15 April 2013

Olivier Giroud: le buteur de charme

The more-clever wags among us might pronounce his nickname as the "butcher de charme" for how often he butchers a shot. I'm not that clever. Now, I've not been a big fan of Ollie. At times, he's been too cute, flicking little backheels to teammates in the box, and at other times, he's just been off, sending headers and shots hither and yon when a more-clinical touch
would have put the shot on frame, if not into the the back of the net. How many times have we seen Giroud wince and gaze skyward in supplication as he sends yet another souvenir into the stands? However, in the glow of a fourth straight Prem win, one won in stunning style, I'm warming up to the man. Part of this seems to come from him better-defining his role; part of it comes from me better-understanding his contributions. We heard so much about his goal-scoring with Montpelier that we convinced ourselves that he would replace all of Van Persie's goals himself. Turns out, not even Van Persie can do that.

Giroud himself almost certainly came in with a huge amount of pressure on his shoulders (I was going to call those shoulders "hunk-ish", but he's just not my type. Anyway.). This pressure seemed to drive him to try too hard to score, a problem exacerbated by how long it took him to tally his first, further exacerbated by several key misses. He was trying to be Van Persie, the myth, scoring every goal as if it had to be a highlight-reel shot, some kind of thunderous volley that gets a million hits on youtube and announces in dramatic fashion his arrival in the Prem. As clinical as Van Persie was last year, those shots come but once in a while for any player, and they still only count as one goal.

Maybe he's just not meant to be a traditional #9, at least not in our system.  Instead of looking to him to score as many goals as possible, something we asked Van Persie to do, we've learned to deploy him differently. Even if his role with Montpelier was essentially similar to Van Persie's role for us, this doesn't ensure a smooth transition from Ligue 1 to the Prem, evinced by the fact that seven games passed before Giroud scored. Aside from that, he's endured just one other prolonged dry patchFebruary, basicallyand has otherwise done quite well for himself: 17 goals, ten assists across all competitions (11 and 3 in the Prem). If his teammates were more familiar or prepared for some of his passes, he might have had a few more assists (think Ramsey's miss last week, for example). In that way, he's more of a false nine, creating chances for teammates overlapping and running onto his passes.

As he's finding his role with the team and in the Prem, he seems to pressing less and tallying morefour goals and an assist in his last six appearances. He might have picked up an assist on Saturday but for a fingertip save on Podolski's shot. We've been over their partnership before, but Wenger alluded to it after the Norwich game:
I think he had a very, very average first half and a very, very positive, influential second half. He was much more in the game in that second half. He looked in the first half like he was not on the move when he got the ball. In the second half, he was much more mobile, and that made a difference.
I don't know if I agree entirely. No one in the first half looked all that good to me, so it seems a bit harsh to suggest that Giroud was alone in looking average. It's probably too much to connect Giroud's sharper form in the second half directly to Podolski's arrival, but he did come on in the 60th minute. If this put a spring in Giroud's step, great. There sure does seem to be a correlation. Giroud's chested pass to Podolski was brilliant; you can see Giroud preparing to make that play. More importantly, Podolski seemed to know it was coming. That's the kind of teamwork that is going to lead to more opportunities and, as teammates learn to be ready for that, more goals.  I don't know if this means that Giroud will lead the Prem in goals any time soon, but that's not his role. He's going to score more, but his real strength seems to be in creating chances for others. Surround him with finishers like Cazorla and Podolski, and the goals will come.