Category Archives: Olivier Giroud

Can we beat Beşiktaş? Will this draw goad Arsène into action?

Phew. We escaped with a draw from a match we arguably deserved to lose, and we’ll be licking wounds as we limp back home with a tough trip to Goodison Park looming on Saturday, while now having to look past that to a second leg even more fraught with uncertainty than it should have been. The away-goals rule now tilts in Beşiktaş’s favor, and we should be counting our blessings that we’ve come away in such blessed shape. The run of play went largely Beşiktaş’s way, and they had the lion’s share of best-chances. Whereas many clubs would be thrilled to emerge with a draw against Arsenal, Beşiktaş strikes me as being made of sterner stuff.

We tend to worry ’round these parts about set-pieces. Now, I don’t think that a match’s opening kick-off is a set-piece in the sense that we usually use the term, but Demba Ba very nearly put Beşiktaş up moments into the match when he lofted the kick-off towards our goal, and Wojciech Szczęsny, who was blithely drifting around the penalty-spot, had to scramble to get fingers to it and deflect it off the bar. Sadly, this wouldn’t be the last time in the match that we’d be left ruing how we missed out on Ba, whatever the circumstances were. Suffice it to say, Ba tested Szcz on more than that occasion while Giroud failed to do the same at the other end (if we start saying “he Giroud-ed that” to describe a wasted chance six yards from goal, do we pronounce the silent “d” at the end of his name? Francophones, please oblige us).

Beyond that issue, it’s hard to say that we went in with the same purpose or confidence that we showed in our last trip to Istanbul, when we hung three goals on Fener in that first leg a year ago. For long stretches, we were stymied, at times even overrun, as we struggled to find any kind of rhythm or intent. Cazorla and Alexis were impressive but not convincing, Giroud flubbed chance after chance, and Ramsey, our most-talismanic player of last season, “earned” a second yellow in the 81st minute and will miss next Wednesday’s match. Rather than dwell on the match itself, a dour and depressing affair, I’d prefer to look ahead.

While admitting that we don’t know the details, it seemingly took a shocking loss to Aston Villa to force Arsène to bring in Mesut Özil (a move that, for as much as we mocked them for it, was probably only possible after Spurs sold Bale). In other words, even our most-audacious transfer of living memory came as a result of a shock-loss and a rival comic foil’s transfer-business. I don’t know what Arsène is thinking, but there’s a rather large part of me that hopes that this first-leg draw will jolt him into action much as the loss to Aston Villa seemed to do. No, 0-0 is not nearly as shocking as 1-3; then again, facing elimination from Champions League play is far-more frightening than one shock-result from 38 fixtures. Lose your first Prem match, and you still have 37 others to somehow make up the lost points. Lose the Champions League play-off, and you’re done. It’s not that we can sign someone and have him available for the second-leg; the dead-line for the 25-player squad has already passed. However, if we do advance, we could add a new player (or, ahem, two) for the group-stage squad.

We’ve seen first-hand how much a player like Ba can threaten. We’ve seen plenty of times how often a player like Giroud can infuriate. It’s abundantly clear that we need someone up top who can make good on the chances created by those behind him. Ba doesn’t even really qualify as “world class”. He’s certainly not on a level with Costa, Cavani, or other top-shelf strikers to whom we’ve been linked. And yet, he showed tonight a bit of what we’re lacking: a striker who can put shots on frame, if not in the back of the net. How much better might we be with someone marginally better than Giroud? Tuesday’s result forces us to consider the question yet again.

The definition of insanity is, of course, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. How many more times will we expect Giroud to produce a result different from the one he’s produced time and time again?

Building a team around Giroud? Really?

I thought it would be worth taking a break around transfer-speculation to assess something that offers a little more substance, at least at a level that allows us to examine what we currently have and what it’s good for. Already, we’ve done a nice bit of business in the transfer-window, with Alexis and Debuchy in the squad and with Ospina apparently close to confirmed. By Arsenal standards, that’s an orgy of spending, even if the total amount comes to something less under £50m—even if that’s less than what Chelsea or Real Madrid or the other remorseless, soulless spenders might splurge on one player. With Man City apparently satiated by Sagna and Liverpool repeating Spurs’ saga from a season ago, we and Chelsea look to be the most-ambitious thus far. However, it’s in how our current squad coalesces than I’m currently most intrigued by, rather than how future additions might contribute.

