Handsome devil

The Tim Stillman column - Arseblog

The American satirist H.L. Mencken once wrote that “a cynic is somebody that smells flowers and immediately looks for a coffin.” It was a line that came back to me this week. No sooner had we Gooners received a dreamy, masculine bouquet in the shape of Olivier Giroud (those arms, they’d make you feel so safe), than a couple of spurious tweets from a journo had us scenting out the carcass of Robin van Persie. I’m not saying I definitely think van Persie will stay. But the calculation that Giroud in automatically means van Persie is off is slightly rudimentary for me.

Whilst I don’t doubt we’re contingency planning for the worst case scenario, Giroud (those eyes, you could drown in them) looks every inch a replacement for Chamakh. You only have to compare the identikit statements Arsene made about Chamakh’s attributes compared to those which he cooed about Giroud (and with a chiselled jaw like that, you’d coo over Giroud too).

Simply, I think Giroud (that barrel chest, oh to nuzzle oneself against those pectorals on a cold winter’s eve) has been bought to do what Chamakh ultimately couldn’t. Not only did our reliance on van Persie last season overly burden the Dutchman, but it made the team tactically inflexible, marrying them to the 4-3-3 at all times. I think the plan for last season was for a 4-4-2 formation to be a kind of “break glass in case of emergency” Plan B for the manager when a goal was required. We saw him flirt with the formation from time to time, but I don’t recall it making an appearance after Christmas.

In the final game of 2010-11 at Fulham, Arsene opted for the system with van Persie playing alongside Chamakh, which hinted that the thought had passed his cranium. The set up was also trialled in the laboratory of the Carling Cup this season. I haven’t seen enough of Giroud to judge him on anything other than his smouldering good looks. (Those abs, I bet they could crush bricks). But the suggestion from those in the know is that he provides intelligent link up play to the wide players and thrives on good service into the area.

Bacary Sagna’s delivery used to be his biggest defect, but through hard work on the training ground, he has now cultivated a fine curving delivery. Had Chamakh not become totally allergic to the penalty area in the last 18 months, it was the sort of delivery upon which he would surely have thrived. The point is that, whether van Persie stays or not, we have the flexibility to play two strikers and surround them with complimentary service.

In the shape of Jenkinson, Sagna, Gibbs and Santos, Arsenal are now in a position to provide good service from deeper wide areas for Giroud. Meanwhile, van Persie or indeed Podolski, tend to enjoy slightly more grounded service from the flanks. The wingers are able to provide this. Walcott and Gervinho are good at getting in behind full backs and cutting back into the area from the touchline. I watched the season review DVD back earlier this week and it was striking the amount of times Gervinho jinked his way to the by line to create chances. That was of course until he slipped into the coma commonly known as the African Cup of Nations.

The acquisition of Giroud continues a trend towards slightly more direct (and ruggedly handsome) players and the intention seems to be to make our threat more varied. In Arteta and Song, we probably have a couple of central midfielders with varied enough skill sets to play in a 4-4-2 in the event that we are chasing a goal. Lack of midfield cover for the defence has been too much of an issue to make the system viable on a long term basis in my opinion.

But you have to believe the opposition will be wiser to Song’s lofted through balls which bore so much fruit last year. He will find himself closed down with greater ferocity, but that of course potentially frees up space in other areas of the pitch. We typically face heavily manned defences, so being able to service from deep will be a valuable weapon. In theory, I think Giroud’s presence is intended to make this more possible.

Like I say, this was the mission Chamakh had been assigned for and it was a task he was unable to undertake. The typically resigned quote in his season review on the official website rather sums his lack of application up. His first six months at the club showed he had the ability to be an asset. Of course he was always going to be behind van Persie in the pecking order, but he didn’t exactly bust a gut to at least make himself a trustworthy option from the bench or to give the captain a breather for the odd league game.

Few will cry any tears when the curtain is brought down on the Moroccan’s Arsenal career and nor should they. That said, I don’t follow the logic that some of our recent signings from Ligue 1 should make us cautious about Giroud. Every new signing is a gamble. But if we’re to maintain routine scepticism towards recruits from Ligue 1, then we should harbour similar doubts about Chelsea’s signing of Eden Hazard. The likes of Cabaye, Ben Arfa, Koscielny have all adapted to the Premier League just fine of late.

It would make about as much sense to be wary over Podolski because Amaury Bischoff and Stefan Malz came from the Bundesliga. We sign more players from France so our sample is more likely to be mixed. Besides which, your cynicism, along with any Premiership defender’s resistance, will be melted by one gaze at Olivier’s apotheosis of hunkiness. One flash of blue steel from our Olivier and even your average Stoke defender will be too busy daydreaming about slow motion running across the beach front in Speedos to concentrate on marking him.

With Euro 2012 now winding down I’m very much hoping for Germany to win the tournament. Not only am I a raging teutophile, but Germany are the only squad with Arsenal involvement and there are potential benefits for us there. Giroud swans gracefully and handsomely into London Colney having just won a league title, if Mertesacker and Podolski can likewise get their mitts on some silver, then we’re immediately boosting the quota of “winners” in our squad.

Guys that have played big games and finals and have been triumphant. We’ve had winners in our squad over the last few years, but too few. This has led to them either being overburdened as others shrink in their shadow; (Fabregas, Henry’s last two seasons, van Persie) or else totally frustrated with others not matching the standards they set for themselves (Gallas, Jens). We have a more mature, psychologically together squad to handle these sorts of players and channel their influence properly now. Adding to the medals count can only enhance the strength of the squad. Till next time. LD.

Follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA

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