Is Giroud really what Arsenal need up front?

Giroud V Stoke

Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud has made a solid start to his Premier League career with Arsenal but I wonder whether he is the type of centre-forward Arsenal require.

This is not going to be piece asserting that Lukas Podolski – easily Arsenal’s most capable, clinical, and credible finisher – should be playing as a centre forward. For my views on that, I refer you to this article I wrote some months ago.

I am, however, going to assert my humble opinion that Olivier Giroud is not the kind of striker that suits Arsenal’s style of play, formation, or philosophy and I’m at a bit of a loss as to why Arsene Wenger brought him to North London in the first place.

I do not doubt that Giroud has quality – that is not an area of contention in my estimation – his movement on and off the ball is excellent, his craft is refined and his intelligence is obvious. The problem is, he is not the kind of lone striker that fits comfortably in a team managed by Arsene Wenger.

I have a sneaking and unsubstantiated suspicion that Giroud’s transfer was set up long before the Gunners knew they were going to lose Robin van Persie. To me, Lukas Podolski is a similar player to the departed Dutchman.

His left foot, his set-piece delivery, his tenacity and ability to turn defenders and pull inside from deep or wide positions has ‘Robin Replacement’ written all over it.

The reason Van Persie scored 37 goals for the Gunners last season was not only because he is world-class but also because the team was set up to facilitate his functionality. He, like Thierry Henry, can flourish and find limitless freedom within Wenger’s 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 formation.

Van Persie could drop deep to affect the build-up attacking play and receive the ball on the shoulder of the last defender before turning into the space behind. He was the ideal focal point for Arsenal’s ticka-tacka triangles in and around the opposition penalty area.

They could always find him and when he received the ball he could usually do something with it. Podolski could fulfill that role but Giroud cannot. Giroud is a very different kind of striker – he’s a more traditional number 9, not a number 10 as the Dutchman was then.

His assets are his physicality, his strength, his aerial dominance and his positioning where he operate as something of a fox in the box. That’s the way he operated for Montpellier and that’s the way he is still trying to operate at the Emirates.

However, as the lone striker, he is oftentimes isolated and I constantly, week in week out, watch him grappling with defenders with his back to goal to no avail. The ball just bounces off him. Some teams are set up specifically to deliver long-range passes and to work off the flick-on or the second ball. Arsenal are not one of those teams.

If, for instance, Wenger had the flexibility in his system that he used to, when even in the space of 45 minutes Arsenal could oscillate between 4-4-2, 4-5-1 and 4-3-3, back when the boss had more than one recognized striker in his ranks, they could use Giroud as another option when their Plan A became stale.

If he’s honest, I believe the manager would admit that Giroud was not intended to be their first-choice lone striker in their current formation. It doesn’t correlate with Wenger’s philosophy.

Dennis Bergkamp made sense, Thierry Henry made sense, Robin van Persie made sense. I’m afraid I just can’t comprehend why he would bring in a striker whose main assets go to waste and who isn’t fit for purpose within Wenger’s rigid and completely unchangeable system.

Arsenal are not a team known for their intense pressure from crosses and balls pumped into the box – they’re known for the exact opposite:

Their technical quality and superiority in possession which, over 90 minutes of chasing shadows, demoralizes the opposition into making individual errors, switching off, and getting punished by a predatory world-class finisher. Like, for instance, Lukas Podolski.

images: © Ronnie Macdonald, © Ronnie Macdonald

Register for ARSENAL team updates

Register for HITC Sport - Daily Dispatch