The sight of Olivier Giroud in a Chelsea shirt is still a little uneasy on the eye. Here’s a striker who has spent the entirety of his Premier League career with Arsenal, who couldn’t get into the team over Alexandre Lacazette and who was deemed surplus to requirements upon the arrival of Pierre-Emerick Abameyang, leading the line for one of the Gunners’ most fierce London rivals in a game they desperately needed to win, following shock defeats to Bournemouth and Watford.
An early goal was essential to settle the nerves at Stamford Bridge and Giroud played a key part, providing the kind of service to Eden Hazard that lays down a case for Chelsea getting the best deal from a Deadline Day striker merry-go-round that also saw Michy Batshuayi move to Borussia Dortmund on loan to feel Aubameyang’s almighty void.
As Chelsea pinned Alan Pardew’s determined and surprisingly front-footed West Bromwich Albion side into their own third, Hazard cutely rolled the ball into the path of the France striker, who used his powerful frame to counter-act Ahmed Hegazi’s likewise stature and returned the pass back into the Belgian’s path. After a touch to settle, Hazard powerfully curled the ball into the fold of Ben Foster’s netting for the opening goal.
That is precisely why Conte was so determined to sign a target man in January, and precisely why Giroud – who Transfermarkt value at £18million – could be such a shrewd addition for the Blues. Arsenal used his imposing physique and delicate touch to bring their two talismans into the game as much as possible, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, and the 31-year-old has already shown he can do the same for Hazard, Chelsea’s chief talent and arguably the most devastating attacker of all three when enjoying the level of form he produced last night.
Giroud’s impact didn’t stop there either. Tellingly of his ability to provide that foothold in the final third, he won two fouls and four aerial duels, while completing two dribbles and creating two scoring opportunities – including the one that Hazard converted – in a full debut that suggested he could be a greater foil for Chelsea’s star player than Alvaro Morata, who has proved himself more a goalscorer and counter-attacking threat than someone who can consistently bring Hazard into play.
However, it wasn’t a complete performance from the former Arsenal man, who appeared to be struggling for full fitness and from the effects of an early head injury. Giroud suffered four unsuccessful touches, the most of any Chelsea player, was dispossessed once and finished up with the worst passing accuracy of any player on the pitch – just 59%. In fact, just before being taken off just after the hour mark, Chelsea’s new signing could have twice played through Hazard for a run at goal as the Baggies pushed up their backline, but his lack of match sharpness showed as both balls missed the 27-year-old.
Nonetheless, Giroud’s promising first start for Chelsea and the manner in which he allowed Hazard to impose himself on the match does raise an interesting question of who the Blues’ best strike option actually is. While Morata is the younger and more mobile striker, Giroud has the power, the touch and the nous to bring Hazard into the game. So, Chelsea fans, who do you think should be Conte’s first-choice striker? Let us know by voting below…