At first glance, Olivier Giroud’s stylistic make-up means he probably shouldn’t be flourishing in this Arsenal team.
The Gunners’ clutch of elusive, incisive attacking midfield players would typically be suited to a sharp, nippy centre-forward; a player who can loiter on the shoulder of the last defender before latching on to a scything through ball.
Danny Welbeck is a striker in that mould and there were some signs during the early stages of his career at the Emirates that he was set to make the sole striker berth his own. But since returning to fitness, Giroud has flourished at the point of the Arsenal attack and is fast becoming a critical component in this burgeoning Gunners team.
And yet, despite scoring a glut of goals for Arsene Wenger’s side since joining from Montpellier, when recounting the finest centre-forward players in the division, the burly Frenchman scarcely gets a mention. Granted he may not have the blistering pace to match the likes of Sergio Aguero or Daniel Sturridge, nor a brute physicality that compares with Diego Costa or Wilfried Bony, but Giroud is fast becoming just as decisive.
The striker’s latest brace against a notoriously diligent Middlesbrough team took him to double figures for this season. That in itself may not be an overly striking statistic, but Giroud has suffered with fitness problems throughout the campaign and was suspended for three games after an uncharacteristic loss of temper against Queens Park Rangers.
But for all the clamor surrounding the effervescent Alexis Sanchez, the midfield artistry of Santi Cazorla and the return to form of Mesut Ozil, it’s Giroud’s deployment at the forefront of this Arsenal team that has expedited their recent renaissance.
The Frenchman just gives this team something different. There’s an understated assurance to his game that few forwards in the Premier League can match. When the ball is pinged into him it either sticks or is dropped off first time, in the air he’s a dominant, authoritative presence and inside the penalty area there is both ruthlessness and inventiveness about his finishing.
In truth, the way Giroud goes about his work is very un-Arsenal-like, something that surely contributes to his lack of acclaim. There’s no great panache about his centre-forward play, no flicks, tricks or stepovers. He’s very fundamental in his duties and while he may not command the kind of gravitas of the aforementioned stars, perhaps that’s what makes him the perfect point man for this Arsenal team.
Indeed, while the presence of players like Sanchez will only be to the betterment of Giroud et al, there’s little denying that so far this season there’s been an additional sharpness about the Frenchman’s game in spite of the momentum sapping injuries and suspensions. You suspect that is down in part to the competition provided by the likes of Welbeck.
Last season only Lukas Podolski and Yaya Sanogo offered any kind of competition—in the loosest form—to the Frenchman and there was a sense that fitness permitting, he was always going to start. Not only did fail to keep Giroud on his toes, but he was played so regularly for the Gunners that come the end of the campaign he was a shell of the player who started the season in such prolific form.
It’s clear Wenger is a huge admirer of the former Montpellier man as well. The Arsenal boss was expected to go out and acquire a marquee centre-forward this summer, but instead he splashed the cash in other areas of the team, landing Sanchez, Mathieu Debuchy and Calum Chambers. Welbeck is a fine player and an adaptable, industrious forward, but it’s clear that Giroud remains the main man up top.
For Arsenal, his superb recent form bodes well with some massive challenges looming. After sitting out three months following a broken leg in just the second game of the campaign, Giroud is a man replenished and with Welbeck in situ to provide depth in this position, he should preserve these glittering levels as the Gunners fight for glory on three fronts.
If they are to sample silverware this season, then Giroud’s influence is going to be vital. While he’s not a natural fit for the Gunners at first sight, the Frenchman gives this a refreshing, rudimentary facet to their offensive play. It’s not a flashy style, nor will it him revered amongst European soccer’s greatest hit-men, but at this juncture it’s a practice working for Arsenal and most definitely working for Giroud.
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball
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