Olivier Giroud is currently the second best striker in the Premier League
Mesut Ozil has insanely come in for some stick recently – I offered my views on that here – and during one of my many conversations extolling the virtues of Özil the focus predictably shifted onto another Arsenal scapegoat; Olivier Giroud.
Giroud, I was told, makes Özil look bad because he’s such a substandard striker for a club of Arsenal’s stature. I have always vehemently disagreed with aspersions cast on Giroud’s ability to lead the line for Arsenal as he has consistently been an efficient member of the squad – even when he isn’t on scoring form.
When discussing Giroud invariably stats will creep into the discussion and when those stats are being used to champion our handsome French striker they will be dismissed out of hand with the most casually banal phrases going in fan debates “stats aren’t everything” or “stats can be misleading” swiftly followed by how long said debater has watched Arsenal and how they “use their eyes” (don’t we all?).
Giroud, it was assured to me, misses far too many chances and that is why we “don’t get the best out of Özil”. If only Giroud could convert more chances like the Premier League elite we’d be okay they enthuse.
Stats can be misleading, that is a given, however so can perceptions. If you have a preconceived notion or a strongly held belief then your perception of an event, person or situation will be neurologically skewed to interpret what you are seeing in a manner that fits your preconceptions. In psychology it is called “confirmation bias”.
Where does Olivier Giroud stand with respect to other Premier League strikers this season?
Arsène Wenger recently said that you use statistics to back up what you already know by watching and that is what I have done with Olivier Giroud. I want to challenge the confirmation bias, the preconception, that Giroud doesn’t score enough goals or his conversion rate is poor.
Would you believe me if I told you that of every striker in the Premier League this season who has scored 10 or more goals that Giroud is third, arguably second, on that list?
Topping the list is not Diego Costa as you may assume but Papiss Cisse of Newcastle who has scored 11 goals from 40 shots this season, giving him a conversion rate of an impressive 27.5% – roughly 1 goal per 3.6 appearances. It is worth noting however that Cisse has only played 1016 minutes this season and has made 9 subs appearances with many of his goals coming from the bench.
I believe this puts him firmly in the super subs category but in an effort to be as unbiased as possible I shall not use this to push Giroud up the list. Diego Costa has been the most prolific striker in the Premier League this season with 17 goals from just 65 shots, a conversion rate of 26.15%. Third on the list is our very own Olivier Giroud who boasts 10 goals from 46 shots giving him an overall conversion rate of 21.74%.
Only one other player makes it into the 20s and that is Harry Kane. Rooney, Aguero, Van Persie, Austin, Berahino are all under 20%.
Giroud is somewhere in the middle for minutes per goal scored and third on the conversion rate – ahead of Aguero, Van Persie, Kane and Rooney. He has scored the same amount of goals as Rooney in just shy of half the minutes. His conversion rate is significantly superior to both Aguero and Van Persie. Statistically speaking Aguero and Austin embody the mantra of the more you shoot the more likely you will score.
Giroud seems to have adopted a more methodical approach to scoring goals by taking fewer shots – on average 2.7 per game – but converting more of them. Giroud had the unfortunate task of replacing Van Persie and an underwhelming first season, due mostly to the unrealistically high expectations put upon him by the fans, has created the negative confirmation bias around Giroud.
In his 2.5 seasons since arriving at Arsenal he has worked hard to improve his physique as well as all other facets of his game. His hold up play is widely recognised as some of the best in Europe, his movement is a severely underrated tool in his locker, his feet are quicker than when he arrived and his technique has improved too.
The biggest improvement has been his finishing. In his first season at Arsenal, he managed to convert around 12% of his shots and that increased to 15% in his second season. That improvement has been best demonstrated in the 11 games since the match against Newcastle in December where he has taken 31 shots and scored 8 goals in the league – a conversion rate of 25.8%, which closely rivals Diego Costa’s.
There will be those who will go out of their way to explain away some of the low stats from the “elite” strikers in the league or shift the goalposts but what is incontrovertible is that Giroud has improved his conversion rate exponentially from his first two seasons. If Giroud even just maintains his current level – the evidence suggests he’ll continue to improve for at least another season – and the rest of the team keep relatively fit and in form then the biggest argument against Giroud, that we’ll never win the league with him, could be dispelled as early as next season.
With conversion rates like his there’s no reason why he cannot score 20-25 league goals in a full season. I’ll be mightily surprised if he finishes with less than 15 this season the rate he is going.
Giroud is not the perfect striker – who is? – but he is a lot better than people give him credit for. What is probably most impressive about Giroud’s goal haul is he has 10 league goals from 19 shots on target. Olivier has hit the post once, had 10 shots blocked and 17 were off target. It is possibly the off-target shots that inform the confirmation bias as some of them have been wild.
Approximately 41% of his shots are on target (excluding blocked shots, 53% if you take blocks out) which is pretty solid although the top scorers in the league are posting figures of 43% to 52% of shots on target (blocks excluded). Giroud may slightly lag behind in that category, but he has already shown his capacity for improvement.
My eyes tell me we have a top quality player in our ranks and the statistics back that up.