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Olivier Giroud made twenty nine appearances in Arsenal’s 2016/17 Premier League campaign. Eighteen of those appearances were as a substitute.
Therefore, out of thirty eight total Premier League matches Giroud only started eleven times.
Who plays up top when Giroud is on the bench?
It’s either Sanchez, Welbeck, Walcott, or Lucas Perez. None of them should start over Giroud and Giroud shouldn’t start at all. Here’s why.
When Olivier Giroud starts up front for Arsenal, it completely changes their style of play.
Despite his immaculate aerial prowess and strong hold up play, Giroud isn’t renown for his speed or dribbling ability. Arsenal have often been stifled by mid to low table opponents who put ten man behind the ball and defend.
How do you break that down? The best way is to go score an early goal. If you don’t do that, you need to find a way to stretch the opposing team’s back four.
Although he’s a less clinical finisher than Giroud, Wenger picked Welbeck to start in the FA Cup final. Welbeck uses his pace to make runs behind the opponent’s center backs, thus creating space for Alexis and Ozil to operate.
As mentioned, Giroud is a clinical finisher. He’s two goals away from one hundred at the club, an impressive feat.
This season Giroud scored a goal about every one hundred minutes, almost a goal a game. Not bad for a striker.
So why did Wenger continually leave him out of the starting XI?
Another reason perhaps, apart from style, is what Giroud brings when he comes on.
After sixty or seventy minutes of chasing Welbeck, Alexis, and Ozil around the pitch the opposing team’s defense are tired. When Giroud comes on, he brings an immediate physical presence.
Since the defenders are already worn down, Giroud is most likely to win those physical battles.
He’s great at bodying the defenders to win flick-ons, free kicks, and clearances. His hold up play is excellent as he uses his strength to back down defenders before laying off to one of his teammates.
Once the cross arrives after that layoff, Giroud makes intelligent runs in the box and usually gets his head on the ball. If Arsenal are need of a goal, Giroud increases those chances.
He’s Arsenal’s only real true number nine. Alexis, Welbeck, Walcott, and Perez all can play out wide and are arguably better there. Giroud has an outdated playing style, but can still be extremely effective when utilized properly.
Maybe Arsenal aren’t utilizing him properly.
What about his national team? French manager Didier Deschamps seems to prefer Giroud as his starting center forward. He featured as a key part in last summer’s Euros either partnering or swapping with Antoine Griezmann.
With the abundance of attacking talent in the French squad (Mbappé, Dembélé, Lacazette, Griezmann), Giroud still finds himself in the starting lineup.
Is it the way the French play? How different is there playing style from Arsenal’s? It’s hard to say. That will be more clear at next year’s World Cup.
However, it can be noted the current French side have excellent crossing fullbacks in Mendy and Sidibé. Especially Mendy, he whips in quality out swingers from the left wing that Giroud can attack.
Is this service from the French team exponentially better than Arsenal’s? Once again, very hard to say.
From the eye test, I would say yes. Hector Bellerin and Nacho Montreal aren’t known for their crossing. Oxlade-Chamberlain started to provide some great service towards the end of the season, however. It may not be player personnel, but rather a commitment to a style.
By picking Giroud, Deschamps is setting up his team to play in a certain way.
So if Giroud shouldn’t start up top for Arsenal, who should?
No one they have on their current roster can fill that role.
Welbeck is not clinical enough, although he works hard and makes good runs. Lucas Perez hasn’t even gotten a sniff. Walcott is too inconsistent and not strong enough to hold the ball up. Alexis Sanchez is better served out wide where he can cut in and roam freely.
The answer is, that player rests on another team. Coincidentally, probably one of Giroud’s French teammates.
Arsenal have made it known they are interested in signing a striker this summer. While Mbappé would be the dream, it may not be the reality. Alexandre Lacazette is once again rumored as a possibility.
Not the style Arsenal need from a starting striker
However, what both these players have very different styles than Giroud. They’re fast, make runs behind the back four, can play out wide or up top, and thrive in counter-attacking situations.
Arsenal often suffer from being too passive in possession. The runs Mbappé and Lacazette make would inspire Arsenal’s midfield to be a bit more adventurous in possession.
Giroud’s style makes it easier for them to make conservative passes when really they should do otherwise. It’s very important for Arsenal to create space in the midfield and keeping the center backs on their toes is a massive part of that.
When Giroud starts the opposing center backs seem to get into a rhythm of how to defend him. They challenge him in the air and give him space on the turn, knowing he won’t beat them for pace.
Mbappé runs like a track star all over the pitching, dragging and pulling the defenders into uncomfortable positions. It’s incredibly effective.
Still useful for the squad
All this doesn’t mean Giroud shouldn’t stay at Arsenal, in fact I absolutely want him to stay. He just can’t expect to be the full-time starter. That doesn’t mean he won’t be a mainstay in the squad.
Also, considering Arsenal will be in four competitions, Giroud would be likely to start or feature in all of them at some point. He would be a great option to start in difficult Europa League games.
Not only that, but he could be paired with another sticker such as France did today with him and Mbappé in a 4-4-2. It’s unlikely though as Wenger hasn’t used two forwards in quite some time.
Arsenal need a more dynamic striker, someone to bang in thirty goals a season. If Giroud played the same minutes as Kane or Lukaku, would he put up the same number of goals?
In my opinion, he just doesn’t possess some of the necessary traits to really make a team dynamic offensively.
If he wants to stay, he must accept his position as a super-sub
He’s a bit of a one-trick pony, but he’s absolutely mastered his tricks. Would any top player want to accept this?
He’s an international for one of the best teams in the world. I don’t think he would and I don’t expect any player of that caliber would. He just might have to though, if Giroud wants to stay at Arsenal.
Of course, this depends on who Arsenal bring in and if they have that dynamic number nine I’ve been referencing. He’s in a bit of an odd place, Giroud. He’s almost falling into the Alvaro Morata role. You rarely start, but whenever you play you’re extremely effective.
What’s so bad about that? It seems Morata prefers to be a regular starter as he seeks an exit from Madrid. I hope Arsenal can figure out how to properly utilize Giroud’s skill and I hope Giroud can be happy with his situation.
Despite his lack of playing time this season, he didn’t publicly criticize the manager or moan about it.
When asked to step on the pitch, he played hard, supported his teammates and scored goals. That’s all you can ask of a player and maybe that’s worth more in the end.
Written by Kyle Keenan
Follow Kyle on Twitter @kyleskeenan
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