Once again Arsenal reliant on the ever under-valued man – An ode to Olivier Giroud*

Giroud vs City

*not an ode, I’m not much of a poet

Note: this piece was written before Arsenal took on West Brom

When Theo Walcott limped off against Sheffield Wednesday, a collective gasp escaped the lips of Gooners all over the globe: the injury meant we were left with one fit striker. A situation all-too-familiar for Arsenal over the course of the last three years. Since 2012, we’ve been treading the dangerous waters of having one striker for almost non-stop.

Olivier Giroud is once again tasked with leading the line alone. Yes, Campbell can play there, but lingering doubts remain whether he can do the job on the right, let alone up top. Yes, Alexis Sanchez can play there too (provided he doesn’t return in pieces from international duty), however Wenger seems reluctant to use the Chilean this way.

Welbeck is still injured (is he even alive? The memories of Danny lacing up his boots are fleeting), while Walcott will take at least another week after the break to return to action. A week which will see Arsenal play three games.

Giroud, however, cuts a contradictory figure among the Arsenal faithful. He has been doing so for three full seasons, ever since he joined the Club. Just when it seemed the fans have finally taken to Ollie this year (after the Frenchman became a supersub of a kind), injury to Walcott struck, Giroud started three games in a row, missed some chances against Spurs, immediately came in for a storm of criticism and we are back to square one.

So in this piece I’ll try to explain why I think Giroud should get more room for manoeuvre from the fans than he’s currently getting.

Giroud is reliable

First thing that comes to mind. You can always count on Olivier Giroud. Barring that freak injury at Goodison, one which forced us into a late purchase, I don’t remember Ollie suffering from any strains, niggles or aches whatsoever.

Olivier made a whooping 109 league appearances out of 126 possible. Of these 17, 9 he missed through injury last year, 6 through two suspensions and we are left with…2! I cannot account for only 2 league games of his and that’s not a testament to my good memory. Moreover, of all the games Ollie took part in, 87 (80%) he started from the first minutes.

Giroud made his 152nd appearance overall vs Tottenham. Arsenal played 182 games in that period. Ollie missed only thirty games, of which 18 were during his only injury and 7 during suspensions (one more he got vs Zagreb). Which leaves us at 5 games unaccounted for!

Yes, we know how Giroud sometimes likes to moan and argue with refs over whether he was fouled or not, while his expression of anguish coupled with hands-to-the-sky gesture is easier found on the net than his goal-celebration routines. But, as you can see, it doesn’t make him any less reliable.

One of the most recent demonstrations of how tough Giroud actually is came in the game against Swansea. The Frenchman’s knee was seemingly smashed to pieces in one of the duels, Ollie couldn’t get up for several minutes, but then he did, returned to the action, scored the opener and started two other games next week. No injury.

Giroud is better than given credit for

It is universally accepted that when a striker averages a goal in two games, he is a very good striker. Not world class maybe, but still very good.

Giroud scored 66 goals in 152 games. That’s 10 goals off 1 in 2. If you want the exact numbers, Giroud averages 0.43 goals per game.

Mind you, that includes his first (i.e. adaptation) season, in which his rate was as low as one goal in three games (well, almost – 17 in 47). Olivier’s second season was close to one goal in two games (22 in 51), before he blew everyone away last season, scoring 19 goals in 36 appearances, of which he started only 26 games.

Furthermore, if we stick to the “one goal in two games is good”, then even Sanchez is only slightly better than Giroud, cause he scored 25 goals in 52 games, which equals 0,48 goals per game!

You want overall context? I’ll give you some. Giroud scored 41 league goals in his three full seasons. Only Aguero (55), Suarez (54) and Van Persie (48) scored more in the same time frame. The first two are arguably world-class, RvP, meanwhile, scored more than half his goals (26) in 2012-2013, his contribution plummeting in the next two seasons, before he eventually was shipped out to Fenerbahce for peanuts.

Only behind these two? I’ll take that

You can say that the sample size for the strikers I’ve mentioned is small (only three seasons). That in his three full seasons Giroud’s highest position among the scorers was 6th, which indicates there were at least five more goalscorers each season who performed better.

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But aren’t longevity, consistency (and, dare I say, consistent improvement) the surest signs of quality? Can we say Sturridge is better than Giroud because he had one good season? Can we say the same about Costa? And where are guys like Michu and Dzeko now?

Of course we can play the “what if” game. We don’t know how good Kane will turn out to be, Bale would likely have outscored Giroud had he stayed, while Sturridge would have a chance had he stayed FIT. But all of these are assumptions, nothing more.

Finally, a quick look at conversion rates. Giroud mustered an exactly 20% rate in 2014/15. In comparison, Aguero was at 18%, Kane at 19% and Costa at an insane 26% (league only). However, Giroud still looks decent in this company, doesn’t he?

