Giroud and Lacazette's styles show how club, international games differ
Throughout his time at Arsenal, which dates back to 2012, Olivier Giroud has become accustomed to fighting for a starting place with another, very different type of centre-forward.
Upon Giroud's arrival he was billed by Arsene Wenger as an alternative to Arsenal's main striking option, Robin van Persie, who was a more modern and technical forward. But his subsequent departure to Manchester United meant Giroud became the de facto No. 9 and his bulky, physical presence felt considerably different to the type of striker Wenger usually favoured.
Consequently, Arsenal's manager has frequently looked for more mobile, trickier alternatives up front. In 2013 Wenger tried to sign Luis Suarez, the following year he recruited both Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck and then, in 2016, he attempted to sign Jamie Vardy before settling for Lucas Perez. Theo Walcott was also sporadically used in big games, such as the 2015 FA Cup final victory over Aston Villa.
This summer, Wenger turned to Alexandre Lacazette. He opened his Arsenal account with a fine headed goal against Leicester on Friday night, but is fundamentally a quick, speedy player, who works the channels.
Giroud, therefore, has again been demoted to back-up after spending the second half of last season trying to convince that he was an adequate first-team player. He faces yet another fight against a quicker, younger forward, but this latest battle has another fascinating aspect, because Lacazette is a fellow countryman.
Why is that interesting? Because at international level Giroud is France's regular centre-forward, whereas Lacazette wasn't included in his country's Euro 2016 squad and hasn't featured in any of their World Cup 2018 qualifiers; Giroud is the main man and Kevin Gameiro acts as deputy.
Didier Deschamps clearly thinks Giroud is the better player, while Wenger believes Lacazette will improve Arsenal's play. But, more than a simple difference of opinion between two managers, this reveals much about the different nature of the club and international games.
We've known for some time that the level of elite club football is considerably higher than its international counterpart, but the differences in style have become more pronounced than ever. The defining feature of club football, particularly in the Premier League, is its sheer speed, which is notable in two very different ways.
First, teams press considerably higher and more intensely. There are differences in the level of pressing between teams but the overwhelming emphasis in the last few years has been the emphasis upon considerable, cohesive and limitless closing down in advanced positions, attempting to win possession as quickly as possible.
That's barely a feature of international football. Euro 2016 was notable for the vast majority of teams sitting back in their own half, remaining deep and compact, with a couple of notable obsessions: Italy's round-of-16 victory over Spain, for example, owed much to tremendous pressing.
Second, in what is a consequence of different levels of pressing, the passing tempo is much quicker at club level. Teams play in a more dynamic manner, with attackers interchanging positions rapidly, but in a pre-determined, rehearsed manner. Teammates are familiar with each other's movement and know instinctively how to swap passes in a neat, intricate manner.
Giroud is regarded as an outstanding super sub -- he netted the winner vs. Leicester having come off the bench -- but, when he starts matches, Arsenal often fail to penetrate; he is excellent at getting on the end of crosses and very good at playing with his back to goal on the edge of the penalty box.
Working the channels, though, isn't a speciality; indeed, it's rare to see a modern-day centre-forward look so pained when chasing balls poked between defenders. Meanwhile, another problem for Giroud is the fact he and Mesut Ozil don't particularly suit one another.
Ozil needs a centre-forward making runs to reach his through balls, while Giroud needs a No. 10 making runs beyond him to get on the end of flick-ons and knock-downs. In a sense Ozil and Giroud, while very different in a positional sense, are actually quite similar: selfless assistors rather than determined goal-grabbers.
And this is where Lacazette comes in, to make those darting runs, those sudden movements. His link play is good and he's developed the physicality to be a useful back-to-goal player at times, but he's a more typical Arsenal centre-forward than Giroud.
For France, the situation is different. Their outstanding attacker is Antoine Griezmann, who is fielded as a second striker behind Giroud and thrives on his partner's ability to hold up the ball, to act as a decoy and to bring defenders up the pitch so he can sprint in behind.
Moreover, France almost always face opponents that don't have the confidence to push up the pitch and engage with them in midfield, instead retreating to the safety of their own penalty box. The traditional target man makes more sense, so Giroud gets the nod.
Traditional No. 9s often thrive more at international level and players effectively written off at club level are often spearheads for their countries; Brazil's Fred springs to mind at the last World Cup, for example, while Emile Heskey started for England in 2010 despite managing just three league goals for Aston Villa the previous season.
Portugal depended upon Hugo Almeida and Helder Postiga for many years, while Miroslav Klose -- not a target man but certainly a No. 9 -- kept his place for Germany when struggling for club form. Italy battered Spain last year with the somewhat underwhelming duo of Graziano Pelle and Eder up front.
None of these players were world-class and none starred for genuinely top clubs, but all proved useful for international managers, who based their side around old-fashioned principles.
Therefore, the tale of Lacazette and Giroud is essentially one of modern club and international football. Expect to see Lacazette leading Arsenal's challenge this season, before giving way to Giroud in France's quest to win the World Cup. Rather than a contradiction, it makes perfect sense.
Michael Cox is the editor of zonalmarking.net and a contributor to ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Zonal_Marking.