14 December 2014

Olivier Giroud, the linchpin to our win over Newcastle...and beyond?

There are few players in the current squad who divide opinion as much as does Olivier Giroud. Some loathe and some love, and there's very little in between, very few who are willing to say he's good enough for now—neither rubbish nor legend but serviceable. With that in mind, his performance against Newcastle offered something for everyone, based on their willingness to cherry-pick the evidence. On the whole, though, it's hard to resist the urge to point out that he was vital to our getting the win over resurgent Newcastle. Whether that's good enough going forward will be another question.

On its face, his brace—the first one opening the scoring and the second all but tucking the game away—should be enough to settle any debate. However, so divided are we that each camp will focus on its own evidence. Why, the critics, may ask, did his pass to Alexis force the Chilean to chase the ball all the way out of the box when a defter touch might have put Alexis through on goal? Giroud's defenders will point to the intelligent run into space in order to beat the defender to Alexis's cross, as well as his sharp header to beat Alnwick, as incontrovertible proof of his excellence.

Elsewhere, the critics will point to how wasteful in possession he so often was, getting dispossessed or attempting a careless pass when a smarter, more-talented player would have crafted a better-weighted pass or found an outlet instead. His defenders will point to the several times that he won balls and laid it off to quicker, more-technical players. By now, I suppose it's clear from my tone, if not the title of this post, that it's my opinion that Giroud adds something vitally important to our attack, if not our defense as well. Surrounded by pacier, tricksier players, he does add a bit of brawn; more than that, though, he offered a focal point that gave our attack some shape and intent. When he wasn't busy getting mugged by Cheick Tioté, he won balls, blunted counters, and launched attacks of our own that wore down and ultimately led to the collapse of Newcastle's defense.

No, he may not deliver as many stunning goals as other forwards who have led the line for Arsenal, but there's little shame in that, not when his immediate predecessor was once one of the most clinical finishers in the Prem and the man before that was and perhaps always will be one of the best-ever to play for the club, if not in the Prem. I certainly don't mean to make Giroud out to be cut from the same cloth, not by any stretch of the imagination. Is Giroud world-class? No. Has he been good enough to match others who play his position and to whom we've been linked enthusiastically, if not accurately? Yes.  Gonzalo Higuaín, he of the £32m move to Napoli, has done about as well as has Giroud. Edinson Cavani, once a darling of the rumour-mill, has seen the lustre fade just a bit. Karim Benzema has not fully displaced Giroud in the French national team despite the advantages of playing for one of the world's most free-scoring sides. These, among others, would likely draw transfer-fees of upwards of £60m, but how much of an upgrade would they really provide? We at Arsenal may have tired of the bean-counting that we've endured for the last decade or so, but in this case, it's well-worth asking: just what would we be paying for?

In Giroud, we've paid a £10m transfer-fee and gotten one of the hardest-working—if not the most technically-gifted—forwards in Europe. He'll win headers in the box, offensive or defensive, or at least deny the opposition a chance to do the same. He'll grapple with and negate an opponent's most-physical defender, freeing space and creating chances for teammates. He may not inspire us with rousing, end-to-end runs, but he does deliver in a pinch. That, for now, may have to do, at least until January. Then again, do remember that goal-scorers command a pretty penny, even if they're not necessarily the ones who deliver titles. Golden Boot winners have rarely led their clubs to recent glory in the Prem.

Again, this is not to suggest that Giroud is the best forward around, just that he might be good enough to help us contend, if not win, a bit of silverware.