Can the Frenchman’s new found form propel Arsenal into the top four?
As understatements go, to say that Olivier Giroud had big boots to fill when he arrived at Arsenal in the summer would be something of a ground-breaker. The departure of club talisman and top goal scorer Robin Van Persie to rivals Manchester United had left a sour taste in the mouth of most fans around the Emirates and the comparatively low key purchases of Giroud and fellow front man Lukas Podolski did little to quell the resentment. There was a feeling that even if the new acquisitions performed to the peak of their powers the sale of RVP would still find the club left wanting in attack.
Giroud, signed from Montpellier not long before his 26th birthday, was seen as a particularly low profile arrival given that he has been something of a late bloomer at the top level. The forward finished Ligue 1 as top scorer with 21 goals last term as Montpellier won their first ever league title. This contribution though, was the first of any note from the Frenchman in a top European league. Arsenal fans thought better than to get too excited about a player who until 2010 had spent most of his career in the lower reaches of French football.
The Grenoble youth academy graduate predictably struggled to adapt to the school of hard knocks that is the Premier League and as Arsene Wenger continued to back his forward in the press, Giroud continued to draw a blank on the pitch. Finally in hisseventh league appearance he found the net against West Ham. Cue prolific scoring streak? Unfortunately not, the striker continued to stutter and his adaptation to the English game has been painfully slow for Arsenal fans. In recent weeks however, the former Montpellier marksman has upped his game and the goals have begun to flow. £12 million (half of the fee received for Van Persie) is now beginning to look like more shrewd business from Wenger and Giroud is beginning to look every inch the Premiership predator.
Three goals in his last two league outings along with strikes in the League Cup and Champions League have seen the forward gather momentum, the difference, that most precious of striking commodities: confidence. Arsenal’s historic league cup comeback against Reading could be viewed as the catalyst for Giroud who scored that night, a night that the second half performance from the Gunners simply oozed self-belief.
Several other factors have perhaps contributed to the striker’s change in fortune. The likes of Lukas Podolski ,Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla have helped share the goal scoring burden and Podolski in particular, bagged a few goals early on in the season to help fill the gap left by Van Persie. Cazorla too has been a striker’s dream, reveling in the Arsenal ethos of pretty attacking play and forging opportunities for those ahead of him.
Arsenal though, remain far from the finished article, and inconsistency blights their ever watchable style. Wenger continues to work wonders during the summer transfer months to maintain a top four status while regularly being forced to sell his best players. With Giroud though, there is a sense that there is a lot more to come and that Wenger may have someone who can add bite to Arsenal’s bark. While he may not have the class of Van Persie, Giroud has the look of a clinical fox in the box. The striker’s second against Fulham epitomized the man, having seen his initial effort hit the post he decided not to dwell on what might have been but took up a textbook position to head in Walcott’s cross when the ball came back into the box. The importance of his determination, confidence and form, if it continues, to Arsenal’s hopes of securing a top four finish both this season and in the future cannot be understated.
By Francis Johnston