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.Continue reading
I just can’t contain myself, I’m so excited at the prospect of winning a trophy! OMG! That would be the greatest feeling ever—
Oh. Wait. I support the Arsenal. We’ve won trophies before.
I’ll be honest I say that I don’t know what to expect from this odd little tournament. There are four teams, but we each only play twice. Lyon seem to have sent out strong-ish sides by their standards, but we and Liverpool seem to have adopted a more casual approach with differing results. I have no idea what to expect from AC Milan because this will be their first match in this competition. Will they field a strong side? It’s anyone’s guess.
On one hand, we know that players like Olivier Giroud, Theo Fernandez, and Ante Rebic will still be in Qatar. It’s possible but unlikely that Rafael Leão will be available after Morocco ousted Portugal on Sunday. Also unavailable is Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is still recovering from knee surgery. On the other, AC Milan have done very well in Serie A, trailing league leaders Napoli by eight points and finishing second by Chelsea in their Champions League group. Given those absences, it’s hard to see Stefano Pioli wanting to try all that hard here, but, again, who knows?
Gianluca Di Marzio suggested that Pioli ran a training session with a probable lineup seen here. From
what I can gather, this is a heavily rotated XI with only Timori (14 starts), Tonali (11) and Kalulu (10) consistent starters. No one has started more than seven matches of AC Milan’s 15 Serie A matches.
By contrast, it looks like the only player we’ll definitely be without are Jesus (sob) and Saliba, who continues to watch as France progress to the next round of the World Cup. Everyone else is in Qatar, which doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll send out a full-strength XI. What it does show however is a remarkable level of squa-wide commitment and unity. Martinelli, Xhaka, and Tomiyasu, whose nations were eliminated recently, were given time off but have returned to training. White is back in training after dealing with a personal issue, and there’s a distant, distant possibility that Saka and Ramsdale may return to the club. More likely, they’ll be given time off, especially Saka, who logged heavy minutes and was fouled just as often as he is in the Prem.
With all of this folderol behind us, we’re likely see just as much rotation on our side as Di Marzio foresees for the Rossoneri. This would give Eddie Nketiah another chance to convince after scoring against a strong-ish Lyon side last week. Say what you will about the lad; he’s currently our only striker. Slate him or doubt him all you want, but there’s no point in hoping he fails (as I’ve seen some onionheads on Twitter do). It’s not as if him bagging a brace in this glorified friendly will somehow magically convince Arteta and Edu to stop trying to sign reinforcements, so set aside petty grievances and enjoy the match for what it is. There’s nothing at stake, and if a decent performance from Nketiah gives him confidence going into matches of record, such as against West Ham in two weeks, so much the better.
Anyway, without much else to analyse, given how much we don’t know, why not take a few minutes to play this handy little quiz to test your knowledge of our little rivalry with AC Milan?
Well, it’s official. Olivier Giroud is now a better striker than Thierry Henry ever was or Golden Boot wintter Karim Benzema ever will be, at least for country if not for club. That’s the only rational, sane conclusion to be drawn from the fact that Giroud has now overtaken Henry as the all-time leading scorer for Les Bleus, courtesy of his goal in France’s 3-1 stroll past Poland and into the World Cup quarterfinals. Anyone doing a spit-take with their coffee, tea, or scotch will do well to note that Giroud scored his 52nd goal in just 116 matches. It took that tosser Thierry 123 to score 51. You can’t spell “over-rated” without…well…to be honest, I expected more of letters from Henry’s name to appear in “over-rated” and have painted myself in a bit a of a corner here.
However, all snark aside, it’s momentous to say the least to see someone like Giroud surpass someone like Henry. To a degree, it reflects the fact that Henry had to share the ball with the likes of Zidane and Trezeguet, who actually scored goals at a higher rate (0.48 goals per match) than Henry (0.41) or Giroud (0.45). When Giroud matched Henry’s mark, we revisited the idea that we should have maybe held on to the man. However, for a second time in the same paragraph, Giroud will soon be eclipsed by Mbappé, who’s been scoring 0.54 goals per match for France, a pace that boggles the mind considering how often France progress deep into World Cup play. He’s hardly feasting on minnows (even if a brace against Poland is somewhat less impressive than, say, a single goal against England.
