Why does Olivier Giroud get so much criticism as Arsenal's leading striker?
Is Olivier Giroud good enough? Can Arsenal win the title with him? How good is he exactly?
It is a debate that has been going on virtually since his arrival at the Emirates. I have heard those three questions time and time again since the Frenchman signed for the Gunners just after Euro 2012. And when people like Thierry Henry step in with a strong (and negative) opinion, claiming Arsenal cannot win the league with Olivier Giroud, it enflames the debate even more.
So let's start with the answers to the three questions above: Yes; yes; and he is a very good striker. This season, Giroud has scored 19 goals in 36 games in all competitions for Arsenal, after missing the first three months of the current campaign with a foot injury.
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The thing about Giroud is that he plays for the team first and foremost. He is a team player, uncharacteristic of a striker's role, which by definition is very selfish. That's why Arsene Wenger is so keen on him. He takes part in the play. He links up the play. He plays mostly with his back to goal, flicking balls, playing a one-two, using his strength to hold the ball up front for his team to move higher on the pitch. Diego Costa or Sergio Aguero play with the goal in front of them.
Giroud's style of play is very useful. The way Costa or Aguero play doesn't really suit the Arsenal style. Giroud gives you more than goals. You would still like more goals? OK. He can give you more goals. Because he is improving. He is 28 and this is the end of his third season at Arsenal. His stats are constantly improvement. Eleven league goals in 34 games in 2012-13, 16 in 36 last year and 14 in 25 this year.
He has worked very hard, mentally and physically during his injury to come back stronger. He has also worked a lot to have quicker feet, be more precise technically. But there is also the feeling that Giroud is not used at his best by Arsenal. Considering how tall and strong he is (6-foot-3, 194 pounds) and how good he is in the air, the low number of aerial crosses put into the box by teammates is not enough. Despite that, he still scores.
There is also proof that he is improving his performances in big games, the ones that matter. In the past, he was accused of not converting against big teams. This season though, he has scored against Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool twice. Four goals against other teams in the top six is a pretty good return. Don't forget also that he was decisive in the FA Cup final last season with a lovely back-heel assist for Aaron Ramsey in the winning goal against Hull. (He tallied the fourth in Saturday's FA Cup final victory as well.)
Costa, for example, only scored against Arsenal and Liverpool; Van Persie only against Chelsea and Liverpool; Rooney against nobody. Only Aguero (Arsenal, Liverpool and three against Man United) has done better than Giroud.
Take the Liverpool game at the Emirates in April. This is the perfect example of what Giroud is about: one goal, the fourth one, with a beautiful left-footed strike from the edge of the box. He got the free kick that Mesut Ozil scored to make it 2-0 and was a constant handful for the Reds' beleaguered defence.
I think people have been harsh on Giroud, Henry included, since the beginning. Like I always say, if Giroud were English, people in England would be raving about him. But he deserves a bit more credit and respect.
Julien Laurens is a London-based French journalist who writes for ESPN FC and Le Parisien. Follow him on Twitter: @LaurensJulien.