The 27-year-old France international has been in fine form this season so far scoring 8 goals and making 5 assists for the Gunners in all competitions. However, every time the striker takes a knock or goes down, the nervousness at the Emirates is palpable – he is their only real option up front and without him, the Gunners could be in trouble.
However, Arsenal fans need not worry quite as much about the 6ft4” Frenchman because there is an alternative in case of emergency for Arsene Wenger – an, no, I don’t mean Nicklas Bendtner.
Firstly, Arsenal will shortly have Theo Walcott back from his abdominal injury as well as Lukas Podolski in around a month’s time but even that wouldn’t be ideal for the Gunners.
What’s the alternative? Arsenal currently have something in abundance that could counteract their lack of strikers if need be – they have no less than 9 midfielders in good fitness and form striving for just three places in Wenger’s starting XI.
Even without Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott, Podolski and Abou Diaby, Wenger has a choice of Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Flamini, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky, Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil, Serge Gnabry and Ryo Myaichi all vying for three spots in central midfield (although some can be deployed wide to cover for injuries).
This wealth of quality in midfield would mean in the disastrous event that Giroud picked up an injury before January, Wenger could adapt his current 4-2-3-1 system to a 4-3-3 as he used to but with the use of what is termed a ‘false 9’.
Like Barcelona have done with Lionel Messi and Spain have with Cesc Fabregas, a player like Ozil, Cazorla, Wilshere or Ramsey could fulfill that false 9 role that effectively means the teams functions with six midfielders and no striker. That system means no one player operates as a traditional centre-forward but there is still an element that the number 10 usually converted to a false 9 is the focal point of the attack.
Arsenal already play a lot of the time like this system which is reliant on midfield runners coming into the box from deep to pop up in the box – the Gunners’ top scorer is a box-to-box midfielder at present. Aaron Ramsey scored his eleventh goal of the campaign against Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday night by doing exactly that – flying into the box from deep to head the ball over the goal line.
When Pep Guardiola started playing Messi as false 9 at Barcelona he was actually copying the tactical revolutionary Luciano Spalletti who deployed Francesco Totti as a false 9 in 2007 at Roma.
Totti and Messi shared the talents that lent to a number 10 more obviously than a number 9 centre-forward and the system suits them both ideally because it plays to their strengths. Playing Messi or, for example, Cazorla in a number 10 role in a 4-5-1 system means they can be man-marked out of the game much easier.
Arsenal saw the effects of that at Old Trafford last season against Manchester United – the pint-sized Spaniard was ineffectual and unable to influence the game in the way he can.
If Wenger deployed Cazorla as a false 9 against United on Sunday, for example, with Ozil wide on the right, Rosicky or Wilshere wide on left, Ramsey, Arteta and Flamini in behind as a solid bank of three in front of the usual back four, a player like Cazorla could slip into the channels between the opposition’s defence and midfield as he does so well and the extra midfielder (the sixth man) would mean that Arsenal would likely dominate possession in midfield as they’d always have a spare man.
The centre-back wouldn’t know whether to come or go, meanwhile, as the system is an illusion and Arsenal could press high up the pitch as they did against Dortmund, stretching the play and creating those pockets of space for Ozil, Cazorla and Rosicky especially to capitalize on.
Some of you may remember Wenger resorting to that formation three or four seasons ago when the club sold Emmanuel Adebayor and Robin van Persie got injured - the Gunners played Andrey Arshavin as a false 9 and it was remarkably successful even though short-lived which, if nothing else, at least shows Wenger has considered and is not altogether against using that system if necessary.
Arsenal fans need not fear an injury to Olivier Giroud as much as they likely do – they need not wince and gasp every time he gets clattered – as there is a very workable, achievable alternative that isn’t Nicklas Bendtner.