That brings me to my main concern, namely that Mbappé will never rise to the lofty levels Henry set. At the rate he’s going, yes, he will certainly surpass Henry and Giroud for goals scored for France. That’s a given. Staying at PSG, though, will only ossify him as a flat-track bully running rings ’round a bunch of cheese-eating surrender monkeys on a weekly basis. Where’s the challenge? Where’s the impetus to dig deeper, to push, to train, to excel? For as preposterous as his goal-scoring pace for France is, it’s even moreso for PSG for whom he’s scored 131 goals in 156 appearances (0.839 goals per match, for those lacking the maths). For as much as that says about Mbappé, it says a heck of a lot more about the quality of the resistance he faces on a weekly basis, which is to say, all the resistance of Kleenex at a snot party.
By contrast, Henry faced tough, physical defenses, some of the world’s best defenders and goalies, and some of the parked of parked buses every single week. This forced him to push himself to his physcial limits, overcoming ruthless, cynical fouls, indifferent referees, eight and nine opponents between him and goal, and myriad other obstacles on his way to scoring 174 goals in 254 e. If there’s any real wonder, it’s in that Henry couldn’t translate that kind of form over to the les Bleus. 51 goals in 123 matches is nothing to sniff at, but, at a risk of disrespecting Giroud, one might have expected more from Henry.
Back to Mbappé, though. He’ll almost certainly overtake Giroud as France’s all-time leading scorer. He’ll turn 24 just after this World Cup and already has 31 goals. Should he stay at PSG, scoring at the rate he’s been scoring, he’ll sprint past Henry’s record at Arsenal in less than two years. He’ll continue gather domestic trophies like they’re Pokemon cards.Will that anoint him as a legend? Will that be enough for him to join the pantheon of football legends? Maybe, maybe not. PSG have after all won the Ligue 1 title in each of Mbappé’s four seasons there…but they’ve also won it in eight of the last ten seasons. Should PSG finally win the Champions League, that might change the narrative around Mbappé at least somewhat, but I’m not sure it would be enough to elevate him into those loftier echelons inhabited by the likes of Henry, Ronaldo, Messi, and others.
Look, I like Mbappé. I want him to succeed, as long as it’s not against Arsenal in any way. In fact, I want to see what he’s truly capable of. I just worry that staying at PSG will cause him to stagnate. Between the weekly cakewalks and the managerial churn (he’s had four different managers in six years), and the feeling that the players run the club it’s not an environment designed to bring out his best. Unfortunately for Arsenal, he’s probably priced way beyond our budget both for his fee and wages. There are probably only two or three clubs in the world that can afford him. His failed flirtation with Real Madrid last summer may have soured that relationship beyond repair, but who knows? As freakishly good as he’s been, he’s only going to get better for club and country. The question then is, what club would challenge, mentor, and inspire him to rise to the heights his dizzying talent point to? What club has a history of plucking exciting young French talent from Monaco’s youth program and seeing them explode? Hmm….
Oh, how wrong we were, those of us who slated Olivier Giroud. We hated on him. We doubted him. We insulted and derided him, and now comes our comeuppance. Surely, we will line up dutifully to eat our slice of humble pie or crow or whatever it is one does when one is caught out being so thoroughly wrong. Wrong we all were then, when we blamed him for his goal drought that allowed Leicester to win the Prem. What other conclusion is there to draw from the fact that he’s now equalled Thierry Henry for goals scored for the French national team? For those who still doubt his bona fides, he’s done it in eight fewer matches than Henry needed. This proves clearly and unequivocally, throughout the space-time continuum, throughout the multiverse, that Giroud is the best Frenchman to play for Arsenal or the French national team. Full stop. End of.
That’s not all. He’s also clearly better than the 2022 Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema, whom he has regularly relegated to the bench under both Laurent Blanc and Didier Deschamps’s management—including this World Cup, where Benzema is nowhere to be seen (just checking to see if you’re paying attention. Giroud is so much better than Benzema that Benzema didn’t even get named to the squad. Kidding again. Benzema pulled out rather than face the ignominy of riding the bench while Giroud led the line. Okay. This set of matryoshka dolls has reached its end. Benzema pulled out due to injury).
Okay, okay, so maybe we’re getting a little carried away here. Maybe. After all, Giroud never scored more than 16 Prem goals and, at age 36, is no spring chicken. Still, in his day, he played a more-important role than many of his critics understood, all the more so when we look back on the squad at the time, which was full of magical, mischievious but, let’s face it, miniature players. For us, he was a nucleus to an amorphous amoeba around which swirled those Lilliputian lads, discombobulating defenses and tangling with trolls, and he plays a similar role for the French national team, allowing the likes of Griezmann and Mbappé to foray into the openings he creates for them.
