One of the interesting traits of human nature is that we tend to look for confirmation of our views. We also seem to be pretty consistent in our views: that means we don’t change and adapt them each time we find out something new, something that disproves our theory.
It is normal: Thomas Bayes, an English statistician of the 18th century, described each person as an ideal observer, a definition which is now named after him – ideal Bayesian observer. If we put those who never change their opinion on one end of the spectrum and those who do so constantly on the other – ideal Bayesian observer will rest in the middle.
Why am I writing all this? To talk about a player who greatly divides opinion among the Arsenal faithful. He sometimes even swings the pendulum of his die-hard fans and his most pronounced haters the other way. Ever since I registered on Twitter (and it has been the case long before I did) he has been the cause of online fights aplenty. He even outdid Ozil. His name is Olivier Giroud.
But the Frenchman really shouldn’t be the cause of such controversy. While with Ozil it just took time to understand his subtle brilliance (might that be because Ozil is doing much of his work in grey zones?) Giroud’s contribution is there for everyone to see. Let’s start at the beginning.
We signed Olivier Giroud from Montpellier in the summer of 2012 for a meagre sum of 12 million. Let that sink in. Olivier Giroud cost us 12 million. It’s a good sum for a defender; we’d have high expectations for a defender with such a price tag, but its small change for a striker. For a good striker. In today’s world, a world inflated by the likes of City, Madrid and Barcelona, it’s hard to get good value for your money.
Make no mistake: Olivier Giroud is a very good striker. In fact, he’s much better than given credit for. In his three seasons, the Frenchman has scored more goals than Robin van Persie, than includes the adaptation season. Do you remember how much United paid for the Dutch Skunk? 25 million.
Right now Olivier Giroud is among the best forwards in the BPL. He is behind Aguero (who is simply world class) and Costa (cost twice as much), but everyone else? Kane probably had a better season overall, though it has to be noted Kane didn’t suffer a 3-month-long injury, thus he played considerably more. Anyway, Kane still has to prove he’s not a one-season wonder. Giroud already did that. He played three full seasons, steadily improving over their course.
This year his improvement has been phenomenal. Goals against big teams? Check. Goals from outside the box? Check. Better technique on the ball? Check.
Yet people scream “replacement”. Even Thierry Henry jumped on the bandwagon and went on record saying we won’t win the League with Giroud. Instead of asking himself why Arsenal didn’t challenge this season, he just repeated what everyone else was saying. Cause if Henry had asked that question, he’d have seen we lost the league in the period from September to November. Incidentally, Giroud was out at the time.
Moreover, I don’t like to deal with abstract situations. You want a replacement? Fine, name one. But remember it should be:
1) A considerable upgrade
2) Available on the market
Let’s forget for a minute there are some players we simply cannot compete for even if they are available. Like Bale, for example. I don’t for a second concede we’ll be able to realistically fight for his signature even if he suddenly becomes available. Firstly because Gareth is likely to want a hefty salary and we all know Wenger won’t break his salary structure (he’s right not to); secondly because Bale cost Real 100 million. While he certainly will go for less, should the Galacticos decide to sell him, it won’t be MUCH less. It won’t be 40 million or so. Spending more at a time when other areas of our team need strengthening is, quite frankly, stupid.
Back to wanting an upgrade, however: do you see such players? Edinson Cavani, maybe? Scored 15 goals from open play in 35 games. Giroud has 14 in 27. Moreover, I didn’t like one bit what I saw from Cavani during the World Cup last year. I realise an international tournament isn’t the best way to measure someone’s true ability; however Cavani doesn’t look an upgrade to me, let alone a major one.
Big Game Bottler?
Or Gonzalo Higuain? Big game bottler, 15 goals from open play in 37 games? Does he look better than Giroud? Let’s ignore the fact he plays in Italy, which can lead to him becoming even less productive in England.
How about Karim Benzema, the fans’ favourite? How about the fact he’s scored only one more goal from open play, having played two more games than Giroud? Admittedly, he’s more adept at creating chances for teammates (has 10 assists to Giroud’s 3), but he a) plays in a less competitive environment b) has Cristiano Ronaldo c) disappears in big games. Yes, he still looks an upgrade, just not the one worth spending 40 million on.
I personally wanted to suggest two players: Alvaro Morata, who impressed me over the course of the semi-finals and Alexandre Lacazette. When I saw Morata’s stats I just ran away – his counterpart, Tevez, looks a much better alternative in comparison. In fact, his numbers are so good I’d seriously consider forking out some cash for Carlos and bringing him back to the BPL, if he was younger. At 31, Tevez is not the long-term solution we need.
That leaves us with Lacazette. Here we have a completely different set of skills to our own Frenchman and much better key stats, like goals, assists and chances created. Lacazette is just another type of forward: he plays facing the goal; he’s a dribbler and so on and so forth. You can read more about him (and his potential suitability) here. There’s only thing that threw me off balance: out of his 27 goals (in 33 games), Lacazette scored 8 from penalties. That leaves 19 from open play, which is more or less on par with Giroud in terms of games-per-goal, (in a far less challenging league.) Nonetheless, I still think bringing in Lacazette would make us a better team: unlike the alternatives I’ve touched on above, Alexandre’s style of play is markedly different to Giroud’s AND he’s still young. He also won’t cost us 40 million; at least I don’t think he will.
On our hands we have one of the best, if not the best, back-to-the-goal striker in the whole of Europe. Even a much-lauded Benzema wouldn’t present a major upgrade, not to me at least.
Does that mean Giroud is ideal and we should just sit back and relax? No. Firstly, because Giroud is a bit one-dimensional: that means he’s almost as bad facing the goal as he’s good with his back to it. He certainly improved this season: two goals (against Liverpool and United, respectively) from outside the box and a 20% conversion rate hint he’s decent when facing the goal. I feel we can get even more from him should we put more crosses in.
However, we need an alternative to Giroud. We need someone who can play facing the goal and be successful at it. Right now all it takes is isolating Giroud and marking him tightly to render him ineffective. We’ve seen glimpses at how unstoppable we can be with a plan B: when Walcott led the line. Maybe Theo himself can become our plan B, maybe Sanchez can. If, for some reason or another, they won’t, then I’d certainly consider bringing in Lacazette.
But that doesn’t mean Giroud shouldn’t receive our backing. As I hope I have demonstrated, he’s one of the best at what he does. He deserves credit, a lot more than the Frenchman is currently getting.