When Robin van Persie left Arsenal in 2012, I made a promise to never have a favourite Arsenal player again. The wounds from Henry’s departure still hadn’t fully healed, despite the divorce happening five years prior. I was also trying to black Cesc Fabregas out of my mind.
To lose a second captain inside one year hurt like you probably would believe, as you were likely with me for that ride too. I worshipped both Fabregas and van Persie, their sheer talent and importance for the Gunners couldn’t have been overestimated.
With the Dutchman I tried, and succeeded, in turning bitterness into anger, like a certain Dark Knight. His farewell letter to the fans made my job simpler. In a way, van Persie provided me with a moment of clarity: I understood that players joined and departed, but Arsenal will remain. My Arsenal. I knew I would endure it. Not that I had a choice.
In came a quiet Frenchman by the name of Olivier Giroud. The only glimpses of him I had seen were during the Euros – I think I only started paying attention when whispers about his imminent arrival crept in.
Giroud was unlike most strikers I have seen at Arsenal. Born and bred on the speed of legs and thought from Henry, pampered by RvP’s impossible 11-12 season, and somewhat used to Emmanuel Adebayor, a true target man was something of a novelty. Sure, I had witnessed Marouane Chamakh and Nicklas Bendtner, but both were merely filling in as far as I can remember. Or maybe my memory is just being selective.
Giroud was not the intended first choice, nor was he a direct replacement for Robin van Persie. This honour was bestowed on the brash and joyful Lucas Podolski, both in name and in number. However the German’s stint up front was cut short by Arsene Wenger, as the Frenchman quickly realised Poldi was incapable of leading the line on his own.
Giroud became a regular starter, though his position was anything but secure. We had to wait over a month for his first league goal (against West Ham). A game I missed live, something I still regret, because in the light of recent events Giroud’s first goal has become of great sentimental value to me.
Giroud’s relative struggles in front of goal are well-documented, albeit the numbers prove most of us wrong. His conversion rates grew season from season, until they actually hit 20% in 14-15, a number Aguero would be proud of.
Arsene Wenger’s attempts to replace the Frenchman as the first-choice striker stand out in memory almost as much as Giroud’s perceived profligacy. In 2015 Tim Stillman described Ollie as Wenger’s “unwanted stepson”, referring to our manager’s persistent search for another option up front. From trying Gervinho as a false nine to nearly nicking Luis Suarez from Liverpool, it’s fair to say the gaffer cast his net far and wide.
Yet Giroud endured … and survived. The demonstration of underlying toughness despite his trademark anguished on-pitch expression would become the overriding theme of the Frenchman’s tenure. In his five full seasons Olivier fought off competition from pretenders like Gervinho to established goalscorers like Alexis Sanchez. His ability to come back after bad performances and spells in front of goal to score last-minute winners or spectacular volleys will write itself in Arsenal’s history books.
Giroud’s progression from 2012 to 2018 has been nothing short of admirable either. Despite being brought in as practically Andy Carroll (and that’s the last time I use the two together in one sentence), Giroud developed into much more than that. Just like his conversion rates, his technical ability on the ball skyrocketed in five seasons.
The Norwich and Sunderland goals had Giroud at their heart, while his solo effort against Crystal Palace earned a Puskas award just last year. A capable header of the ball, Giroud’s knack for near-post finishes, quick one-twos on the edge of the box and acrobatic efforts against even Bayern Munich define him just as much as his aerial prowess.
Apart from speed, it is hard to think of an element to Giroud’s play which hasn’t soared since 2012, sometimes even honed to perfection. The first impression is now wrong when you look at Olivier Giroud: he’s not a mere target man anymore despite his height and physical attributes: if anything he has come as close as he could to evolving into a complete striker. In the crazy market of today he is worth much more than his going rate, and I think he only went for such a price because Arsene respected his wishes.
The rather simple wishes of being France’s first-choice forward at the World Cup in Russia. Giroud has become Deschamps’ indispensable №1, and you can scream “Benzema” all you like at me. It is my sincerest belief Giroud has surpassed his scandalous compatriot.
The cruel irony of Lacazette, his direct rival for France’s top dog, joining Arsenal to become №1 pick for the Gunners is almost too harsh to bear. Finally Arsene Wenger has replaced his unloved stepson and there was no room for a fightback from our stoic Frenchman. He has aged, and fought one battle too many to recover from this blow. He accepted it, and went gracefully, like a true professional he is. He has made the ultimate sacrifice, and in return we granted his wish, which looks unacceptable from the outside: strengthening a direct rival. But I doubt anyone would begrudge Ollie his chance to remain Deschamps’ go-to for what is likely his last World Cup for France.
Giroud has done his duty for us and I’m immensely grateful for his monumental effort. I could talk about one of his many goals in conclusion, and wax lyrical about how this or that strike embodied the way he’s come since joining, but I won’t do that. Firstly, because there are people more capable of doing that. Secondly, because my overriding memory of him is a different one.
This moment, etched into my brain, happened on a drizzly night in Wales almost a year to the day. We were visiting Swansea with a squad shorn of centre-forward options. Walcott was out, Sanchez was shunted back to the wing, neither Welbeck nor Perez were trusted up front. We were also trying to recover from a 3-3 draw against Bournemouth.
Giroud went down with what looked like a serious injury inside the first half an hour, and I groaned as he limped off the pitch. We were shaky, caught out by Swansea on multiple occasions, and I knew neither Welbeck nor Perez would cut it at centre-forward. I was bracing myself for another meek surrender, unacceptable in spirit if not in score.
However Giroud returned. He waved off suggestions from the bench to be substituted, re-entered the fray and gave us the much-needed lead with a header from a corner on the stroke of half-time. The Frenchman did go off, but only on the hour, when we were 2-0 up and cruising. He left the pitch to a standing ovation. An ovation he thoroughly deserved for his fighting spirit and another crucial goal. And that, more than anything, sums up Olivier Giroud for me.
I can only wish him the best of luck at Chelsea and express my hope to see Olivier don on the red-and-white shirt if even for one last time. Goodbye, sweet prince.
And fare thee well.