23 August 2015

Simply put, Giroud is the most essential striker in the Prem...

I won't waste your time claiming that he's the best striker in the Prem, because, clearly, he's not. There are others who score more goals than he does. There are others who are more graceful than he is. Heck, there are some who might be sexier than he is. However, among the many pretenders to the throne, I don't think it's a huge stretch to suggest that none of them is as essential to his club's performance as Giroud is to Arsenal. If you scoff, witness how much Arsenal struggled in his absence in the early going of the 2014-15 campaign.

Perhaps no Arsenal player has been both as good and as hated as Giroud is. Through no fault of his own, he's come in to replace a series of scintillating strikers—van Persie and Henry before him, with apologies to Bendtner, Chamakh, Adebayor, and a few others who don't quite merit the mention—and will always suffer from the comparison. He's not that kind of player, whether we speak of skill-set or role, and we should perhaps stop looking to him to deliver the kind of scoring that those predecessors delivered.

Compare him instead to the other top strikers in the Prem and ask yourself, where would his club be without him? The first names that surely come to mind would be Costa and Agüero, but their roles differe markedly from Giroud's. Each of them has much more freedom to roam, along with considerably less responsibility to honour responsibilities, than does Giroud. Long story short, their job is to take shots and to score goals. Giroud will almost certainly never score 25 Prem goals, but that's not simply a lack of talent or ability on his part. Yes, we all wish he could be more clinical. However, consider what he faces for ninety-plus minutes a week.

His job, with his back to goal, is to wrestle and grapple with the opposition's most-gruesome players. Terry. Olsson. Shawcross. Škrtel. These and other ogres maul and manhandle, elbow, grope, and tug. The countless halfway half-nelsons, forearm shivers, and charley-horses that we never see because the ball is off on the sideline, these are contributions that will never show up on any stat-sheet. Someone like Costa or Kane might incur a few of these, but not nearly to the same degree or intensity as does Giroud. Others like Agüero, Berahino, or Rooney can flit away from the fray, darting in as they see fit and emerging relatively unscathed.

So what? So what if Giroud has to perform more like a Greco-Roman wrestler than as a fox in the box? Consider the contrast between what he's asked to do and what we expect him to do—a splitting of hairs at first that becomes a rending of garments. After battling tooth and nail with a pair of CBs while also getting jabbed or kneed by a DM or two, we then lambaste Giroud when he fails to convert a technically demanding one-touch and put it on-frame if not in the back of the net on short notice. He does himself no favours with his reactions when he fails, but we're basically asking him to clobber and be clobbered and then, in a split-second for recovery and anticipation, pull a block from a jenga tower. That he pulls it out as often as he does is a bit of a marvel.

Those who have outscored him in recent seasons are beasts—as in those who must be fed. Scorers like Costa, Agüero, and van Persie, are fed chance after chance after chance to score, but this is essentially their primary if not their sole responsibility. For each of those squads, though, there's at least one other player who can score anyway: Hazard. Silva. Rooney. Done. However, take Giroud away from Arsenal, and it seems like our amoebic attack—the one in which midfielders float, roam, and wreak havoc—becomes anaemic. Instead of clever interplay that sees our right-winger pop on on the left or our left-winger attacking from the right with Giroud as an anchor, all we seem to have is an amorphous, shapeless blob with no intent or focus.

Insert Giroud, and everything seems to fall back into place. He occupies two or three defenders at a time, freeing up space for our more-creative types to operate. With him as a focal point, everything just somehow makes sense. This is not the same as saying that he's the best for that role, or that some other player who plays a different role wouldn't improve our fortunes. All I'm saying for now is that Giroud brings a lot more to the table than just goals. After all, who else in the squad can play the same role to the same effect that Giroud does? For those still skeptical, consider Culann Davies' take on Giroud's contributions in the montage below...