It’s time to stop blaming the striker for Arsenal’s bottle-job…

This may or may not make sense later.

Okay, so he didn’t score enough goals. Maybe he didn’t live up to the hype. You might even say he went missing when we needed him most during the run-in. After all, we had one of our best chances at winning the Prem in years, and we fell short, collapsing at the very end right when it seemed the trophy was ours for the taking. Sure, key rivals like Liverpool and Chelsea were well off the pace, but, in the end, we can’t blame Olivier Giroud. Sorry for the wind-up. I’m looking back to the 2015-16 season, the last time Arsenal “bottled” it.

Jean-Paul Sartre once wrote that “life must be understood backward; but it must be lived forward.” For whatever truth or insight that offers, I’ve had just about enough of looking forward to when we’ll finally announce this or that signing. Maybe I’m misquoting Sartre. At any rate, instead of hoping and praying and predicting when we’ll finally see Rice or Timber at an official signing, I’d thought I’d take a break to look back to that ill-fated 2015-16 season, when we really should have won the Prem. We didn’t, of course, and Olivier Giroud has become the scapegoat.

To be clear, I’m not here to say that Giroud was ever good enough for our aspirations. He was at best a donkey who worked his arse off. Then again, there’s something to be said for someone who did just help Inter reach the Champions League final, AC Milan reach the Champions League semifinal, but I digress. As the conventional wisdom goes, it’s all Giroud’s fault that we finished second on 71 points behind Leicester. It is true that he went 14 straight appearances from 28 February (when we sat top of the table) to 30 April without scoring, a period during which we won seven, drew six, and lost three (and you can all but write off two of those wins, coming as they did after Leicester clinched the title).

However, consider the fact that Giroud was our only striker for much of the season because Welbeck was injured. He was playing full 90s in the Prem, FA Cup, and League Cup as well as logging heavy minutes in the Champions League while also doing the same for France in international friendlies during the campaign. That drought he hit in February was in no small part a byproduct of logging those minutes. What’s more, that apparent drought coincided with Welbeck’s return from injury, his first appearance being 14 February. From then on, he was essentially the starter, with Giroud’s appearances shrinking down (for the most part) to coming on in that fabled 70th minute, playing 15 minutes here and twenty minutes there. Yes, he finished the season with three straight starts that lasted the full 90, but the title was already lost by that point. The point here is that it’s a bit harsh to blame the sub who averaged 37 minutes per appearance during the run-in for us bottling the Prem.

Welbeck did his level-best, but, like Giroud, his best was just never good enough for what we needed. Leading the line, he managed to score three goals in his first five starts, including that dramatic late winner in his first start of the season. He’d score just one more in his last six appearances. Like Giroud, we might temper our blame. He had just returned from knee surgery…and would end the season with yet another injury.

Let’s look to the few world-class players in the squad, those whom we might have expected should have stepped up. Aaron Ramsey, just two seasons removed from that effervescent “Welsh Jesus”, “it’s not gay if it’s with Aaron Ramsey” 2013-14 resurrection, was a ghost of his former self. In 2013-14, despite missing 13 matches with a muscle strain, he went for 10 goals and nine assists. In 2015-16, he could only chip in five goals and four assists—just one of each after 14 February. Maybe he was still struggling with that same muscle strain (he missed matchdays 31 and 32). Still, his lack of form all season long has been swept under the rug somewhat.

How about Mesut Özil? The first half of the season saw Özil in perhaps the finest form of his life. At the halfway point of the season, he had tallied 15 assists and looked well on his way to breaking Henry’s 2002-03 record of 20. He finished on 19 assists, just one after 28 February. Talk about a collapse. Needing just five assists from 19 appearances to set that new record, he couldn’t do it. Of course, assists depend on the teammate finishing the chance, and Welbeck just couldn’t offer what Giroud did. Ramsey wasn’t up to it either. What about Alexis?

