Thursday, 6 December 2012

Olivier Giroud - A Closer Look

Thanks to Tom Marshall-Bailey (TMB04) for his first and hopefully not last post.

Arsenal seized the advantage after just 52 seconds during their 1-1 draw with Everton at Goodison Park through Theo Walcott. Manchester United raised them by registering a goal of their own after just 35 seconds of their 1-0 win over West Ham, but it was the goalscorer which had most significance.

While Robin Van Persie was scoring another superb individual strike to add to an already bulging collection, Olivier Giroud was struggling to get to grips with the rigorous nature of the English game once more as he was dominated throughout the stalemate by the seasoned Premier League veterans of Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin.

The Frenchman has divided opinion amongst Gunners fans since his summer move from Montpellier but has been applauded in some quarters for both his work-rate and the ability to bring a different option to the club's attacking ranks.

Being brought in to replace, arguably, the best striker in the league when arriving from a foreign division was always going to be difficult and caution must be taken when fans form judgments on the 26-year-old, who has yet to properly acclimatise to his new surroundings.

But Gunners manager Arsene Wenger admitted that his side "need some improvement in the final third," and will be concerned by the way in which Giroud failed to use his aerial presence to successful effect against the Toffees, with his inconsistent first-touches and flick-ons failing to relieve the pressure on his defence.

Giroud is supposedly meant to be what Marouane Chamakh never was at the Emirates - a targetman - but his failure to hold the ball up for his teammates, coupled with the inability of the likes of Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs to deliver the sort of crosses he thrives on, made for a frustrating evening for the Frenchman.

The one successful centre he did meet - an inviting ball from Walcott - flew inches wide, despite Gunners fans celebrating slightly prematurely assuming the ball had sailed past a statuesque Tim Howard, much to the Goodison crowd's delight.

Everton had a targetman of their own in Marouane Fellaini, who punished some slack defending to earn a well-deserved draw for the home side with a sweeping finish, showing the awareness and composure on the ball that Giroud craved in his attempts to help his side grab a much-needed winner.

Van Persie's move to United added inevitable pressure to Giroud and established a slightly unfair 'replacement' tag, given the Dutchman's goalscoring exploits for the Gunners last season and for United so far this campaign.

The sense that anything could happen was evident with Van Persie leading the line for Wenger's men, whereas it appears Giroud is being forced to adapt to a system which Wenger has trusted since the Cesc Fabregas days, as the 4-2-3-1 formation leaves him deeper and more involved in play, something not naturally belonging to his armoury.

Of course, it would be a narrow-minded approach to suggest that Arsenal aren't playing to Giroud's strengths in the same way he isn't to the club's, but there has to be something of an impasse if the Gunners are to seal a Champions League spot for the 14th season in succession.

Wenger made the surprise choice of resting Lukas Podolski for the testing trip to Everton, leaving the team without a natural left-footed winger, and the Gunners often found themselves running down blind avenues in an attempt to craft an opening, epitomised by the way Aaron Ramsey crashed into Santi Cazorla during the first-half, when cutting in from the left.

This method of play often worked when Van Persie was able to link up with the midfielders, displaying slick footwork to create chances for himself, as well as showing clever movement to make the space for others to exploit, but Giroud's powers surely lie in the penalty area, where Arsenal have been sorely lacking this season.

Van Persie's moment of ingenuity last night as he turned Winston Reid before seeing his shot deflected home off James Collins was unjustly compared to Dennis Bergkamp's exquisite goal against Newcastle 10 years ago but served as a timely reminder to Arsenal fans of just what they have been missing since his controversial move.

The Gunners must instead look towards the future and hope Giroud can lift the shadow of the man he 'replaced' from above the Emirates and, crucially, the one looming over himself.

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