His inaction proved to be the biggest answer to his detractors. Watching from the sidelines as Alexis Sanchez had been given the nod as Arsenal’s centre-forward for the trip to Everton, Olivier Giroud’s second half introduction for the Chilean gave weight to the importance of the French international to Arsene Wenger’s side.
Had it not been for Giroud’s involvement, it is unlikely Arsenal would have been able to mount a comeback that saw them leave Goodison Park with a point after going two-nil down in the first half. Alexis is the quicker, more inventive of the two, but his position as the team’s central striker doesn’t provide the balance offered by Giroud’s game. The Frenchman can appear rough around the edges, lacking the dribbling skills and speed to get away from defenders. But he gives focus to Arsenal’s attack, which looked desperately short of ideas for much of the first half.
There have been many who have alluded to Mesut Ozil’s positioning on the left of the front three, which allowed for Wenger to build his attack on the base of a midfield three. But the playmaker has shown recently for Germany at the World Cup that he can be effective playing from the wide positions. If the surrounding personnel are correct, Ozil can be dangerous from any area of the attacking third.
The real problem Arsenal faced in Giroud’s absence was the overall lack of ideas, movement and speed to the attack. It was laboured and predictable, allowing Everton to read the situation multiple times. That’s not to say Giroud is the answer to Arsenal’s problems, and that without him the team are far worse than they are with him; the French striker still has his shortcomings. It’s more to say that the midfield is lacking the kind of individual that sets the rhythm for the rest of the team, the one who controls from deeper positions and launches attacks.
Jack Wilshere was again disappointing, though he wasn’t the only one. Had it not been for his goal, Aaron Ramsey would likely have come in for more criticism. But Wilshere can easily frustrate in his drawn out possession of the ball and his continued runs into traffic which amount to nothing more than a loss of the ball. Neither he nor Ramsey are conductors comparable to, say, Cesc Fabregas.
But it made Giroud’s involvement all the more important. Everton had time to organise themselves defensively amid Arsenal’s sluggish forming of attacks. There was no going through the home side’s defence, and pushing the play out wide left little in the way of a target man for Arsenal’s full-backs to aim for.
If Alexis is to have a purpose and a role as an alternative at centre-forward, it’s to mirror that of Theo Walcott’s best use: in open games where the team’s attack can get the ball from back to front much quicker than what they did at Goodison Park.
Giroud may not have been in the frame for Ramsey’s goal, but he won a rather one-sided aerial battle to secure a point and a 2-2 draw for the visitors. He can frustrate, of course, but few others in this Arsenal team are as good around the six-yard box, both with the ball on the deck or in the air.
Arsenal’s game picked up significantly upon Giroud’s arrival after the break, as if they had a reference point for attack. There are still concerns going the other, and if Arsenal are serious about challenging for silverware this season, they will have to upgrade at centre-forward.
But Giroud has his purpose and he is good enough for Arsenal. Providing the equaliser and changing his side’s game for the better is more than enough proof of that.