“They will race behind you”– When Giroud joined Arsenal in the summer of 2012, he was fresh off a title-winning (and Soulier d’Or winning) season. The fan base rallied behind the Frenchmen because we needed something to believe in after our hearts had been broken by “the little boy inside of” Robin VanPersie. Cesc was gone, Clichy was gone, RVP was gone…and it even was a blow to lose Samir Nasri. The summer in which Giroud joined the Gunners was the very climax of Arsenal’s “selling club” crisis. Everyone was vulnerable and looking for something to cling on to, so everyone hung their hopes on Olivier Giroud.
“They will stumble”– He didn’t score his first Premier League goal until October 6th against West Ham, and finished the season with 11 Premier League goals. It was underwhelming to stay the least, considering the previous season saw Robin VanPersie score 30 goals in the league. The summer of 2013 saw the Arsenal faithful clamoring for a big money signing, either to help Giroud or to upgrade and move on from him after only one season. Wenger finally made a move and on deadline day Mesut Ozil joined Arsenal for £42.5million, a club record at the time. This lifted the spirits of all Arsenal fans. Harsh criticism of Giroud, and the squad in general, was put on a brief hiatus.
“They will fall”– March of 2014 included a 6-0 loss to Chelsea. The famous “ArsenalFanTV” channel on youtube posted a video after the match in which Giroud was referred to as “a £10million lamp post”. Those were dark days for Arsenal and I’m sure even darker for Giroud. The season was seen as a failure, and it was very possible that the trophy drought in North London would continue. Thankfully, Arsenal would go on to win the FA Cup, ending an excruciating trophy draught.
Arsenal added Alexis Sanchez in the summer to boost the attack, but fans were still hoping for a proper striker. Calls to give Joel Campbell a chance in the first team could be heard around the emirates. After an impressive World Cup performance from the Costa Rican, it wasn’t considered ridiculous to think he should start over Giroud. But Olivier played through the harsh criticism, continuing to give his best to the team.
“In time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders”– The key words here are “you will help them”. By the end of the 2016-17 season, Giroud had settled into a new role at the club…super-sub. He managed to score six goals from the bench, the second highest total for one season in the Premier League era (Adam Le Fondre netted eight goals from the bench for Reading in 2012-13 season). Helping is now Giroud’s main purpose. He is not the focus of the attack…we have Alexis Sanchez, and now Lacazette for that. He’s not a utility man…we have Danny Welbeck for that. He is the last bit of power and effort that we need to get us across the finish line. The man comes off the bench and minutes later he is kissing the badge in celebration. He is exactly what we need.
Premier League champions of previous seasons have typically had a reliable goal scorer from the bench. In the 1998-99 Premier League season, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored five goals from the bench for Manchester United, and they went on to win the league by a single point (over Arsenal unfortunately). More recently, in the 2010-11 season, Chitcharito scored five goals as a substitute for United and they won the league with a 9-point gap between themselves and runners-up Chelsea. Having a proven goal scorer come off the bench can prove to be vital in a title-winning season if history holds any credence (it does). Giroud is one of the most important players in the squad despite his smaller role, and I can’t help but draw comparisons to Chitcharito. With the first game of the season completed and a goal in the bag, he’s only eight away from the record.
Can Giroud challenge Lacazette for a starting spot?
The curious aspect of this situation at Arsenal is that Giroud and Lacazette also compete for a starting spot on the French national team, and it seems as if Giroud has won the battle when it comes to France. Despite Lacazette’s larger goal tally last season and the insane hype surrounding Kylian Mbappe, Giroud starts up top for Les Bleus time and time again. I believe it comes down to the lack of versatility in the attacking department for France. Payet, Griezmann, Lacazette, Martial, and Dembele all have incredible pace, which is the focus of their game. Giroud’s game is dependent on his power and his ability to hold-up defenders. This attribute allows Giroud to distract a defense while his speedy teammates make penetrating runs, allowing Giroud to lay the ball off for an easier goal scoring opportunity. He can almost be seen as the playmaker for France.
Arsenal, on the other hand, already have a primary playmaker in Mesut Ozil. The likes of Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey also share the responsibility. So when it comes to the Gunners, the man up top needs to be the one running through the defensive line, not distracting them. This is why Alexandre Lacazette is the clear starter for Arsenal, and why Giroud won’t really challenge him for a starting spot.
The contrast between them is exactly what makes the substitute role so perfect for Giroud. The opposing defense will deal with a smaller, speedy, and skillful striker in Lacazette for the majority of the match. So, by the time they’ve adjusted to dealing with him…on comes the imposing Olivier Giroud, the opposite of the threat that they have been dealing with the entire match. They have little time to adjust before Giroud finds the back of the net. But, unfortunately for Giroud, scoring goals from the bench only solidifies his role as a substitute.
Will Giroud start some Premier League games? Yes he will. But, barring a Lacazette injury, I don’t see him starting more than 6-8 matches. His starts will most likely come in the busy winter period of the Premier League schedule, or when Wenger decides to prioritize Europa or the FA Cup. I can see Lacazette and Giroud playing together at the same time way before the latter steals the former’s role.
But let’s not waste time feeling bad for Giroud, this is the first time we’ve had a potential “selection headache” up top in years. We’ve got our guy for the future…and we’ve got Olivier Giroud, super-sub, here to help us “accomplish wonders”.