The Alexis-honeymoon has apparently already ended, and he’s yet to play a minute. For as ravenous as we are for an out-and-out striker, I suppose that’s to be expected. Yes, the Chilean can play as a striker, but most of his experience comes as a winger. As such, the more-impatient among us continue to clamor for a genuine striker, perhaps deriding who we currently have a bit unfairly. To borrow one of my country’s former presidents’s malapropisms, we misunderestimate Giroud. That is, we underestimate him in the wrong way.

Ever since Henry left, we’ve craved a similar forward, someone who can seemingly conjure goals from nothing as Henry did (and as Wright, to a lesser extent, did before him). The tantalizing glimpses that van Persie offered before erupting in one glorious season before departing only gave that hunger a sharper edge, honed that much more by the ongoing trophy-drought. If only we could have kept van Persie one more season, he might have delivered a similarly glorious season, propelling Arsenal and not Man U to the Prem title. Olivier Giroud was charged with filling the gaping hole, and all too often, he’s come up short.

However, this is perhaps because we expect him to deliver 25 to 30 goals per season, something that Henry did consistently and that van Persie only did once. We’ve been conditioned to expect that kind of production from our forward, which makes Giroud’s failure to deliver all the more glaring—and galling. Each time he misses, whiffs, or otherwise muffs the kind of shot another striker might put home or at least on frame, we’re reminded of just how far Giroud falls short of the bar set by Henry. Let Giroud be the first and last to suffer by that comparison. This is what I mean by misunderestimating him, though. By focusing so exclusively on Giroud’s goal-scoring struggles, we risk downgrading him in the wrong area. We may never see Giroud score goals at the rate that Henry so regularly achieved and that van Persie achieved for us—for one season. We may, however, seem him deliver key-passes and assists with a frequency that might allow Alexis or Walcott or Ramsey—or two of three, if not all three—score 20 Prem goals. It’s not far-fetched.

Over the last two seasons, Giroud seems to have struggled with his role. Is he to be the kind of goal-scoring machine that van Persie was in 2011-12, or is he to be the kind of chance-creator that Bergkamp was for most of his eleven seasons? Giroud is by no means in Bergkamp’s class when it comes to touch or technique. However, Giroud’s skill-set seems to suggest that his biggest contribution to our squad in the upcoming season will not come through the goals he scores but the chances he creates for others. With Alexis,Walcott, Cazorla, Özil, Ramsey, and other buzzing around him, Giroud offers the kind of brute strength needed to occupy burlier center-backs and other defenders while the pacier, creative types flit past and run onto the second-balls and flick-ons that he creates. Indeed, we might even see an Arsenal that is willing to allow opponents to press further up the pitch, rather that pushing them deeper into their own defensive third, if only to allow Giroud to receive a clearance at or around midfield and then release Alexis, Walcott, the Ox, or others into space behind the defense and use their blistering pace to punish.

Van Persie, for all of his glorious goals, papered over a squad that was shorn of identity and direction after Fàbregas left. The squad that had been built around Fàbregas didn’t know what else to do but give the ball to van Persie and let him do what he did. That habit continued after van Persie left, even if it didn’t play to Giroud’s abilities. With two seasons at Arsenal under his belt, I’m willing to bet that Giroud is ready to define himself and his role, not as the club’s next great scorer, but as one more component in a more-complete squad, one in which a healthy Ramsey, Wilshere, Walcott, Ox, Cazorla, Podolski, and Diaby can run amok and rotate, in which Özil, Alexis, and Debuchy can get acclimated, and in which another player or two can contribute as well.

As we’ve seen with others, the transfer-fees for goal-scoring strikers frequently flirts with nine figures. With a transfer-kitty that we’ve boasted of being £105,000,000 or thereabouts, which would you rather have, one player who might score 25 goals, or four players who address other weaknesses in the squad? We’re still shy a player or two of the second option, but I prefer the idea of a complete squad over one that depends excessively on one player to score all of its goals.

