Player Focus: Typical Giroud must begin to show class when it matters the most
They were five days that seemed to sum up Olivier Giroud’s entire career at Arsenal.
On Wednesday, with his side losing to Monaco in a Champions League tie that was finally supposed to see them end five years of last-16 frustration, the forward was presented with three big chances. He fluffed them, almost seeming to panic with one.
On Sunday, in a home match quite important to getting back into the continental competition, he took his anger out on Everton. Giroud produced by hitting the key first goal of the game. The difference feels defining.
Giroud deserves credit for responding so well to the disappointment of the Monaco match by scoring in the very next game, but it wasn’t exactly unexpected; it wasn’t exactly breaking new ground. Arsenal should be beating Everton at home - especially an Everton side on this kind of form - and Giroud is generally good for a goal in that type of fixture.
He is, in other words, dependable as a goalscorer to a certain point. Thereafter, and when the margins get tighter, he tends to become more and more unreliable. Monaco was a case in point.
He almost personifies Arsenal from 2010 to 2013 in that regard. Before they began to buy players of the status of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, they had to go the rung below or even further down: signing good players but not true game-breakers. The lingering feeling is that Arsenal could jump up a level if they also secured a better centre-forward, someone closer to the Sergio Aguero and Diego Costa range.
The long-term stats from his time at the Emirates back this up. When you look at the key scoring figures from all the top-scoring Premier League strikers since Giroud first arrived in the summer of 2012, the French forward’s don’t stand up that well.
None of this is to say Giroud does not have some top-level quality. His one-touch lay-offs around the box are joyous, and it’s hard to think of too many players better than him at that. He is also strong in the air, and capable of finishes of very high quality, even if they are not always in the highest-pressure fixtures.
Clearly, Arsene Wenger recognises something in him. He also recognised something Giroud needed to fix. One story has it that the Arsenal manager was concerned that Giroud was blasting too many of his finishes, and said he should practice placing them more.
It may have had an effect because, to a certain extent, Wenger is right. The French striker has improved in a fair few aspects of his game - most importantly, how prolific he is. His minutes between goals have come right down, to 109.4.
That has also made him one of this season’s most prolific scorers, fourth in terms of conversion rate with 20.9% and fifth in minutes between goals.
Two things stand out about these stats. One is of course that Giroud is suddenly among the most sensational stars in terms of finishing. The second is that both of these are led by Papiss Cisse, who has actually only been played 59 minutes less than Giroud this campaign, 926 compared to 985.
No-one is talking about the Newcastle United forward as potentially having made a leap to a higher level, and this is why it is still a little difficult to do the same with Giroud. It still might be a temporary spell of form, and the last week certainly had the feel of things evening out given the circumstances: the goal you would expect, the miss you would expect.
Giroud is now 28, and notionally in his prime. He could do with perpetuating this form, and adding to it with statement finishes. A goal to really put the pressure on Monaco in the Champions League second leg would certainly help.