Sheffield United
West Bromwich Albion
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Olivier Giroud still fighting to prove his worth to Arsene Wenger and Arsenal

Normally when a regular first-team player gets a bit older and starts games less frequently, his stock begins to fall. When his club goes out and breaks their transfer record to sign a player to play in his position, he can very quickly become yesterday's man.

In the case of Olivier Giroud, however, the converse seems to be true. After his role diminished last season, he appeared to be further marginalised by the €53m arrival of Alexandre Lacazette from Lyon.

The 26-year-old got his Arsenal career off to a flying start Friday night, scoring with his first touch from open play in the 4-3 win over Leicester, but in the end the Gunners were thankful for his French international colleague who, once more, came off the bench to make a telling impact.

Giroud showed fantastic strength and technique to bullet in a header off the underside of the crossbar, giving his side a much-needed win. Over the course of the last 12 months, it has become something of a regular sight.

Throughout the last Premier League campaign he was introduced during difficult moments, and showed an uncanny ability to get into the pace of the game quickly. He scored five goals as a substitute, and got seven inside the last 10 minutes of matches. He wasn't just a goalscorer either. Think back to the FA Cup final in May when his cross, after he'd been brought on for Danny Welbeck, created Aaron Ramsey's winner.

It's no wonder Arsene Wenger wanted so badly to keep him this summer, although in typical style he put his player first and offered Giroud the chance to leave if he wanted. Unlike a former captain who was happy to listen to the little boy inside him and move on, the former Montpellier man paid attention to the inner monologue and the affection he has for the club.

"There was something in my soul and in my heart which told me to stay," he said. "There are nice days to come for me in an Arsenal shirt." 

He created one of them with his fine goal against Leicester, and given the amount of football there is to play -- including the difficulty of maintaining a title challenge with playing in the Europa League -- he'll get lots of minutes under his belt this season.

His case is a strange one though, as he has often been the brunt of criticism from Arsenal fans -- often because of what he's not, rather than what he is. Since his arrival in 2012, Wenger has attempted (unsuccessfully) to buy Gonzalo Higuain, Luis Suarez and Jamie Vardy, suggesting a desire to play in a different way.

None of those deals went through, at times frustrating the fan base, and Giroud's position as the main striker at the club was more or less untouchable. Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott were deployed there at times, but in the end the Frenchman always seemed to become the default option again.

Olivier Giroud
Olivier Giroud again showed his propensity for important goals, scoring a late winner against Leicester.

So as fans cried out for a world-class 30-goal-a-season striker, they had to make do with a very good 20-goal-a-season man. In reality, the criticism for that should not have been borne by the player himself, but rather by the club which has been unable to do the deals that would make them less reliant on him.

He did his best, worked hard and scored goals but anyone looking for him to race in behind the defence with blistering pace was always going to be disappointed. That's not what he does. He plays in a fairly traditional centre-forward way, bringing others into play brilliantly at times (a part of his game which is quite underrated). When you play like that every week, it's not always going to work and the lack of variety becomes an issue.

Again, Giroud didn't pick himself and it seemed harsh when he'd occasionally have a particularly profligate day in front of goal that people would hold that up as the measure of him as a striker, when the reality is far different.

Now, with Lacazette up front and Welbeck as a similar option in terms of pace and how Arsenal might utilise that, the reliance on Giroud has been lessened. It's wrong to call him a plan B, but he's certainly a different kind of forward, and players who can make that kind of impact off the bench so consistently are few and far between.

The fact Arsenal have such depth up front means that those who have been frustrated by the qualities he doesn't possess can, at least, fully appreciate the ones he does. Over the course of the season, starting games or otherwise, he will prove an invaluable member of Wenger's squad.

Andrew Mangan is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @arseblog.


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