The Olivier Giroud complex: do Arsenal really need a new striker?
There is nearly always something wrong at Arsenal. Rarely has Arsene Wenger ever satisfied the hordes of insatiable twitter junkies who spew their expertise across social media platforms as harshly as they do frequently. To be expected in the modern game, perhaps, but a frequent point of contention surrounds the capabilities of Olivier Giroud: is he good enough to lead an Arsenal line to their first Premier League in over a decade?
His critics would certainly say no. Giroud has never scored more than 16 goals in a season; he is too slow; he cannot produce in the matches that matter. Truths do exist here, and there is a touch of the ‘Heskey’ syndrome to the Frenchman, in that his style as a forward doesn’t resolve around scoring goals, but more using his aerial presence to create space for those around him. Critics would further point out that Mesut Ozil’s presence means further attacking ‘space-making’ is unnecessary, and that a more conventional, proven no.9- a Karim Benzema, Sergio Aguero or Robert Lewandowski- would improve the team more.
Instead, more light needs to be shone on how many goals a team scores, not on how many its players do. For example, in the year that Arsenal won the Premier League in 2003/04, Thierry Henry scored a mesmeric 30 goals, a vital component in their success. Last season, Giroud scored less than half that (14), with Arsenal finishing third. Superficially, you see a problem- Arsenal lack a quality striker.
But dig deeper, and that comparison is flawed. In Henry’s golden year, Arsenal scored 73 league goals, with Henry scoring 41% of his team’s goals. Yet last season Arsenal scored just two less, with Giroud scoring 20%. Arsenal as a team were just as potent with Giroud as Henry, just with Giroud, more players in 2014/15 scored a higher percentage of goals.
Goals Scored (73 total)
|% of team goals||2014/2015 season
Goals Scored (71 total)
% of team goals
|Thierry Henry||30||41%||Alexis Sanchez||16||23%|
|Robert Pires||14||19%||Olivier Giroud||14||20%|
|Gilberto Silva||4||5%||Santi Cazorla||7||10%|
|Dennis Bergkamp||4||5%||Aaron Ramsey||6||8%|
|Freddie Ljungberg||4||5%||Theo Walcott||5||
Despite the domestic success of the 2003/2004 team, do the above stats not clearly show how reliant the 2003/2004 were on two players (Henry and Robert Pires)? Giroud’s contribution is a complete inversion of that over-reliance; he individually scores less, but the team still score the same number of goals. The only difference, really, is the comparable strength of each side’s ability to defend (the 2003/04 team conceded 26 to, the 2014/15s 36).
The same comparable principle can be applied to the last time Arsenal had a ‘great’ striker depart, when Giroud first joined the club. Many predicted that Arsenal would be in ‘turmoil’ with the departure of Robin Van Persie, when the club finished third with 70 points, scoring 74 goals. The following year (Giroud’s debut season), Arsenal scored 72 goals and finished with more points. Turmoil? What turmoil?:
Goals Scored (74 total)
|% of team goals||2012/2013 season
Goals Scored (72 total)
% of team goals
|Robin Van Persie||30||41%||Theo Walcott||14||19%|
|Theo Walcott||8||11%||Santi Cazorla||12||17%|
|Mikel Arteta||6||8%||Olivier Giroud||11||15%|
|Thomas Vermaelen||6||8%||Lukas Podolski||11||15%|
Such should only serve to accentuate that when Giroud plays, those around him score more. The team as a whole are no worse off either way, regardless of how individually brilliant their striker is. Would Ramsay have had his breakthrough 2013/14 season, where he was probably the best player in the league up until Christmas, in a side so heavily orientated around Robin Van Persie? Probably not.
To shortly digress, this principle lays weight to the idea that it is dangerous for any team to be overly reliant on any player. You could contend that Barcelona have looked their most vulnerable in the last decade when they lost 0-7 to Bayern across two legs, partially because Lionel Messi was injured, with an aging squad having no idea who to turn to. Since the arrivals of Neymar and Suarez, Messi’s absences this season have been practically un-noticed in Barcelona’s form, as crudely illustrated in a 0-4 win at Real where Messi came on at the end. The other case study that springs to mind is Manchester United’s over reliance on Ruud Van Nistlerooy, the classic selfish goalscorer who netted 150 times in 219 games. Infamously, United won the league in the three years before he joined, and the three years after he left. While he was there? They won the title once in five years, a clear sign that the team were worse off while accommodating Van Nistlerooy’s individual plight.
Back to Giroud though, and the Frenchman’s only relevant weakness to really contend with is the analogy that he cannot perform exceptionally in big games. Granted, Giroud is positively in a bracket below the world’s best, and you won’t see him take a game by the scruff of the neck in the way that they do. So what do you propose Wenger does? Buy another striker?
Herein lies the Giroud complex, as the only strikers good enough to improve upon him do not viably exist. Wenger would have to entice a player for upwards of £50m, probably pay them a salary on a contract matching that figure, and would subsequently have to re-model his starting XI to utilise them. Last summer, Arsenal and Manchester United did look for a new striker. Between them, they both made a single bid for a French 19-year-old, Anthony Martial, who cost a ludicrous amount of money. That’s how little talent there is to purchase at the moment.
All of that also fails to take into account the additional benefits that he brings to his team. Excellent hold up play, additional height at offensive and defensive set pieces, and intelligent near post runs that often end in goals.
In short, (1) there are few strikers out there better than Giroud, (2) alternatives that do exist aren’t worth the financial fallout, or, if they are, would have no interest in leaving their current club, and (3) Giroud’s style may not yield goals, but helps get the best out of his team-mates.
In all, Giroud’s unique qualities should be celebrated more. How many other strong, aerial imposing target men in the world? Zlatan? Basel’s Streller? Fernando Llorente? Andy Carroll? Edin Dzeko? Christian Benteke? As far as they go, Giroud’s one of the best in that mould. True, his shortcomings are there for all to see and do exist, but contexualising his worth within a wider image proves that Arsenal do have a player capable of leading a team to domestic glory. In fact, for just £9.5m, Giroud must just be one of Wenger’s best signings.