The North London giants travelled to Merseyside top of the league as they head into something of a ‘death run’ of fixtures in the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League in February and March.
Arsene Wenger admitted his team were ‘poor’ and ‘passive’ following the disappointing performance and result on Saturday that saw the Gunners slip down into second place, one point behind Chelsea.
I think it’s telling that the boss described his team’s performance as ‘poor’ and ‘passive’ because that is exactly how I would characterize the performance of striker Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman wasn’t the only Arsenal to be found wanting by any stretch of the imagination but I believe his inability to lead the line was equally as damaging as the Gunners’ defensive frailties.
When Arsenal have played well in the last 12 months, it has been when they have been able to rely on Giroud to hold the ball up, operate as something of a target man, bring his teammates into play and help out defensively on set pieces as well. He did none of that effectively on Saturday.
The Gunners let in a sloppy goal from a Liverpool set piece in the opening minute – Giroud has been characteristically dominant aerially but on Saturday he managed to win just two of his five aerial duels.
His passing was woeful – he completed 50% of his passes, which, when you consider Arsenal’s overall pass completion rate this season stands at 85.8% with six players having recorded a pass completion rate of over 90% up until this weekend, you have to say Giroud underperformed considerably.
The 27-year-old striker has scored 10 goals and made 6 assists in the Premier League this season and is Arsenal’s only real outlet up front as a recognized centre-forward. He has scored two goals in his last 5 appearances in the Premier League as well as one assist.
Overall, given his position, his passing is much less reliable than the rest of his teammates – Giroud’s overall pass completion rate is 67.8% this term and he has won 95 of his 181 aerial duels in total this season, working off a success rate of 52.4%.
His aerial duel success rate on Saturday was just 40%, his take-on success rate was just 20%, and of his 7 successful passes out of 15 attempted, five of those were backward passes which means 71% of his 50% successful passes were not moving Arsenal forward and, in fact every single one them was outside of the final third, with four of those five finding a player in Arsenal’s own half. He just just two shots in the entire game of which one was on target.
Now, the preface of this criticism must be that Liverpool were simply sensational and I haven’t seen a better performance from any team this season than that but, that was at least in part facilitated by Arsenal’s lack of challenge, lack of energy, and lack of bite up front.
When Lukas Podolski came on in the second half, the Gunners looks at least mildly threatening (as threatening as a team can be at 5-0 down) and I think whilst Wenger will want to see a response from his side when they host Manchester United on Wednesday, I believe the boss might be better off leaving Giroud out.
Whether he was tired or just having an off day, it cannot be denied that his position is the only one that is almost completely secure and I wonder wither that lack of competition (or seeming lack) played a part in such a insufficient performance at the weekend.
With tough games coming up over the next few weeks, Wenger may be best off opting to drop the Frenchman at least for a game and giving Podolski, who has been crying out for more opportunities, just that, his chance.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald