03 November 2013

A tale of two strikers: Suarez and Giroud

On a night when neither Suarez nor Giroud scored, it seems a bit odd to focus on these two men. After all, the story-line lies elsewhere, whether it's the goals from Cazorla or Ramsey, the saves by Szcesny, or the understated control of Arteta. For Liverpool, the story may lie in what could've (should've?) been—should Sagna have seen red for tackling Suarez? Should Atkinson have waved play on instead of bringing it back to re-take the spot-kick? And so on. This was a match fraught with subtexts, not least of which was the failed bid to sign Suarez this past summer. At some level, Suarez had to see this match as a bellwether of sorts, a chance to prove something to somebody, either about what might have been had he switched sides or about what will be because he has stayed. Along similar lines, Giroud might have seen this match as a chance to prove why Arsenal shouldn't have signed Suarez in the first place. Looking only at this one match, then, Giroud has to feel pretty good.

It's hard to argue against Suarez as a scorer. He might be one of the best at the moment. However, once you take that away, as Arsenal did on Saturday, he struggles to make an impact. For better or for worse, one of the enduring images of the evening was that of Daniel Sturridge, clearly frustrated, gesticulating at Suarez for taking a shot instead of looking to pass to him as Liverpool sought to pull one back. While it's true that Suarez has a gift for creating chances for himself (and, it must be said, for others at times), a defense that denies him such clear opportunities can effectively negate him. This is what Arsenal did, whether it was Arteta snuffing out attacks in the midfield, Koscielny or Sagna harassing Suarez or Sturridge, or a collective effort that nullified the Suarez-Sturridge duo. It's true that Suarez had a few chances, even glancing off the post at one point, but he never really looked like he truly threatened to score. In fact, some of the best opportunities for Liverpool came from unlikely sources, such as Henderson's surprise, unchecked foray into the box, which fizzled out when he fluffed the shot. It's perhaps revealing, then, that Suarez's heat-map shows most of his action outside of, and considerably at a distance from, the penalty-box. When we consider that Liverpool's 3-5-2 formation encourages Suarez and Sturridge to stay higher up the pitch, it's notable that most of Suarez's action occurs so far from goal. More importantly, he wasn't able to make much of an impact as Arsenal claimed a clean sheet while holding him to a mere three shots.

By contrast, Olivier Giroud found ways to contribute that don't show up on the score-sheet, at least not directly. Like Suarez, he had his chances but failed to convert. Unlike Suarez, he still manufactured ways to contribute and to involve his teammates in order to put them in positions to score. Throughout the match, his hold-up play was remarkable as he brought down balls and laid them off to teammates for them to create. Whether he was chesting a ball down or flicking a pass, Giroud seemed to realize that it would be difficult for him to score, and so he found other ways to stay involved. I lost track of the number of times he dribbled a defender or dispossessed someone to re-launch an attack in the final third. Had he finished just one of the several chances presented to him, he would have settled the debate quite well. However, on the whole, he settles the matter in other ways. For as tricksy and pacey as Suarez is, for example, it's notable that Giroud doubled down on out-dribbling defenders, 4-2, despite being slower than molasses in January (according to whoscored.com).

And it's not just on offense. Defensively, Giroud was second on the team in clearances, behind only Bacary Sagna. He's the team's lone striker, mind you. Suarez didn't contribute much of anything on defense. Of course, a part of this is attributable to formation and responsibility; it's also attributable to work-rate. Giroud, because of his height but also because of his willingness to buckle down, is asked to track back, to win balls, and to defend during set-pieces. It's for reasons such as these that I go out on a limb to defend Giroud and criticize Suarez. On one hand, Giroud may never match Suarez for goal-scoring (then again, he might...). On the other, Suarez may never match Giroud for work-rate, for defending, for hold-up play, for a long list of other contributions.

For lack of a better simile, Suarez is like a Lamborghini. He does one thing well, and that's to score goals. He's also remarkably high-maintenance and prone to breaking down. Giroud may never be mistaken for a Lamborghini, but he has his Lamborghini-moments. What's more, he's willing to be a full-on pick-up truck should the occasion arise. This comparison may slight his intelligence off the ball or his movement, but that's part of the larger point I'm trying to make. There are times when he looks around and sees Cazorla, Ramsey, Özil, Sagna, or Gibbs buzzing around, and he realizes that he may not be the team's best option. By contrast, Suarez looks around and sees a bunch of cones to dribble around—even if some of those are team-mates. Yes, I know he creates chances every once in a while for those team-mates, but these seem decidedly last-ditch rather than strategic.

In the end, the vaunted Suarez-Sturridge attack fizzled. Maybe it  One might say the same of Giroud. After all, he struggled to make his mark. However, he carved out a niche, that of creator, and let those around him claim the spotlight. And that is the difference, it seems, between a winner and a mere scorer. The former looks to the final score; the latter looks to the individual stats. Victoria Concordia Crescit.

Before we part ways, I'm one of six finalists in the Football Blogging Awards' "Best New Blogs" category. I want to hoist a flag for Arsenal by beating out the other nominees, who cover a little bit of everything—rumors, La Liga, the Bundesliga, etc., etc. I'm banking on the support of fellow Gooners to see this site through. Here's how:
Thanks, as always for your visit. 'Til tomorrow..