Calming ourselves on Campbell: not quite the conqueror we crave…

Costa Rica are through to the quarterfinals, the first time ever in the country’s history, and have become darlings of the tournament. With a gutsy, gritty performance that saw them hold off Greece for sixty minutes despite being a man down, suffering a heart-breaking equalizer late in regulation, the Ticos recovered well enough to get to penalties and win, converting all five while keeper Keylor Navas saved Greece’s fourth attempt to clear the way for victory. For as thrilling a victory this is to Costa Ricans, I hope it’s not too churlish of me to suggest that, for Gooners, the takeaway is a bit less awe-inducing. I speak of course of Joel Campbell, who has come down to Earth a bit after opening the World Cup with a bang. This is not to say we should turn our backs on bringing him back, just that we should temper expectations around what he could do.

After his star-turn against Uruguay, the one in which he turned in a goal and an assist while earning MotM honors, he’s slowed a bit, turning in solid but but spectacular performances against Italy, England, and Greece. Part of this may reflect the increased defensive intensity of Italy and England compared to Uruguay, and his performance against Greece certainly reflects the increased pressure of being isolated as Costa Rica played a man down for so long. However, even with those factors in mind, it’s hard to say that Campbell has dazzled, not well enough at least to show that he offers the upgrade at striker that we seek. At best, he’d offer a valuable alternative, perhaps as an impact sub, if we’re chasing a goal. Then again, we’ve seen Sanogo play that role tolerably well.

Still, he does offer something that has been missing from our strikers in recent years: pace. Whereas watching Giroud or Sanogo lumber around has felt at times like rooting for a pregnant turtle to get up a hill, Campbell looks like he could match Ox or Walcott stride for stride. Seeing Campbell blaze past defenders has been one of the more thrilling elements of his game, even if it frequently isolated him from his teammates. Costa Rica’s 5-4-1 asks Campbell to do a lot of work on his own, holding up the ball until teammates can get forward, but he also seems more than happy to see how far up the pitch he can get. Sometimes, this can backfire, as it seemed to do against Greece when Duarte’s second yellow forced Costa Rica to play a man down for 30 minutes of regulation plus 30 of overtime. Still, discretion is the better part of valor, yet Campbell’s seven times dispossessed and eight turnovers suggest a player a bit too eager to get forward rather than wait for support. He’d be unlikely to outrun our midfield to the same extent, but there’s still a brashness there that feels reckless when defending a lead rather than chasing a goal.

Without dwelling too much on that one match, let’s remember that Campbell’s ascendancy has been the result of one other match, the one against Uruguay, and he’s otherwise been good but hardly remarkable. He had a decent season in Greece’s Super League, it’s true, but the hype that has grown around Campbell since the World Cup seems to forget or ignore that body of evidence while accentuating his performance against Uruguay. Like many players his age, he may be capable of occasionally incredible feats. However, he’s probably a year or more away from delivering those on a more-regular basis, often enough to elevate the ambitions of a club like Arsenal. Olympiakos ran away from the Super League, but Campbell wasn’t even its top-scorer. He’d be a nifty addition to the squad, sure, but he’s unlikely to compete with, supplant, or offer an upgrade on options we already have.

For that, we’ll likely have to dig into the transfer-kitty and actually use some of it, bidding for the likes of Benzema, Balotelli, or Sánchez. I think we all know Arsène well enough to be wary of pinning too many hopes on that. Still, with 1 July coming up, it’s possible we could see a signing or two holding up those new Puma-designed kits. I just hope Campbell isn’t the only one…

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Does Özil need a world-class striker, or can he create one?

This is a vital question for Arsenal as we go into the summer transfer-window. For as much as we spent on Özil, that could be money down the drain. By some standards, the man struggled in his first season in the Prem, enough so that there were accusations that we had wasted our money or, alternately, that he was unhappy with his role. Now it comes out from no less an authority than Philip Lahm, captain of the German national team, that Özil needs the right striker to get out of Özil what we paid to get. This begs the question that I’ve asked in the lead-in: does Özil need a world-class striker ahead of him, or can he create one?

First, let’s get Lahm’s comments front-and-center. Speaking to, Lahm had this to say:

Özil’s “vision is probably the best I have ever seen, and that is why it is so important to have the right striker ahead of him. He is a dream for strikers and you saw that with [Cristiano] Ronaldo and [Karim] Benzema when he was at Madrid. If Arsenal can find the right striker who is fast and makes intelligent runsthen Mesut will be devastating next season.”

High praise, but with the caveat attached. On one hand, Özil is probably the best Lahm has ever seen, and he’s played with a fair few good ones. However, as we’ve discussed here before, Özil’s game is built largely around creating chances for others. Prior to joining Arsenal, after all, it was his creativity, as measured by assists, chances created, and key passes, that has forged his reputation as the most creative player in Europe. The rub there is that, for all of the chances created and key passes offered, the final product depends so much on the player on the other end of the pass that Özil’s ratio of key passes to assists may suffer. A quick definition of terms, then:

  • assist: easy peas. A pass that leads to a teammate scoring.
  • key pass: A pass that gives a teammate an attempt on goal without scoring.
  • chances created: basically, assists plus key passes.
One would expect Özil, coming from the freer-scoring La Liga and playing with one of the world’s most-lethal finishers, to see a sharp drop in his production. Olivier Giroud is not Ronaldo by any stretch, and the gap between Özil’s assists and key passes should grow as he continues to find his teammates but they fail to finish. Indeed, Özil managed a mere nine assists for Arsenal, down from 13 for Real Madrid last year. Surely, this is because he’s passing to Giroud, a Peugeot to Ronaldo’s Rolls Royce?
No, Giroud is not in Ronaldo’s class (who is?), but he might at least be in Benzema’s (or is it the other way ’round?). He’s not going to get the shots on-frame as often as Ronaldo does, and part of that derives from his own limits—but it might also derive from the role he’s asked to play. We’re not here to compare Giroud to anyone in any depth, though. We’re here to examine Özil and the notion that his class depends on that of the teammate he passes to. If Lahm’s comments above are on-target, we’re not going to get our money’s worth out of Özil unless we break the bank a second time to give him someone worthy of his key passes.
On the surface, that drop in assists does look dispiriting, if not altogether alarming. In his final season with Real, Özil delivered 78 key passes and 13 assists, meaning that 14.3% of his chances created led to a goal. In this past season, while adjusting to a new club, a new league, a new level of pressure, he needed 67 key passes to get 9 assists—a drop to 11.8%. It does seem as if Özil has suffered the incompetence of his striker a bit. How much of that drop, though, comes from the gap between Ronaldo and Giroud, and how much of it comes the first-season syndrome? That’s an open question that no one can effectively answer, but it’s worth considering.
The more-pertinent question is goes to the heart of Özil’s role. Will he be content to continue threading beautiful, exquisite passes to teammates who can’t quite finish, padding his personal key-pass statistic, or can he find a way to work with what he has? I’m not saying we shouldn’t go after a world-class striker. I’m simply preparing myself for the possibility that we won’t get one. As Özil sizes up his teammates next season, whether they are again Giroud and Sanogo or they are Cavani or whoever else we might sign. A player of Özil’s class and calibre can, and should, elevate the games of those around him. Even without the addition of a top-drawer signing, I’m curious to see how Özil will do in his second season, understanding the Prem a bit more, but knowing how to get the most out of teammates like Giroud and Walcott and others.

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So that’s what Arsenal looks like at full-strength…

…and it wasn’t even full-strength. Still no Walcott or Wilshere, still no Diaby, Gnabry, Gibbs, or Vermaelen. Without quite claiming that we’re back to full strength and admitting that Newcastle were perhaps even further from it than we are, it’s telling just how much better we played and can play when we have options. With Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Özil back in the fold, we looked like a different team—more creative, more decisive, more dynamic—and the scoreline might actually do us a disservice on the day. Newcastle were overrun, plain and simple, but that takes nothing away from our performance, which was about as good as it’s been since, well, since before we lost Ramsey… Özil… Walcott…. Wilshere…..

