25 August 2013

Arsenal 3-1 Fulham: Giroud's three goals in three games

Olivier Giroud is going to score 20 Prem League goals. After scoring six goals during the Asia Tour, Giroud has been on a fine run of form, scoring in every match he's played more than a half. After struggling mightily to score after his arrival, needing eight matches to score his
first goal (against Coventry in the league cup) and eleven to score in the Prem (against West Ham), he's already scored twice in the Prem and once in the Champions League.

Sure, the Champions League goal was a PK, but last I checked, those are still goals. Just as impressive as the run of scoring (nine goals in ten matches) has been his overall play. His hold-up play, his touch, his passing, have all shown marked improvement as he seems much, much more comfortable and confident. It remains to be seen how long he can sustain this, but given that he's the only striker in the squad with any significant Prem League experience, we are going to need him to deliver.

The sea-change in his performance from this point last season has been dramatic. Twelve months ago, he was pressing and struggling, trying too hard to be van Persie, something I touched on here. At that point, he was facing the strain of trying to convince us all that he was going to be a one-for-one replacement at striker, and having scored 25 goals for Montpellier the season before only exacerbated the tension. He was taking ill-advised shots, flubbing sitters, surprising team-mates with overly creative passes, and heaping too much pressure on himself to deliver. That 12% conversion rate loomed over him for most of the season. Across all competitions last season, he needed 142 shots to generate his 17 goals. Assuming that he takes 142 shots again, he would have to improve his conversion rate to 15%, a not-impossible improvement.

After two Prem League matches (a very small sample, of course), his conversion rate is 50% (two goals on four shots). At this point last season, it was 0% (no goals on five shots) and included several missed opportunities and bad decisions. His goals so far have demanded quick decision-making and reactions, not to mention control. Against Fulham, for example, Ramsey's shot caromed off of Giroud, but he was sharp enough to recover and flick past Stockdale, an impressive feat on a slick, wet pitch. He's now scored twice on the road (at Fener and at Fulham), further showing greater confidence and resourcefulness after scoring almost all of his goals last season at home. 

Confidence improves timing, sharpens skill, and delivers results. Each goal, as important as it is in its own right, also leads to a feeling that is variously referred to as a being in the zone or in a purple patch, a Zen-like mindstate in which the player no longer thinks but simply knows. For most of last season, Giroud was too busy over-thinking what to do. So far this season, he's just going out and doing. It may not be enough in and of itself to drive us to the top of the table, but at this point, it's far-more enjoyable to see in-squad performance rather than worry over who may or may not sign. Whereas I think that other top-scorers, including a few we've targeted, will regress (or simply leave the league), we have in Giroud a striker poised to take a dramatic leap forward.  He is not yet a talismanic player by any stretch of the imagination, but he's taken a few confident steps towards becoming one. Let's see how much further down that path he'll go, shall we? I see 21 goals across all competitions.What's your prediction? Ten goals? Fifteen? More?