Alexis is perhaps the only one here who escapes scrutiny. Despite logging ridiculous minutes for Chile—seventeen 90-minute appearances in World Cup qualifiers—and missing eight Prem matches due to injury, he still found 13 goals and five assists. Seven of those goals and three of those assists came after 14 February. He seemed to see the situation for what it was and did his damnedest to drag this squad towards the title, whatever it may have taken. It was, perhaps, the beginning of the breaking of Alexis, the season in which he realised just how large the gap from him to the rest of the squad was, but that’s another story for another day.

If we’re to continue blaming Giroud for that collapse, we’d have to expand into deeper analysis into how much these other players depended on the role he played and that Welbeck couldn’t play—but, like Saliba’s absence during our most-recent bottle-job, that highlights how much we needed him, not how badly he failed us. It’s a stretch to compare to Giroud to Saliba in any other way, though. Saliba is turning into a Bugatti of a defender; Giroud was only ever a Yugo.

Blaming Giroud misses the larger point. It wasn’t his drought that cost us the league in 2015-16. There was plenty of blame to go around.

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6 thoughts on “It’s time to stop blaming the striker for Arsenal’s bottle-job…

  1. jw1

    Excellent piece Jon. Though TBF, I’ve never draped the albatross around the HFB’s shoulders for that season. As much as I admired Le Prof– it was his lack off transfer activity (Petr Cech was it) that caused us to come up short. We simply didn’t have firepower. After Giroud’s 16 and Sanchez’s 13– it was Ozil 6, Walcott 5 and Ramsey 5. Welbeck has only scored 9 goals, twice, early-on at ManU in his 16-year PL career.

    We needed a striker alternative to Giroud.

    To our credit, we did beat Leicester twice, of their three losses total (Sp*rs did the other). In actuality, it was the rest of the PL who assisted most to the Foxes points total.

    1. Jon Shay Post author

      This was a season that highlighted the gulf in class between Ozil/Alexis and the rest of the squad. I left Walcott out because he had just recently come back from the ACL injury, but the fact that we were so reliant on a striker of Giroud’s level – and that our only transfer activity of note had been Cech – was quite damning. For as exciting as the signings and performances of Ozil & Alexis were, they ended up being splashy rather than symbolic of a new era in the transfer market. Alexis quickly grew too frustrated to stay, and Ozil seemed to get complacent after his new contract.

      We fast-forward to now and are seeing the grafting of our tradition of developing superstars to a new penchant for purchasing a few as well. I only hope it proves to be fruitful.

  2. A Simple Truth

    firstly, Giroud plays for AC, who lost to Inter in the semis…secondly, as stated above by jw1, it was Wenger’s ineptitude in the transfer market and his shoehorning tactical antics that ultimately cost us…no one expected Giroud to take us anywhere, so the fact that Wenger opted to cover him with this “Bambi on skates” lightweight, spoke volumes about his unwillingness to do whatever was necessary, especially if it required him to put up with another “diva” up top…as to jw’s final point, I wonder if we might be the only 2nd place team to ever sweep the eventual winner

    1. Jon Shay Post author

      How did I end up claiming that Giroud plays for Inter? Yeesh. That’s about as bad a screw-up as one can make. I should just quit before I’m fired.

      jw1 does a fine job of addressing the larger issue, one that I should have included but didn’t out of ineptitude or concern over the length of the post (I’ll leave my fate in the hands of others there). It seems now in hindsight that Wenger believed that two massive signings would appease the fanbase. The window that followed should have caused the scales to fall from our eyes – bringing in Cech and Elneny was much closer to Wenger’s habits. The 16/17 window saw him bring in Xhaka and Mustafi at great expense (on more than one level). 17/18 was Lacazette and Aubameyang. It’s hard to see a broader vision for what Wenger was after. It’s almost as if, having spent the preceding decade penny-pinching, dithering, and procrastinating, he didn’t know how to spend well.

      I’ll poke around to see just how many times a club has done the double over the eventual league winner. I suspect you might be right…

    1. Jon Shay Post author

      Yes, a friend on Mastodon caught the error, and I’ve corrected it (but let the original error stand). I also erroneously stated that Giroud played for Inter not AC Milan. What apostasy will I be guilty of next?


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