Considering his considerable limitations, it’s more than a bit mad that, barring some disastrous setback, he’ll eclipse Henry as France’s all-time goal-scorer. It’s almost as mad to think that he was a factor, however small, in preveting a galactico like Benzema from having a chance at breaking Henry’s record. In the end, he’ll always suffer by comparison to Henry himself; no striker since Henry has come close to helping us move on from those magical days. He might be one of the more criminally underrated players we’ve had here, but as one who defended him from his fiercest critics, I’ll take some gratification from seeing him enjoy some late-career heroics. That may not extend to his Europa League celebration (when he may have been caught up in the moment), but do remember that his move to Chelsea paved the way for Aubameyang to join us and offer up a few magical moments of his own.
In the end, he was only ever serviceable, clearly not good enough for our ambitions. He’s one of the best strikers we’ve had since Henry, which is just as much a compliment to him as it is a criticism of most of the numerous others who’ve struggled to impress.
Records are made to be broken, of course, and there’s no telling who’ll do the breaking. Here’s an early if not premature congratulations to the man, then.
|The moment when it seemed to come together…|
One of the more-pernicious myths out there is that it was Olivier Giroud’s fault that we failed to win the 2015-16 Prem title. Giroud was and remains a convenient scapegoat; after all, he did fail to score in fifteen consecutive matches from January to May as we slumped to a second place finish behind Leicester. In a year in which 81 points was enough to win the Prem, we finished on…71. Surely, a striker who scored just 16 goals all season deserves the brunt of the blame, if not all of it? With the international break upon us, let’s revisit this hoary old cliche.
Let’s get one thing clear here. Giroud was only ever a decent striker, not nearly good enough to elevate our squad to win a title even in a season in which so many other clubs faltered. Like many players, he was not as bad as his critics insisted and not as good as his defenders maintained. Scapegoating someone is easy, convenient, and efficient..and frequently inaccurate. In Giroud’s defense, he was our only fit striker for most of the season. Welbeck would miss most of the season after knee surgery, and Sanogo was clearly not ready for prime time (Prem time? Nah…). Giroud therefore logged heavy minutes for across the Prem, Champions League (sigh…), FA Cup, and even the League Cup after having done the same in a busy summer for France at Euro 2016 and in international friendlies during the 2015-16 campaign. Simply put, the man got run into the ground, and the real wonder is how he finished the season without collapsing.
So, yes, he suffered a goal drought—but, of those fifteen matches, he only played more than 25 minutes eight times because Welbeck was finally fit. He became the de facto starter and Giroud went to the bench. it might have been nice for Giroud to play the role of super-sub, coming on late to exploit weakened defenders, but he could only do that if others around him could create the chances.
This was the season in which Mesut Özil offered 15 assists in our first 19 matches, only to finish with 19. Maybe Özil didn’t feel it was right to match or break Henry’s record of 20? I think we might have forgiven him if it had lead to us winning the Prem. However, he’s not the only one who faltered.
Aaron Ramsey, just two years removed from that scintillating 10-goal, 9 assist season, reverted to a milder form, offering just five goals and four assists. The current squad includes two players who have already surpassed that goals contribution: Jesus (five goals, five assists) and Saka (four goals, six assists). It’s looking like Ødegaard, Martinelli, and Xhaka will all overtake Ramsey’s total as well, and we’ve only played 14 matches.
On to Theo Walcott. Walcott only chipped in with five goals and three assists, with just two goals and no assists at all from Boxing Day to the end of the season. That’s eighteen matches for a man who always wanted to play through the middle to show that he could. He, like Ramsey and Özil, failed to raise their games as Giroud wilted and Welbeck struggled to fill his boots.
In the end, it was only Alexis Sánchez who seemed both willing and able to rise to the occasion, doing his level-best to drag this squad, kicking and screaming, towards the top of the table. Seven of his 13 goals and three of his five assists came in the last ten matches of the season. Most of them either saved or secured points for us, but it was clearly not enough.
None of this absolves Giroud of his own failings. However, it should offer enough context to lend a little more nuance to the legacy of that season. Did Giroud fail? Yes. Did others around him fail as well? Yes, clearly. I’ll spare you the tired bromides about it taking a team to win the title.
There are plenty of other reasons to scorn the buteur du charme, such as his taunting of Arsenal after he won the Europa League with Chelsea, but singling him out as the reason for our failure to win the Prem misses the mark. Anyone still willing to insist that it was Giroud’s fault should feel free to let me have it with both barrels. Bring it on.