There was a moment, sublime, sumptuous, and simple, that seems to symbolize the season that could have been. At one point, Özil, racing Gouffran to the edge of the area, collected the ball and executed a smooth scissor-step into an inverted Cruyff-turn, leaving the man sliding helplessly on his arse and out of the play. It didn’t lead to anything, but it reminded me of the audacity and verve he plays with, as well as the style and vision he injects. It came to nothing, but that’s not the point. Everyone seemed invigorated and emboldened as they looked to each other and sized up the opposition. Although Newcastle did stymie us a bit in the early going, there was no ‘squeaky-bum’, grind-it-out element to this one,  Indeed. at times, it felt more like a foregone conclusion than a football match.

It started, perhaps fittingly enough, with a Koscielny goal. I’d call it a bookend to the goal he scored to close out last season, but that suggests an ending, a terminus, and this goal felt more like the reopening of something. A beginning. Coming off of a Cazorla free-kick, Koscielny sliced in and got the barest of touches to slip it in past Krul. From there, it felt more and more like this would be a cakewalk. Newcastle, coming in looking desperate, dispirited, and depleted, just never looked they were fully in it, and Kos’s goal flattened what little fight they had brought. In fact, were it not for a half-dozen different attempts at another Norwichian pornogol di Wilshere, we might have gone for five or six goals, if not the seven we bagged the last time the Toon came to town.

It wasn’t all tiki-taka or Wengerball or whatever name you wish to dub it. There were times when brute force announced itself, as when Giroud broke behind the Newcastle line (was he offsides? Mmmmaybe) to chase down a long ball and found himself face to face with Krul. He bludgeoned it twice from close range, with the second shot sluicing over to a wide-open Özil, who could simply poke it home. Poor Olivier. He worked so, so hard for that one only to see Özil pop in and, cool as a cucumber, reap the reward. Like Özil’s dribble described above, it seemed symbolic, this time of one man’s frustrations and the other’s fortunes. Thankfully, though, Giroud did find time to score his 15th Prem goal and 21st of the season, and he did so in a manner reminiscent of some of our finest moments from the first half of the season.

It started, as so many other chances did, with Özil, who sprinted forward, passed to Ramsey, and faded to the flank. Ramsey danced along before slotting the ball along the edge of the box for—surprise! Still here!—Özil, who flicked a gentle cross in for Giroud to head home. Where? Near-post, of course. With the outcome all but settled, there was still plenty of time to ponder what might have been. How many more such scoring chances might we have seen just like that one? Some will see that as a call to arms, a demand that we sharpen pitchforks; others will see that as a wistful reflection, a moment that we mark with a cluck of the tongue. That’s up to you to decide.

For now, it’s worth noting that we’ve taken one more step towards securing Champions League play for a 17th consecutive season, which would match Real Madrid and put us one appearance behind Man U, whose streak should snap this season barring a bizarre series of incidents that includes them winning their three remaining matches, Everton and Tottenham dropping all of theirs, and us getting penalized five points for some reason. Like I said, bizarre.

It’s all coming together, albeit a bit later than it did last season, when a demoralizing loss to a rival chasing the same top-four spot we coveted seemed to send us into a downward spiral. As with last season, we’ve rediscovered or reforged the mettle that makes us, and we’re on the verge of again seeing off that rival. We’re not quite done there yet, but this latest result marks our fourth consecutive win since that loss. We won’t equal the eleven-match unbeaten streak with which we closed the 2012-13 campaign; then again, I’d imagine a seven-match streak will do more than mollify a few malcontents, as such a run would culminate in claiming not just that fourth-place ‘trophy’ we’ve come to expect as a minimum but the FA Cup as well. With each passing result, with the return to fitness of each squad-member, it’s looking more and more like we’ll finish the season as it started, winning matches with style, with elan, with confidence.

I might go so far as to say that our cup overrunneth. Fourth place in the making, the FA Cup beckoning, a 19th-straight St. Totteringham’s Day, a potential Golden Glove winner…not bad. Not bad at all.

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