Tactics Column: Olivier Giroud finds his niche

Tactics Column: Olivier Giroud finds his niche

The movements were so familiar, and the touch and the finish exquisite. Olivier Giroud’s fine double against Brighton and Hove Albion would have done little to avoid comparisons with that man, but in a strange way, that’s what it’s done. Finally it seems, people have come to realise that Giroud is his own player, capable of moments of adroitness to go with his more obvious target man-like qualities.

Indeed, you can view Giroud’s season in three stages: When he signed, he was an unknown quantity, taking 8 matches to open his account and in a way, that goal in the 3-1 win over West Ham United in October marked a landmark moment, finally confirming himself as an Arsenal striker. In between, Giroud’s form was more introspective. He scored two goals against Fulham and delivered a brilliant assist for Lukas Podolski in the Champions League but he never quite found his niche in the team. At heart, he was used as a target-man but he constantly muddied that description by dropping deep in search of possession and sometimes, his touch let him down. In 17 games after scoring his first goal, Giroud scored just six times in that period. In this stage, the most important thing was to convince his team and his fans of his worth.

Finally, it looks like Giroud might have done that, dealing in doubles, firstly against Newcastle off the bench and then against West Ham – which makes for a neat symmetry of his Arsenal career so far, having opened his account against the same team. His brace against Brighton on Sunday might now be the impetus to convince everyone else of his worth: the final stage of his season.

It’s true that the standard of defending here was poorer than what Giroud normally faces, but it marks a steady progression and the signs continue to be promising. A bit like a videogame character, he’s added a few weapons to his armoury along the way too. His touch is becoming smoother, like Chantilly lace, killing balls when they might have otherwise squirmed away to oppositions’ feet. His finishing requires the most work but his two goals at Brighton were of the highest quality. Firstly, Giroud capped off a speedy counter-attack with a well-placed curler from the edge of the box and then deliciously took down a pass by Abou Diaby on the stretch and fired in. Flicks and neat one-twos are bountiful too although this sometimes borders on the outrageous, attempting trigonometric through-passes even Pythagoras wouldn’t try.

Arsène Wenger’s words do Olivier Giroud a bit of disservice, likening him to a throwback striker of a seemingly past era but that highlights the rawness of his game. It too, displays the different quality he brings to the side which allows them to break from their usual passing game.

Arguably, Arsenal haven’t played to his strengths well enough. Or rather, he hasn’t. Wenger wants Giroud to play more on the “offside-line”, to use his runs more like he did for his second goal against Brighton as he drifted off his marker. His play can be wildly inaccurate at times too, although recently, his link-up play has improved and his team-mates have benefited by making more penetrative burst from midfield, especially with Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott both having had their games adjusted to run into the space quickly. Indeed, Kieran Gibbs, Lukas Podolski and Wilshere are such examples where Giroud’s combination play has directly resulted in goals recently.

It’s interesting that Wenger highlights Olivier Giroud’s battling qualities because it’s often seen as something the team lack. From a stylistic point of view, however, it just doesn’t seem to fit. “He [Giroud] started a bit sloppy and became stronger and stronger,” said Wenger after the 3-2 Brighton victory. “He finished the second half [in a] very, very good [way]. When he gets into the fighting mode it is difficult to handle him. This guy is tall, strong and quicker than people think he is. He has good finishing as well.” But while Liverpool might have tossed aside Andy Carroll ruthlessly like a used condom, passing sides do really love a target-man. Suddenly Giroud makes a lot of sense: in a side that passes the ball accurately in the final third and a striker who wins most of his duels, Giroud could work really, really well.

Brighton perfect practice for Liverpool

The way Brighton attacked deserves a mention and it seems a matter of when, not if, Gus Poyet’s side become a Premier League team. With new signing Leonardo Ulloa – who caused Per Mertesacker lots of problems – they have the striker that can fire them into the top division. But it’s the way they played which is most pertinent to this column because it is one they will face this Wednesday against Liverpool.

Brighton, like Liverpool and Swansea, stretch the pitch wide, commit full-backs forward and constantly rotate midfielders on the ball so it is hard to mark. Arsenal were outplayed for much of the 3-2 win and took the lead against the run of play while only really looked like having the ascendancy when Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott entered the fray. Granted Arsenal made a lot of changes and at the moment players like Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta exemplify their way of playing so much so that it was always going to be a bit of a struggle against Brighton.

