Olivier Giroud turns 29 in less than two weeks. As a striker, he’s in the peak years of his career. Old enough to understand the game, experienced enough to deduce a defender’s weaknesses, but still young enough to exploit them. It’s perhaps unfair to label Giroud a flat-track bully, but in his three seasons at Arsenal, he has yet to produce a career defining display in a big game. Signed in the same 2012 transfer window that saw Robin van Persie leave in acrimonious circumstances, Giroud has not reached the same heights as the Dutchman he was bought to replace. Van Persie racked up an incredible 30 league goals and single-handedly dragged the Gunners to a third place Premier League in 2012 despite being supplied by a midfield of Gervinho, Alex Song and a struggling Aaron Ramsey. By contrast, of Giroud’s 16 leagues goals in 2013/14, not one came against top-four opposition. Arsene Wenger saw fit to drop him for last year’s FA Cup final and his replacement Theo Walcott duly opened the scoring. Giroud came off the bench to score the fourth goal in the very last seconds. Wenger’s insistence on not spending money on a striker this summer was based on not being able to find a better option than the former Montpellier forward. Arsenal supporters are still showing faith in Giroud, but for how much longer?
Arsenal’s 2-1 Champions League defeat by Dinamo Zagreb was made all the more damaging by Giroud’s red card in the first-half. Sent off for two bookable offences, Giroud left his team to play the remaining 50 minutes a man down, just two days before their crunch game against rivals Chelsea. While he can count himself unlucky with the second yellow, the first was shown for dissent and was utterly avoidable. Wenger was quick to defend his striker in public, although it’s likely that angry words were exchanged in the changing room. It’s the third time Giroud has been sent off for Arsenal. On Boxing Day last year, he apologised to Wenger after seeing red for senselessly head-butting Nedum Onuoha, and he previously served a three-game ban for a reckless tackle against Fulham in 2013. Danny Welbeck’s injury leaves Arsenal already short of numbers in attack, the last thing Wenger needs is Giroud getting suspended in Europe. Having made such a disastrous start to their Champions League campaign, there will now be little opportunity for Wenger to rest players towards the end of the group stage as he has done in previous years. The manager showed with his treatment of Wojciech Szczesny last year that he will not tolerate a lack of discipline, and unless Giroud gets his act together, he may follow the Polish keeper out of The Emirates in the close season.
The modern game of football is fundamentally all about speed: speed of thought and speed of movement. Frustratingly for Arsenal fans, Giroud doesn’t seem to have a great deal of either. He’s also not what you would call an instinctive striker. He tends to dither in front of goal, often getting closed down at the last second or taking too many touches when a first-time shot would be the better option. He doesn’t possess the required acceleration to make runs in behind defences, so relies on neat one-touch build-up play which is often easily snuffed out by top quality defenders. Giroud would have been better suited to the early years of the Premier League when ‘big-man, little-man’ combinations and 4-4-2 formations were the fashion. Having said that, bravery is not one of the Frenchman’s strong suits either and the mid-90s Premier League was a far more physical league than it is these days. With Walcott playing himself into form and Giroud struggling for confidence, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the pace of the England man sees him picked as a lone striker for the vital run of games that the north London side have coming up. Giroud signed a new three-year contract in July worth a reported £130,000-a-week. That’s a lot of money to be paying someone to sit on the bench.
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