04 December 2014

Giroud pummels the Saints into submission...eventually.

The match offered a frustratingly familiar recipe: Arsenal pass around and offer intricate, occasionally exhilirating sequences that come to naught, dominating possession but failing to produce that crucial final product. Against an aggressive, ambitious Southampton side bound and determined to bounce back from a dispiriting defeat the previous weekend, this wouldn't be enough, and for the better part of the match, when both sides were at full strength, it looked like Southampton might sustain its six-point lead over Arsenal for at least another few days, claiming a morale-boosting, not to mention strategically significant point away from home. And then came Giroud. In his short stint, not quite half an hour, he was vital to changing Arsenal's attack—even if he didn't deliver a goal or an assist.

In the past, I've written about the idea of the Arsenal amoeba, an offense that shifts and changes shapes fluidly and seamlessly as something approaching the Dutch totaalvoetbal, but there's something to be said for the less-elegant, direct, and structural approach as well. After all, for 65 minutes or so, the attacking quintet of Welbeck, Alexis, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, and Ramsey could offer only a pale imitation of that amoebic offense. Southampton's well-organized defense was more than up to the task of blunting the flitty, tippy-tap on offer and indeed looked more than willing to overrun going the other way, offering their own version of intricate one-twos and aggressive pressing up the pitch.

Critics will point past Giroud to the fact Toby Alderweireld came up lame and had to leave the pitch, leaving Southampton to play ten men for the final ten minutes or so, having already used their three subs. They'd be right. However, this glosses over a bit the impact that Giroud had already had in the preceding 15 minutes before Alderweireld came off. For those who like this sort of thing, found the time to put two of three shots on-frame, offer three key passes (second only to Cazorla's five), and create an uncalled hand-ball that led to the game-winning goal. For those with less of an eye for numbers, a brief run-down of his contributions:

  • 66'—he beats Wanyama to a Martínez goal-kick, flicking it upfield to Cazorla, whose chip ahead to Welbeck fizzles.
  • 68'—Alexis lofts the ball over Fonte and Giroud latches onto it, unleashing a vicious volley that Foster has to punch away.
  • 70'—Giroud works his way into a spot amongst four defenders and offers a clever back-heel flick from an Alexis pass finds Welbeck, whose shot is brilliantly saved by Forster. Giroud nearly cleans up the rebound.
  • 76'—draws a foul from Wanyama, who's booked and has to mind his manners after lording it over the more-diminutive Gunners. That's his fourth of the season, by the way.
  • 78'—as if to prove the previous point, he beats Wanyama to a Martinez goal-kick to launch another attack.
  • 83'—a quick one-two with his BFF Podolski leads to a somewhat-tame shot from the Hammer of Mjölnir.
  • 87'—Giroud heads home only for Forster to come up with a brilliant save, perhaps the best save of the match.
  • 89'—Giroud collects a cross in from Chambers and it hits Fonte in the arm but no call is given. The ensuing scrum leads to Ramsey finding Alexis for the goal.
  • 91'—dispossesses Wanyama to create a chance for Podolski, but it's snuffed out by Forster.
I think by now I've proven the point. With Giroud in, we had more of a focal point from which to launch attacks; what's more, we had a grappler who could occupy if not overcome our opponents. Even before Alderweireld came off, Giroud had contributed to three or four goal-scoring opportunities. The chances that Giroud created and the directness he offered stand in stark contrast against the effete stylings we had produced to that point. As a battering ram and also as a deft creator, Giroud tipped the scales in our favor just enough to earn three points, enough to put us another positive result away from climbing to fourth (third, if we can overcome Southampton's +14 goal-differential...but let's take things one step at a time).

Giroud's contributions were vital, on many levels; however, let's not fool ourselves. We needed a man-advantage to produce the result, and that won't be good enough in the long run, not if we expect to produce the same results when Liverpool, Everton, or Chelsea pay us a visit. For now, it will do agaisnt a side with lofty ambitions if not achievements just yet.