There’s been quite a bit of talk over the summer about exactly what’s going to happen up front for Arsenal. I am, of course, talking about the nagging question of Olivier Giroud. Despite a couple of successful seasons at the club, the Frenchman still seems to have difficulty impressing the Arsenal fan base and convincing people that he is the right choice in the centre forward position. I’m one of those, who happen to feel at this point in time that Giroud does actually give us just what we need up top.
There’s been plenty of dialogue recently about bringing in a world class striker; someone who can score goals and provide the team with that little bit extra needed to mount a proper challenge for the league title. The name thrown about most (and accompanied by dreamy gazes) is Karim Benzema of Real Madrid. He’s a proven goal scorer (averaging 22 goals a season since joining his current club) and would no doubt contribute to Arsenal’s squad. Some feel that the Frenchman would enjoy an opportunity to shine at another big club, rather than merely serving as a member of Cristiano Ronaldo’s retinue in Spain, and that’s not a bad argument to make. However, the issue is not one of whether Benzema would be a good player for us, but rather how much do we actually need him?
To answer this question, I would look to Arsenal’s current roster and attacking options available. From where I stand, I see Arsenal’s current best XI shaping up as follows:
I would take Giroud over Walcott in the middle. Why? There are a couple of reasons. Firstly, we seem to be most threatening when we can make use of pace in wide positions. Alexis showed this last season, and Walcott has proven himself dangerous on the right in previous campaigns. If we look to the West Ham game on August 9th, the vast majority of our attack came down the left (nearly 50%), and not the right. I look to the absence of Walcott on the wing as a significant factor in this imbalance. The Ox started in this position and, though he can have pace, he prefers to take on defenders in close quarters, rarely looking for a break away run. He also has a tendency to move through the middle of the park a fair bit. Walcott, on the other hand, prefers to use his pace to get in behind defenders and look for break away runs. We lacked pace on the left as well, since Alexis only appeared as a second half substitute, replacing Cazorla who started there. Cazorla is quick footed, but not a sprinter in attack, so while play often went through him on the left, it didn’t threaten a solid West Ham defense to any great degree and weakened our counter attacks.The loss against West Ham highlights the less than ideal player positions being used, now allowing us to take advantage of our best qualities. The team can do better.
So, where does Giroud fall in this setup? Of course he starts at centre forward. While he is not a fast moving forward like Walcott, he is a physical player that does two things very well: hold up play and functioning as a reliable target man. Giroud is a fan of running into the box to get on the end of a cross (low or high) for the tap in (those near post flicks are a thing of beauty). Against West Ham, no passes were successfully made to the Frenchman from Cazorla or the Ox, effectively removing him from this aspect of the game. We know Giroud relies not on his pace, but his positioning as a target man to get the job done. His lack of opportunities on the day were in large part due to poor service and is not at all characteristic of his ability. The most common passing combinations for Arsenal involved Cazorla to Ozil in the middle of midfield or Cazorla to Monreal, neither of which ultimately led to goals.
The point here is that Giroud provides a kind of attacking option we don’t get with Walcott in the middle. The manager has said he wants to try the latter at centre forward this season, but during preseason this option didn’t look particularly effective. I think the combination of Walcott and Alexis on the wings would support Giroud, while adding pace and a strong counter attacking element to our game. Giroud has a proven record as a solid striker (ranging between 17 and 22 goals a season since arriving from Montpellier in 2012). The 19 goals he scored last season were in spite of his injury woes. If Walcott can stay fit and provide goals and assists from the right, reprising his contribution to van Persie’s fantastic season a few years back, I think Giroud would be just the man you want up front to complement the attack. This is a combination we’ve not had much chance to see in action to date.
While Benzema is a fantastic player and would surely score goals, I feel Giroud would do nearly as good a job in the current Arsenal squad. In the last three seasons, Benzema has averaged a goal every 2.2 games, while Giroud has averaged a goal every 2.3 games. Not a big difference to be fair. We all want the best players for our team, but it’s sometimes easy to overlook what lies directly before us. Maybe we already have the striker we are looking for.