Olivier Giroud has a number of excellent qualities to his game: work rate, the over-emphasised strength and presence that English football can’t escape, and the selflessness to work in tandem with any one of the midfielders or attackers around him.
Yet over the past few months, the Frenchman has shown himself to be below the standard of striker that will convincingly lead a title charge in the Premier League. And that’s not to take away from what he does do well; it’s simply an admission of what he isn’t capable of.
Against Manchester United on Wednesday night, Giroud was once again wasteful with what he was given. He’s shown an inability to pick up the ball and drive at a back line, and even if that isn’t his game, the very fact that he spent most of the game facing his own goal rather than United’s is worrying.
What this isn’t is an attack on a player who is showing clear signs of fatigue. Instead, it’s to look at the little in the way of attacking threat he brings to the team. You’re unlikely to hear of central defensive pairings in England who are genuinely frightened of Giroud based on the reputation he’s carved out for himself.
With Arsenal possessing only one striker (that Arsene Wenger is willing to use), the team need someone who is capable of taking on such a level of responsibility, notably this season and in seasons to come where the club are likely to be challenging for silverware. Giroud’s limitations, coupled with Wenger’s refusal to change things either internally or via the market, for now, means Arsenal can only go so far with what they have.
The thing about Giroud is that he’s proven to be an excellent foil for Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey. In fact, throw Lukas Podolski into that discussion too, as the duo formed a very good understanding last season. On his own, Giroud lacks the cunning to craft out chances for himself. He’s also lacking the intelligence to work effectively with a playmaker like Mesut Ozil, who, on the evidence of Arsenal’s draw at home to Manchester United, was left frustrated by the lack of movement ahead of him by Arsenal’s lone centre-forward.
But it’s not to say Giroud isn’t good enough to play for a team competing for silverware. He’s already won a domestic title in France with Montpellier. Currently, Giroud is required to run into space, to exchange intricate passes with his teammates to a good enough level consistently, and of course take full advantage of the opportunities he gets, which has hasn’t been able to do.
Fans are already cursing that look of frustration from the French forward whenever he skews a header wide or takes a fresh air shot. You can see that he understands his role and responsibility in the Arsenal team. He’s clearly more than aware of how delicate Arsenal’s position in the title race is.
In the Premier League and specifically at Arsenal, Giroud is a second-choice striker at best. He and the team have benefitted from other scorers in the side, either coming from the flanks or deeper in midfield. Yet when he’s relied upon to be the only source of goals, Giroud has failed to stand up to the test. He’s only scored in one big league game this season, Arsenal’s 1-0 home win over Tottenham. What is interesting, and perhaps a little worrying, is that Nicklas Bendtner immediately put the ball in the back of the net against Manchester City, only to be wrongly waved off, after Giroud wasted a host of chances.
Provided Wenger properly addresses this problem in the summer and uses the funds available to him to good effect, Giroud will be relegated to backup, yet one who will remain a very important player to the club. He’ll have had two seasons in which to acclimatise to the Premier League and will help to maintain a good standard on the pitch, even if Arsenal buy someone of the ilk of Mario Mandzukic or Karim Benzema.
But from now until the end of this season, it’s clear that Giroud isn’t the forward that will win Arsenal the Premier League title.