Arsenal have had trouble against teams that try to out-Arsenal them although the most recent win, a 1-0 in the FA Cup versus Swansea, showed signs they have finally realised how to play against the style. Truth be told, Liverpool have been a poorer imitation of the way Brendan Rodgers envisaged playing and developed at Swansea despite having “better” players and Arsenal, if they decide to press Liverpool’s midfielders tightly, should fancy their chances. They certainly got the perfect dress-rehearsal against Brighton.

The magic of the cup and other nonsense

The magic of the cup and other nonsense

Morning all,

and what a weekend of FA Cup action it was. Chelsea nearly lost to Brentford, the Mugsmashers went out to Oldham and Sp*rs got beaten by dirty, filthy Leeds. It just shows you that the cup can still spring surprises, and for all the cynicism we have about modern football and the disillusionment there is about the game these days, it was great to see fans of these clubs (apart from Leeds fans) enjoy the performances and results of their team.

I thought Brentford were particularly unlucky not to hang on against Chelsea. Having gone ahead twice I was hoping they’d do it, but I don’t suppose any team can legislate for the fluke occurrence of a Fernando Torres goal. Still, they’ll get a nice payday at the Racist Captain Child Kicking Reserve Player Shooting Manager Hating Arena and good luck to them.

Our win over Brighton means we get a 5th round game at home against Blackburn. We last played them in the cup in the 2006-7 season and after a 0-0 draw, in which they played with 11 men behind the ball, I wrote at the time:

Arsenal looked tired and a bit toothless after 120 minutes in midweek while Blackburn looked like a bag of steaming shite.

It was after that game that Cesc made remarks about Mark Hughes being a twat and not playing like Barcelona or something, and it’s fair to say he was right. A replay took us to Ewood Park and we were beaten by a late Benni McCarthy goal:

A painful cup defeat last night made especially painful by the knowledge that it was a game we should have won. Not for the first time this season though our lack of goals cost. Of course we weren’t helped by Graham Poll who must be the biggest prick on earth.

And here, this morning, nearly 6 years later, with much water under the bridge and many other things to occupy our minds, it is worth remembering that Graham Poll, despite the fact he no longer troubles us or appears before us, is still, probably, the biggest prick on earth. He has a Daily Mail column, for goodness sake. Is there further evidence of a man’s prickery than that? I think not.

Anyway, we’ll hope for a more positive result in the cup, like when we played Blackburn in the semi-finals in the 2004-5 season, and a young Dutchling came off the bench to score two fantastic goals to put us through to the final. He also nearly had his head taken off by Andy Todd who, with the benefit of hindsight, clearly saw something none of us could back then.

Back to the future now and Doc Brown Arsene Wenger has been talking up the qualities of Olivier Giroud, saying:

When he gets into the fighting mode it is difficult to handle him. This guy is tall, strong and quicker than people think he is. He has good finishing as well.

He could have played in England 20 years ago, 10 years ago and today. He is all you need to play as a centre forward; a physical presence.

And here’s where Saturday’s performance against Brighton was interesting for me. Aside from the two goals he scored, it was the first game where he’s really thrown his weight around. It might be just because it was Brighton, but it was good to see. He is big and strong and really should be using that more in the Premier League.

When you look at how forwards like Drogba, Shearer and even old elbowy Davies at Bolton have operated down the years, they used their size and strength to their advantage. I’d like to see him bully defenders a bit more, he seems a bit too nice at times, but there was a moment early in the Brighton game when he had a little run-in with their centre-half who tried to shake his hand/pat him on the back, and Giroud completely and utterly blanked him like he was something he’d find on the bottom of his shoe.

I’m all for sportsmanship and what have you, but that kind of stuff can wait until after the game and hopefully it’s something he can continue. He’ll be facing more difficult opponents on Wednesday when Liverpool come calling. They’ve got one of the monsters from Will Smith’s I Am Legend and maybe Carragher at the back, so he’ll find a bit more niggle in there than he did in the cup on Saturday. He’s got to start doing it against these kinds of teams too, but his progress is promising.

Other than that it seems quiet enough as we head into the final days of the transfer window. I still think it’d be a surprise to see anyone come in, but I guess you never know. Que sera, sera, and all that, but I’m sure Arsene Wenger knows that every single result between now and the end of the season will be put in context of what we do, or don’t, before Thursday night.

Each time we drop points people will ask ‘What if?’ and ‘Why didn’t we?’ and that is something he’s going to have to contend with. I’m not going to hold my breath over signings, but I may just make a small sacrifice to KIWOMYA – GOD OF THE TRANSFER WINDOW, and see what happens.

Right, that’s yer lot. Have a good Monday.