25 November 2013

Giroud proves we don't need another striker in January...apparently.

After bagging a brace against Southampton, in the process accounting for almost 30% of all goals scored against them, Olivier Giroud seems to have further proven his worth to the squad, so much so that Arsène pointed out that, not only do we not need to sign a striker in January, the right kind of strikers aren't even available in the first place. Speaking yesterday, Arsène had this to say:
[Pssst! Ollie--a bit more of this, please. A bit.]
If you look back to the 1960's and 70's and look at the strikers who were good in the air and English, there was one in every single club. And tell me now today: have you the same number? I’m not even talking about quality. Have you even the same number who go in for crosses, go in the air? In the 1950s [because of the pitches], you had to lift the ball and bump it forward, and you needed somebody who fights for the ball. Today, we educate players to play more on the ground. Maybe we pay a bit of a price for this: [fewer] people who are ready to go for that kind of ball. There is still a place for the No 9, for people who go behind the defenders in the air or on the ground. Are people ready to body-challenge? Players like Suarez, who use their bodies like to go for the impossible ball, you’ll not find many strikers who do that.
He makes a significant point—there just aren't many strikers out there who are physical enough to fight for the ball. More importantly, there are even fewer who are both physical enough to fight and agile enough to play Arsenal's style. Giroud's contributions to the build-up are fundamental to our attack, but it's not just that he presents a large target or can battle in the air. While he won't make anyone forget Xavi or Pirlo, he's enough of a passer that he can create chances for his teammates. As such, he presents a balance between the brawn that Arsène described as well as that ability to play on the ground, offering fight and finesse, as it were. His two goals offer a decent bookend around the concept; his first goal came by bullying Boruc off the ball, while his second was a coolly-slotted shot. Let's not overlook his overall play as well. Shortly after opening the scoring, he was all the way at the other end of the pitch to defend a set-piece threat. Who are we going to find to replicate or imitate that?

The short answer? We probably can't. I'm not claiming that Giroud is such an elite performer that he is without equal. Clearly, there are more-skilled, dynamic, complete players out there. It's just that, in Arsène's system/worldview, Giroud occupies a niche that few others could fill. The ensuing problem is this: either we go out and spend what it takes to find someone who can fill that niche, or we learn to adapt our attack to the available personnel. Given the number of matches we'll play between now and the open of the transfer-window, the second option wins by default. At some point, hopefully before injury forces the issue, we're going to have to see someone like Podolski or Walcott played centrally even if it forces others to adapt. It's far-better than seeing Giroud go down with an injury or suffer a gradual erosion through overuse, leaving us with no choice but to play without a true striker.

Arsène said before the Southampton match that he thinks "we can win the title without signing a striker" in January. That may or may not be true. He's more on-target when he suggests that it's difficult to sign a top-flight player in January, perhaps even more so in a World Cup qualifying year when players want to impress their national team coaches. With Poland knocked out, would Lewandowski be more open to a move? Perhaps, but at what price? I doubt we'll see another record-breaking transfer so soon. There are just too many moving parts to consider: who's vying for World Cup consideration, who's cup-tied in the Champions league, who wants away from their current club in the first place...

It's with obstacles such as those in mind that I worry that our only solution will be to rest Giroud whenever possible without blunting his match-fitness. For example, we can probably get past Hull or Cardiff, if not both, without the handsome Frenchman, keeping him fresh for trickier fixtures further in the future. I might even go so far as to pull him out of games once it seems like we can afford to. We've seen defensive substitutions in with Monreal coming on for Ozil, Cazorla, and Rosicky in recent weeks. Why not do the same for Giroud?

Between Arsène's own mindset regarding transfers in general, and the specific complications of the January window, we may have little choice but to continue to rely on Giroud, just as we have all season long. If there's any silver lining to be found, fixture-wise, it's that we've removed the league cup from consideration, and we're almost done with the Champions League group stage. We may know as soon as Tuesday that we've advanced to the next round, but that will only add two more fixtures, and then maybe a few more after that (fingers crossed). The FA Cup's third round will begin in January and could add as many as seven new matches (if not more), to the mix. However, the early-season clutter is almost behind us and with it the madness of playing matches every third or fourth day, week in and week out. This should afford Giroud and others precious rest, enough to help sustain our assault on three fronts.

Then again, maybe we'll wake up New Year's Day to learn that we've signed Lewandowski after all. To help bring that sort of thing about, I'm counting on Giroud to do two things:
  1. Continue his fine run of form.
  2. Fall down at least once per match, writhing in Busquettish agony while peeking over at Arsène to see if he's getting the message.
Right. Well, we host Marseille, Giroud's former club, on Tuesday. A win all but guarantees that we advance. Should we win, Napoli would have to win at Dortmund on Tuesday and beat us 3-0 or better when we visit in order reach 12 points and win the aggregate-goals tie-break. We'll have a match preview shortly. Thanks, as always, for your visit. Feel free to add your thoughts below. 'Til next time...