Only Costa was more clinical than Giroud in 14/15

It’s also important to note Giroud’s 20% conversion rate is:

  1. An absolutely acceptable rate. Both Henry and Walcott had the same rate over their respective last four seasons and I see no one doubting their quality
  2. A 5% improvement on his 13/14 campaign which, in its turn, represented a 5% improvement on Ollie’s rather atrocious 10% conversion rate in 12/13

But the point is, Giroud’s is getting better with each season. In 15/16 Giroud’s rate is slightly down thus far (17%), however it’s important to note he only took 36 shots in 12 games, of which he started only 6. Given a run up top (which he will get), Ollie should at least get back to his 20% rate.

Giroud remains integral to our style of play

He is our playmaker…of sorts. Ollie is not the assist-maker like Ozil of course. The Frenchman only directly assisted 14 goals over his three seasons (league only). Furthermore, in his 97 league games, Giroud created…99 chances. Almost 1 per game.

However, it doesn’t diminish his overall contribution. He is involved in almost all great team goals we’ve scored since 2012. Think back to Wilshere’s goal against Norwich or Rosicky’s goal against Sunderland.

Do you mean to say I just assisted goal of the season, Jack?

Furthermore, I recently watched our best goals vs Swansea (before the game) and was stunned to see Giroud was integral in scoring most of these. Have a look yourself.

But it’s not only that. Simply put, Giroud is our outlet under pressure, a “break in case of emergency” glass and he’s damn good at it.

Numbers, I hear you say? Sample size? Comparisons to other strikers? Where’s the context?

Now, if we define an outlet as a target man, someone who would, first and foremost, fight for long balls, then aerial duels is the most telling figure. Interestingly enough, Giroud is statistically not the best player in this sense. In 14/15 the Frenchman contested 9.6 won duels per game, with a success rate of 50%. In this regard he is firmly behind Crouch (15 duels contested, 60% win rate) and Benteke (14 duels contested, 55% win rate), with Pelle biting at Giroud’s heels (9.4 contested, 50% win rate). Everyone else (Sakho, Bony, Jelavic) is lagging far behind.

However (and I think you’ll agree with me), Stoke and Aston Villa are playing a very different style of football to Arsenal. As a result, they seek to deploy strikers as lone men in the box, trying to pick them out with crosses (I don’t have the numbers, but I think both Villa and Stoke should be near the top crossing-wise). At Arsenal, Giroud is required to not so much contest balls in the box, as to bring them down earlier and involve teammates in the build-up. More often than not Giroud is not (pardon the repetition) the last man, someone who finishes the attack.

Does much more than just finish the attacks

Now, if we factor in this, Giroud will go toe-to-toe with Pelle and Benteke, but Crouch will drop off. His overall involvement in the build-up (which I judge by pass completion numbers and chances created) is not as telling as that of the other three. As for Pelle and Benteke, well, I take my hat off to Koeman and whoever unearthed Benteke. In them we have two strikers of about the same quality as Giroud. Especially Benteke, who is much younger than Giroud and Pelle, has a potentially higher ceiling and can blossom under Klopp. If he manages to stay fit, that is.

By the way, while we are still on the subject, Giroud is pretty effective with his head in front of goal. The Frenchman scored 15 headed league goals since joining, the most anyone did in the same time frame. If his next goal comes from a header, it’ll take Ollie’s tally to 16, which would be exactly ⅓ of all his league goals (48). For comparisons sake, Giroud only scored 5 headed goals in his two seasons with Montpellier, out of 33. Another component of his game that Ollie drastically upped since joining.

Update: Giroud did indeed score with his head against West Brom, taking his league goal tally to 7 in 13 games this season, scoring 4 out of these 7 with his head and scoring 16 out 48 from headed efforts.

Exceptionally good in the air

The verdict

Olivier Giroud is not the best striker to have graced this Earth, however, he is much better than given credit for. He quietly goes about his business, he keeps on improving with every passing season and, as such, he can rival other strikers from top PL teams. He is consistent, reliable and extremely important for the way we want to play football.

Granted, Ollie can frustrate us at times. He can scupper easy chances, but he is also capable of producing moments of magic, like the two scissor kicks he pulled off this season. He can go down too easily for our liking, but he’ll always get up. He can sometimes lack end product, but he’ll never lack the desire to help his team.

I shudder at the thought where we would be without Giroud. Here’s to you, Olivier.

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  1. Is Alexis Sanchez a potential centre-forward in an adjusted Arsenal system? | Gunners Town - January 7, 2016

    […] concerned, the Chilean pulled his hamstring against Norwich 5 days later, leaving us to rely on the ever-reliable Olivier Giroud. The Chilean hasn’t played since then, though all going well should return in time to face […]

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