Hello everyone, welcome to the very last edition ever of Arseblog. I’ve decided to call it quits after Jose Mourinho called around to my door last night and told me, in a very sinister voice, that I’d better stop disrespecting him and his players, otherwise I might get punched like a Crystal Palace ballboy.
I kid, of course. I’d have set the dog on him. Then gone out and bought a time machine, gone back to when sabre-toothed tigers exist, brought one of them back, cross-bred it with a lion with a hair-trigger temper, then gone forward in time to the point where there was space travel, voyaged to a distant planet which had aliens like in Aliens with acid for blood and mini-mouths, bred that with the sabre-tooted mega-grumpy liger, then set that on him too, just to make sure.
You can’t take any chances. I mean, a man who would advise a small boy that he could get punched by a millionaire because he has failed to get his team to beat Crystal Palace is capable of anything in my opinion. Anyway, no doubt there’ll be plenty of juicy April Fool gags to get our teeth stuck into today.
I, however, want to talk about Olivier Giroud. Firstly, I should qualify this by saying I think come the summer we really should be looking to make an addition in the striking area. One which adds both depth and an increase in quality in that department. And while I accept he’s not the most efficient striker we’ve ever had, I do think he’s been a bit unfairly targetted in recent times.
After the 6-0 defeat to Chelsea there seemed to be more criticism of him than the defence. Yes, he missed that chance which he probably should have scored, but would it have been anything more than a sticking plaster on the day that was in it? But look, rather than try and defend him, I’m trying to understand and explain why we, and he, have struggled in recent times.
It was a question on yesterday’s Arsecast Extra, asking if people are playing down the absences of Walcott, Ozil, Wilshere and Ramsey that got me thinking. Of course those four players are a big miss, and would be for any team, but not having them affects both the team as a collective and the individuals in it, and none more so than Giroud.
It occurred to me last week that never before in the reign of Arsene Wenger have we had a main striker who is so utterly reliant on the service of his teammates. In the past, we played with two forwards who could work for each other. Even when we went to the one up top system, Henry was capable of doing something extraordinary, while Robin van Persie was exactly the kind of player who coudl make something happen on his own.
As well as being able to feed off what he was given, he also had the skill and quality to fashion chances for himself. Giroud simply does not. His finishing is nowhere near as efficient as it should be, but that’s basically what he is – a penalty box striker who other main strength is playing with his back to goal and bringing teammates into play.
Ramsey and Wilshere are the two midfielders most likely to run from deep and break beyond the striker, and neither of them are around, while Theo Walcott’s pace is another outlet that Giroud’s hold up play, and flicks in and around the box, can utilise. The main issue, however, is that of service.
According to Squawka, Arsenal have created a total of 335 chances in the Premier League this season. Of those 335, 63 have been made by Mesut Ozil, 31 by Wilshere, 26 by Ramsey and even with his season truncated at both ends by injury, Walcott has made 23 of of them, for a total of 143. If my maths is correct (and I accept that there’s a good chance it’s not), then that’s around 43% of all the chances created, which is quite the amount.
Now, obviously some of those chances were created for, and possibly missed by, Giroud when they were in the team, but to be in a situation right now when we’re without all four of those players is most certainly having an effect on the attacking side of our game. Lukas Podolski’s delivery from the left is the closest thing we’ve got to any of them, but he’s fashioned just 5 chances in the Premier League this season, and his effectiveness has to be balanced with the flaws in his game from a defensive point of view.
So, in essence, at a time when we need our main striker to score goals, the team has been stripped of four of its most creative players. Some of the slack is taken up by Santi Cazorla (49 chances), but he’s not the kind of players whose service is the kind that works best for Giroud.
I suppose we also have to take into account the fact that the Frenchman has played 43 games this season (37 starts, 6 substitute appearances). Only Per Mertesacker (44 starts) has played more. I don’t think anybody would argue against the contention that Giroud is not exactly the paciest forward in the world, but in recent weeks he’s looked like he’s running through treacle at times, and that’s surely down to fatigue.
So, while I accept that as a player he has his personal limitations, and that as a team we’re without the players around him who make him a better player, the main issue for me is that we have had no genuine alternative to/for him for most of the season. The bloke is honest and tries his best, but is now knackered and being expected to do things that he simply can’t do. If you want him to take on a couple of defenders with a mazy dribble and make a chance for himself, then you’re going to be disappointed.
Again, it’s not to say he can’t do some things better, of course he can, but like most players – and especially strikers – form fluctuates throughout a season. Only the very, very best can do it consistently from August to May, and while he’s a decent player, he’s not at that level.
What would have made this situation healthier is the complaint so many have made this season about only having one striking option. I’ve heard this time and time again, and rightly enough – so if most people are aware of that, why is there no desire to look at how that might impact the one striker we do have? It’s must easier to just to call him shit, I suppose, but it goes way beyond that.
We haven’t been able to rest him when both the team and the player might have benefited from that, and the alternatives we do have are a player who the manager tried to sell for three summers in a row and is now a travelling jewelery salesman, and a young French lad who is so far from being ready for this level of football, it’s not funny. For me anyway, that’s the main problem.
So, to conclude, while I think this summer’s shopping list should have ‘STRIKER’ right at the very top of it, I think it’s a bit unfair that Giroud has become a lightning rod for issues which aren’t really of his own making. It’s not his fault we’re so utterly reliant on him and that the injury problems we’ve suffered have further exposed the limitations of his game.
I’d certainly keep him next season, alongside someone who can provide something different in terms of quality, pace and so on, because if we ‘get rid’, as some suggest, all we’ve got is the same situation. Perhaps a better striker (perhaps), but with the same limited back-up which, over the course of a campaign, leaves you falling short at vital times.