13 February 2014

Can we still stand by Giroud, or will he be behind Balotelli?

In a sense, the question, to quote Jesse Jackson from 1984 or thereabouts, is moot. Whether we like it or not, he's our #1 striker until something bad happens. By bad, I mean he gets injured, and Sanogo is one more niggle away from our being our only striker. Scary thoughts. Before anyone goes wishing harm on the handsome Frenchman, it's worth pausing for that moment to realize what it is we're wishing for. With the transfer-window closed, of course, it's Giroud or bust.

I've stood by the guy. I've defended his workrate, his contribution to the build-up play, his defensive contributions, but I'll admit that I'm losing the faith. For as important as those elements of his game are, the lack of goals is getting harder and harder to take. It's not that his goal-tally is all that bad. Set aside the eye-popping numbers being generated by Liverpool and Man City and he'd be the third-best scorer in the Prem. As it stands, he's seventh-best, knotted with van Persie. He's keeping fine-enough company, and we're frequently judged by the company we keep. However, van Persie has played in only 14 matches, compared to Giroud's 24.  The idea that Giroud will make good on his history of going for 20+ goals in his second season with a new club is fading fast, and we're going to need him to turn it around even faster if we expect to stay in the hunt.

However, it's after Wednesday's draw with Man U that I'm doubting more and more that Giroud can turn it around enough to improve much on his haul from last year, when he bagged 11 goals. I can forgive him the missed header in the first half; he got too much head on it, so to speak, and sent it harmlessly wide, but Vidic was crashing through him like the proverbial 32-year old Serbian without the speed or agility to do much else. There wasn't enough contact for a foul, but there was enough to disrupt a header, which is tetchy under the best of circumstances.

No, my faith was shaken most by Giroud's whiff in the 77th minute, when the slightest of touches might have been enough to nudge Sagna's damned-near perfect cross past de Gea. Yes, again, Vidic was dragging him to the ground, but Giroud's effort was light, gentle, flick-ish, when it should have been desperate, hungry, forceful. After all, here's a golden chance, served up where only he can get a touch to it, and he can't even force de Gea to make the save, can't even touch the ball. I'd prefer that he bundled it out of bounds. This would have at least spared me the agony of seeing the ball roll harmlessly across the open goal. Say what you will about clinical finishing; all that was required there was contact. Worst circumstance? It goes out of bounds or de Gea makes an easy save. Best? Giroud nutmegs de Gea for the goal. Along that spectrum are other great outcomes like "it squirts past de Gea on the near post" or "de Gea makes a reaction save but Cazorla is there to slot it home.

Nope. None of that happened. Giroud missed. At least he didn't gaze up at the sky with his hands over his mouth.

Not to heap pressure on the man, but we've struggled to score lately. Without Walcott or Ramsey available, Giroud has to know that he has to score, or at least put his shots on frame to force rebounds, corners, and the like, but he's just not doing it. Maybe he's too tired. Maybe he's just not up to the task regardless of energy. I don't want to heap criticism on the guy; after all, it's not like he's lolly-gagging. He's certainly not whining. He's busting his butt—but he doesn't anything to show for it. He's in his highest gear, it seems, but he's still off the pace.

Unless he can find another gear, unless Arsène can figure out some other way to generate chances (82 crosses? Hmmm...), goals are going to have come from elsewhere. But from whom? At the moment, the answers are few and far between, so much so that we're already talking about the summer, when we might go after Mario Balotelli? That kind of solution is not going to help us in any way, shape, or form during the last four months of this campaign—unless the chatter somehow motivates Giroud to prove all of his critics wrong.