Tuesday, October 4, 2022

GIROUD FOR THOUGHT

Last week I asked whether it’s time for Arsenal to cash in on Theo Walcott. In the ensuing week since that piece, the rumour mill has begun to ruminate over the Arsenal future of Olivier Giroud, with Lyon thought to be pushing for their pound of hunky French flesh in a swap deal for Alexandre Lacazette and West Ham also reportedly hovering.

Like Walcott, Giroud is a forward that divides opinion amongst Arsenal fans- though perhaps not as wildly as Theo does. With 98 goals in 5 seasons at the club, Giroud has represented excellent value at £10m. However, his reputation has suffered because of the club’s failure to land a striker from the bracket above the Frenchman.

The question of Giroud’s future is underscored by the same caveats as Walcott’s. If the Gunners lose Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Özil this summer (with Lucas Perez already studiously minding that the door doesn’t hit him on his way out), then to lose Giroud too would represent too much scar tissue to repair in the Arsenal forward line.

Assuming Arsene is able to convince Mesut and Alexis to remain in North London and that Lyon are offering a swap deal for Alexandre Lacazette, Giroud’s situation makes for interesting discussion. The Frenchman only signed a new deal in January, but in a World Cup year, a move to a team that can guarantee him first team football might appeal.

He turns 31 in September, so Arsenal might consider that, with depreciation about to bite, now may be an expedient time to sever ties, especially if they believe that space could be made for an upgrade. Having just signed a new deal, Giroud is likely to be one of the higher earners at the club. However, it’s obvious that Arsene really hearts Giroud. He hearts him bad.

THE CASE TO KEEP HIM
Giroud regularly hits the 20 goal a season mark, which makes him a valuable commodity and represents good value in terms of his salary. He has improved markedly as a player in his time at Arsenal, despite pretty relentless criticism. Much of the criticism stems from his inability to morph into a genuinely world class centre forward, which is a high bar.

Failure to clear it does not render him a failure. He is very good. He averaged a goal every 99.8 minutes last season. Crucially, he has unique attributes. He is the only player in the squad to offer sustained aerial threat. Both in front of goal and around the penalty area, his strength and his height provide variety in the Arsenal attack.

He may not care for the label, but Giroud is pretty much the perfect ‘Plan B’ striker. In England, we all know that ‘Plan B’ is shorthand for ‘70 minutes have gone and we’re not winning, so now we’re going to punt it to the big man.’ His combination play is excellent around the penalty area and he is one of the few players in the squad that makes crossing the ball a genuine option for the wide players. If he is to be traded in for Lacazette, a frontline of Welbeck, Lacazette, Walcott and Alexis runs the risk of uniformity.

His brand of brutishness is particularly useful against tiring defences, who have spent the previous 70 minutes dealing with a very different type of threat in Welbeck or Walcott. Giroud’s impact as a substitute is an incredibly valuable commodity. Because of his boyish good looks, he is not given the credit that he deserves for his durability either.

Despite his physical approach, he is rarely injured. On the few occasions that he is, he recovers very quickly. These have been scarce qualities in an Arsenal player over recent years. If anything, his superhuman core strength disguised how bare the Gunners’ striking cupboard was in his early seasons at the club. With the squad likely to be used in the group stages of the Europa League, there is a need for a bigger roster this coming season.

Psychologically, Giroud is a confusing player. On occasion, he seems to have a brittle mentality, his face creasing into various shades of anguish whenever he errs. Yet he has pulled his Arsenal career back from the brink on several occasions now. Every time he is written off, he fights back and that suggests he has character. I even enjoyed some of his moonfaced celebrations when he scored from the bench last season. I like a player that is desperate to play.

Oli has revised many of his weaknesses too. His finishing has improved pretty much every season. Previously, Giroud had been criticised for his lack of contribution in big games, but this is another wrinkle he has ironed out in recent campaigns. In short, Giroud offers variety, availability, dependability and goals. He can also operate in any formation that Arsenal play. He does need to ditch that beard though.

THE CASE TO SELL
Giroud has been criticised unfairly for merely being very good, when Arsenal are accustomed to amazing when it comes to strikers. However, the real crux of the issue with Giroud is that, though he is indeed very good, he forces Arsenal into a style of play that doesn’t suit them. If you start with Olivier Giroud, you have little choice but to deploy a direct approach.

Giroud doesn’t stretch defences in the manner that Welbeck, Walcott and Alexis do. Frankly, Arsenal function far more effectively with a mobile forward- that prototype suits the Gunners’ vision for attack based on movement. Utilising Giroud at the tip of arrowhead drastically changes its trajectory and forces the team into an uncomfortable identity swap.

While he represents a viable alternative from the bench, there is the question as to whether Arsene can be trusted to use him in this fashion on a consistent basis. For whatever reason, the manager does tend to have players that he takes a real shine to and Olivier Giroud is one of them. Leaving the Frenchman out of the starting line-up seems to genuinely pain Wenger. One flash of Olly’s hangdog expression and Arsene is beckoning him onto the sofa, muddy paws and all, lavishing him with Scooby Snacks.

The decision to start Giroud at White Hart Lane in April was possibly the most inept tactical decision the manager made in the whole of last season. There is a sense sometimes that Wenger feels like he owes Olivier games after a short spell on the sidelines. Like a personal debt to his favoured son. It’s probably more complicated than that, but sometimes I wish that Arsenal would sell Giroud just because I don’t think Arsene can be trusted to use him appropriately.

Besides which, Giroud clearly does not relish the ‘supersub’ sobriquet and who can blame him? If another season in the “break glass in case of emergency” box would make him unhappy, then maybe he would actively like to move. I also don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to move on a popular player every now and then.

Dressing room politics are delicate and we obviously have little to no insight on how that chemistry looks at the moment. But occasionally moving on big players, when it is clearly the club’s decision to do so, keeps others on their toes and refreshes the environment. This is something the club used to be very good at. The accusation that Arsenal is a little too comfortable for players continues to abound in recent seasons.

Arsenal could use the potential departure of Giroud to upgrade their forward line and, who knows, maybe reinvest in other areas of the squad. Maybe they could have a go at fixing that pothole in central midfield with Santi Cazorla up on bricks for the foreseeable future. It’s not a simple decision and Giroud’s situation is inextricably linked to a lot of other factors.

But Arsenal really do need to get better at how they sell players. They are likely to be lowballed for the likes of Gibbs, Szczesny and Wilshere this summer because Arsene hoards players and allows them to depreciate in value until their contract situations come to a head. That is not to say that Giroud specifically must be the fall guy, but an urgent sea change is required in the way that Arsene handles squad turnover.

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