27 December 2013

Olivier, "how many ways are there to miss?"

I've been a staunch defender of Olivier Giroud since his arrival at Arsenal, but after the West Ham match, my faith is starting to wobble. Gone, it seems, is the confident scorer of goals, using all manner of dinks, flicks, and chips to put the ball past hapless keepers; he hasn't scored since his brace against Southampton in November, a span of seven matches and 611 minutes, and he's cut an increasingly forlorn, frustrated, and frustrating figure on the pitch.

If if weren't for his tireless work in the build-up, his defenders would have precious little to fall back on. In a way, he's a bit fortunate to have delivered an assist against West Ham, as it staves off the fiercest criticism, at least for a time.

However, the enduring image of the evening, as it's been for weeks now, has been that of a supplicating, pained gaze to the heavens after scuffing yet another shot wide. Adding to the repertoire, perhaps, was when Giroud had the ball on his left foot but fizzed a shot a few yards wide when he shot to the far-post. Almost immediately after striking the ball, Giroud angrily repeated the kick as he should have struck it. Of course, he should have at least put the ball on-frame, forcing a save from Adrian, but it belies a larger issue.

As with last year, Giroud seemed to struggle the most when he went for power over placement, and he seems to be at his best poaching for goals rather than forcing the issue. Against West Ham, however, he could achieve little to nothing through either approach. I'm hoping that we're merely seeing the weary legs of an overused striker, one who has been putting in full-shifts with little to no respite. Time and again at Boleyn Ground, he was a half-step short, scuffing wide or missing completely a ball put across the mouth of the goal, prompting the announce to exclaim at one point "how many ways are there to miss?" Gibbs had just put a ball across the edge of the six-yard box, and all Giroud had to do, seemingly, was to touch it—just touch it—but, instead, the ball rolled harmlessly through as both Gibbs and Giroud watched in helpless disbelief. Lament the blasted shots that went wide if you will, but those are the opportunities that a striker really must finish.

I realize, even as I lay into him, that we're seeing the culmination of a number of factors—he has his limitations, his fatigue is exacerbating those limitations, and we've been hungry for results after taking only two points from nine available going into the West Ham match. In addition, his early-season purple patch raised expectations, and coming down to Earth was perhaps inevitable. His timing, then, might be a bit fortunate as the transfer-window approaches. It will be difficult to find a quality striker in January, especially in a World Cup year, but an in-form striker would only provide more cover for Arsene to say that he's satisified with our options. Giroud's struggles highlight our threadbare cupboard, with only Bendtner as a replacment of any experience in the Prem. Yes, Sanogo is now apparently back from injury, and there's also Park, but none of the three inspires much confidence.

I'm not calling for an out-and-out replacement for Giroud, as I believe that he makes vital contributions. However, the longer he goes without scoring, the more he presses to score, and the less he contributes in other ways. We need him to score—not just to help us win, but to release the pressure that has piled up on him.