It was no surprise that we won comfortably in Australia, both of our games at a canter till the pace of it all caught up with athletes who have just about returned to first team training after a heavy dose of the holiday season into their bodies. It came as no surprise also, at least to me, that Olivier Giroud played as well as he did last night with a scintillating near post finish.
It was quite astounding really and the number of times he has done that has desensitised us to the magic of it, but near post finishes from a very acute angle are stuff only the best in the game pull off. That may inform some of an opinion I hold that says Giroud is a world class striker. In all respects? No, you would bet not. In his strengths? Most definitely.
What has happened over the course of Giroud’s career here is typical of many an Arsenal player. We love them. We load our expectations onto their shoulders and set them metaphorically free to go out on the field, still chained by our expectation of them. What is wrong with it, you ask? The expectations are a bit too much. The singular desire of most Arsenal hearts is the Premier League title, as I believe is the case for Arsene Wenger’s heart as well. It has been that way every single season after that magical year in 2003/04. In a way that side has served as a pressure cooker for every single squad thereafter, consistently drawing comparisons which either do not make people happy or do not quite make much sense.
Comparing Xhaka to Vieira? We saw some of that when he signed with people all over rejoicing that Arsenal had finally signed a hardman. It turns out to be not quite the case given how his season has since panned out. Granit Xhaka is Granit Xhaka, not Paddy Vieira. Similarly drags the case of one, Mesut Ozil who is compared to our Lord and Saviour, Dennis Bergkamp. Mesut has now been a part of three FA Cup winning teams and his technical quality is perhaps on a level above the rest of the team but even then, it is an unfair ask of him to function as Dennis Bergkamp used to function.
People forget that a team is eleven players. They all need to be of a certain level for the collective to be able to challenge for real honours against world class opponents. Even more importantly, when fitness and form necessitate changes to the starting XI the replacements need to be quality as well. The particulars of the Invincibles season are very easily forgotten in the hallowed blaze of glory that surrounds Arsenal’s famous season. The replacements were top notch.
Having said that, we now take a turn towards the perfectly bearded physique belonging to our beloved Ollie boy. The man has the stature and the ability, to put in a shift. You would definitely take him with you on a windy night away to Stoke. Chances are you would be hiding behind him. I am going to argue that this is what Arsenal have been doing as a club, and as a fan base. Before you decide I’ve been on the bottle let us look at the evidence.
At the time we signed him, we were almost a laughing stock. Our best player had joined our immediate rivals. We were shedding star players like snakes shed skin, at a regular interval that is. The team was lacking a striker. In comes Olivier Giroud from Montpellier, having taken them to an unprecedented title with his goalscoring exploits. Cue the expectations to balloon.
Fast forward to one year later, Giroud has finished the season with 11 PL Goals to his name from 34 total appearances of which only 24 are starts. The expectations for this season were understandably low, having lost out on a lot. People forgive Ollie. We go again next season, they hope in their heart of hearts.
Next season, he scores 16 PL goals and a total of 21 in all competitions. Season after that, 14 in the league from 27 appearances. Season after that, 16 in the league from about 3400 appearances if certain sections of our fanbase are to be believed. Last season he scored 12 goals in what was essentially a super sub role even though he started quite a few games. This is how it should have been from the start.
In the five seasons mentioned above, his total output for the club has been about 20 goals a season in all competitions. Not world class by any measure, but somewhere around Walcott when he has a good season, of which he has had two in his entire career. What does that suggest to you? To most people, this shows what a shit forward he is. To me it shows that Arsene Wenger never intended for Giroud to be his main man throughout the season. However circumstances at the time of his purchase were such that he was the best we could get, or afford.
As the seasons rolled by, the club’s transfer spending swelled to unprecedented levels. However every season when we had the money to make a striker our priority, Wenger managed to find players who were so supremely talented, that the striker spend was reallocated into their purchases. These players are of course, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez. Their emergence and the club’s transfer limitations are nobody’s fault, certainly not that of Giroud. In the absence of at least an able deputy, Giroud has led the Arsenal attack come rain or shine and he has given Arsenal fans some of the most euphoric moments of our lives.
When the euphoric moments dry out however, in the cold light of day, his contribution to the Arsenal cause is questioned again and again. Not good enough they say, not finishing enough of his chances. What a travesty, that in the season when Arsene Wenger is beginning to stack the team top heavy like the old days, Ollie wishes to leave. Or so the rumour mill spins its yarn anyway.
Leading the attack for our great club has been a heavy burden for any striker to take. Indeed fans remember Robin van Persie as the world class striker we lost to United, but he was far from it for most of his Arsenal career. Our strikers since Thierry Henry have been unworthy of the shirt at most times, and worse, many of them have been on the injured list more often than on the list. Van Persie was one of them, in modern times Danny Welbeck is one of those. Marouane Chamakh, Lord bless him, was just never the man we should have bought.
On the contrary Olivier has held firm. His visage has visibly aged, although you would be hard pressed to say it. The onus of goals has weighed heavy on his shoulders. It was a burden he never asked for. It was a curse he bore alone. The bile from the stands and in the newspaper columns must have been hurtful, Thierry Henry adding to it from his comfy couch on Sky. In the face of it all, he has been grounded in reality, always ready to admit to his faults and improve as much as he can on them. His strengths have only gotten better over the years and obviously the last season showed what his real role should have been. A striker who was not quite starting material but good enough to frighten any defence on the planet when he was kept chomping at the bit for game time. This was to be his role when he was brought in that fateful summer.
Sadly it has taken half a decade to get to a point when one of his beautiful assists could win us a league, and now he wishes to leave. When there are men to shoulder his load and spare him the vitriol.
I must say his professionalism has been exemplary during this time and his genuine appreciation of the club and its position in the global power structure has been complete. He has never spoken out in the press. He has never been one to whine.
I wish to end this piece with this quote from Arsene Wenger, which I fully agree with:
“I have many times said that I have a huge respect for Olivier Giroud for the man he is and the way he loves our club.”