The arrival of Olivier Giroud at Arsenal last season was greeted in largely positive fashion. Off the back of his best individual season which ended in Montpellier winning the Ligue 1 title, 3 points ahead of big spenders PSG, he scored 21 goals with 9 assists finishing as the league’s joint top goal scorer.
However after the departure of Robin van Persie, an enormous pressure was suddenly placed upon the relatively inexperienced Frenchman’s shoulders to replace a world class forward that had single-handedly landed Arsenal Champions League qualification. A striker who had 37 goals in 48 appearances- to fill his boots was an unenviable task.
Having only played 2 seasons of top-flight football before his move to North London, Giroud was something of a late bloomer. Whereas nowadays players are thrown into action if they show potential at 17/18 years old, Giroud only really experienced this very vaguely in Ligue 2 with Tours when he was 21 but hit the big time at 23 after his move to Montpellier- a late age for players in this generation.
So a player with 2 years experience had to replace arguably the finest out and out number 10 in world football as well as being Arsenal’s only recognised centre-forward (if you consider Chamakh and Park as viable second strikers there is something wrong.)
His first season in the Premiership could be described as ‘encouraging’ as well as slightly inconsistent. The memories that largely stand out for me are clear cut 1 on 1 chances missed against Sunderland and Chelsea at key times of matches as well as his virtual anonymity against the big clubs (he failed to score against any of the other ‘top 4’ sides although he did score at home to Tottenham in the North London derby at Emirates). He seemed to go missing when Arsenal needed him most as well as lacking that extra bit of composure in front of goal that is required to be a success in Europe’s top divisions.
Despite the negatives, the encouraging signs were there. To use the age old cliché ‘he’s got a good touch for a big man’ could not be truer. In addition to this his hold up play allowed creative players like Cazorla and Walcott to come into the game and he provided Arsenal with an aerial threat that they had been lacking for a long time. Furthermore scored important goals too- a header against West Ham in October leveled the scoring in one of Arsenal’s best performances that season, as well as braces in high scoring ties with Fulham and Newcastle. He finished the season with 11 Premier League goals- a decent return for a first Premier League campaign where he needed to adapt to the vigorous and high paced style of play.
What always struck me about the big Frenchman though was his ability to play accurate one touch lay offs. This season we saw it perfectly with Aaron Ramsey’s second goal against Sunderland but the finest example from last year was his clever little dink to Lukas Podolski who finished with aplomb against his old club Montpellier. With his back to goal he creates a large amount of chances just through clever play and trying something a bit different.
The same applied for Kieran Gibbs volley against Swansea. He took out 2 or 3 players with a one-touch lofted pass which completely opened up the defence. It is little things like this which very few people see but for which he deserves a lot of credit.
Then came this summer. I could write a book about the number of strikers Arsenal were linked with, from Higuain to Suarez and even to Rooney, but we shouldn’t forget the kind of mental impact this may have had on Giroud. Hearing that your club are keen to sign a world-class centre forward didn’t display a huge amount of faith in 25 year old Frenchman but to his credit he quietly got on with his business and showed with his pre-season form that Arsenal have a striker who is capable of scoring 25+ goals and can propel them to the top of the division. Arsene Wenger even came out today and stated that was silent despite all the rumours showing an incredibly positive mentality when it would have been easy to complain and sulk.
Maybe Arsenal not signing a striker gave Giroud a boost of confidence that he has the managers trust and this has lead to such an impressive start to the season. 5 goals in 7 games, 4 in 4 in the Premier League is quite remarkable for a man who many people wrote off as average. But this season he looks like a more complete forward- he gets involved in build up play, he’s creating chances and most importantly showing the composure in front of goal that he lacked last season. Again, his first touch work is something to be admired. All of his Premier League goals this season have come with a one-touch finish and his single assist was a single touch pass as well.
Olivier Giroud looks a different player to last season, whether this is down to a confidence issue or just hard work is unknown but he looks a hell of a striker in this form. If it continues it will be the platform for a very successful Arsenal season especially with the extra chances created with the signing of Ozil, but being the only recognised senior striker may prove to be Arsenal’s downfall when the fixture start to pile up.