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Olivier Giroud; The Unwanted Stepson?

There is a pretty permanent sense of ennui about the Arsenal career of Olivier Giroud, crystalized by the anguished expression that often permeates his handsome features. To type “Olivier Giroud grimace” into google images is to open a treasure trove of pained expressions, his face contorted into various states of woe. It is almost as rewarding an image search as “Jack Wilshere tongue” and “Alex Hleb gurn.”  Giroud has been a mainstay of Arsenal’s starting line up for three years now and has played a starring role in two F.A. Cup victories.

That would suggest that he’s doing something very right. Yet all praise of Giroud has constantly to be qualified, caveated and cross referenced. “He’s not world class, but he’s not as bad as people make out” is the most rousing praise uttered in defence of the Frenchman. If accolades for him sound so defensive, it’s because he’s so often ‘attacked’ in the varying senses of the word. (Be it from the froth mouthed, who would have you believe that he is Tomas Danelivicius incarnate, or from the majority of the “I like him, but….” cadre).

One is reminded of an amusing scene from the Channel 4 sitcom ‘Peep Show’ (indulge me this recital if you are unfamiliar with the show), when Jeremy is left frustrated by the consensus over his uselessness:

Super Hans: He doesn't value you; he thinks you're a dickhead.

Mark: Just because he's a dickhead doesn't mean I'm not his friend. I'm a better friend than you've ever been.

Super Hans: He may be a dickhead, but I'm showing him how to stop being a dickhead.


Even Giroud’s strengths have been forged into sticks with which to beat his chiselled frame which, you feel, could withstand quite the beating. Giroud is one of the fittest (I’ll leave the context of the word open to interpretation) players Arsene Wenger has ever bought, alongside Santi Cazorla who, despite his considerably diminutive frame is almost never injured. Despite having started most Arsenal games over the last three years, fighting off centre half after grizzled centre half, Giroud is rarely injured.

His one significant injury in an Arsenal shirt, a broken foot, healed four weeks earlier than expected, much to Arsenal’s administrative embarrassment, as he had to miss two Champions League group games having not even been registered to play in the group stages. At St. James’ Park in December 2013, he gashed his foot so badly that the blood soaked through his sock and began to surface on his boot. Arsene Wenger offered to remove him at half time but Giroud refused, sellotaped his foot back together and went onto score the winning goal in the second half. This is the sort of physical feat a more loved footballer would be celebrated for, especially in England.

Last month, Roy Keane aimed a broadside at Arsenal’s “six packs and selfies” culture. Giroud has been widely considered to be at the crux of this criticism, its poster boy if you will.  Yet his Instagram account has been dormant for nearly two years and his twitter account is little more than a trickle of sponsored tweets for Puma. There is little evidence of vanity other than, he’s quite a good looking chap, which hardly seems to be his fault and, well it’s hardly a fault at all is it? It is somewhat contrary to decry a striker playing at the eye of the Premier League’s rough and tumble storm for having a good physique. Poor Olivier can’t even catch a break for being good looking and toned; qualities that seem to propel less talented types to unparalleled heights.

Back in March, when Sky probably asked Thierry Henry to add bite to his suave, yet bland punditry, Olivier Giroud was the first target for his manufactured ire. Even other toned, handsome Frenchman aim sly digs at Giroud. Our school experience conditions us into believing that these are exactly the types of people that create cliques rather than conflict. Unfortunate timing saw Giroud, in the middle of a purple patch of scoring form; endure a quite awful evening in front of goal against Monaco shortly after Henry’s critique. His form tailed off thereafter. Teams have worked out that, if Arsenal’s goalkeeper sends a high ball towards opposing centre halves, there’s only one guy that is going to challenge for it. So now Giroud is left to fend off both centre halves at once. One holds him, the other hits him.

Giroud’s influence goes beyond goals, this nicely edited clip from Culann Davis illustrates the ballet in Giroud’s brawn. Most of Arsenal’s most vine friendly strikes are predicated on a Giroud flick. Yet there is not the sense from Arsene Wenger that Giroud is anything other than a stopgap. His term as first choice striker is being extended unexpectedly by the lack of strikers available on the market. Every office has a temp that has somehow been with the organisation for years. The evidence suggests that Giroud was purchased as a nuclear option from the bench. Wenger tried to sign Lukas Podolski from Koln in January 2012, in anticipation of Robin van Persie’s departure. Koln, locked in a relegation battle they would ultimately lose, were unwilling to sell until the summer. So Henry came in on secondment while Wenger waited for his man.

For the first game of the 2012-13 season, Podolski started as Arsenal’s central striker, with Giroud on the bench. I think it’s fair to assume that this was Arsene’s long term intention, for Giroud’s physical presence to provide a much desired Plan B. On that day, Giroud did come on with the scores at 0-0, but fluffed his lines by missing an easy chance. It quickly became apparent that Podolski was no central striker, so Giroud and Walcott formed an uneasy kind of striker partnership, with Theo loping in from the right. In the summer of 2013, Arsenal forlornly chased first Gonzalo Higuain and then Luis Suarez, either of whom would have taken Giroud’s starting spot.

For the first few games of the 2014-15 season, Alexis started as a centre forward, with Giroud again sealed in the envelope marked Plan B on the bench. This worked to good effect at Goodison Park when Alexis was hooked at half time and Giroud bagged a last minute equaliser. His predilection for changing games from the bench is very good; he almost unwittingly talks himself out of his preferred job in that sense. Of course Giroud was injured shortly after that goal against Everton, Arsenal had to reshuffle the pack and the plan to use Alexis as a striker has since been shelved. Giroud starts most games, but he has been left out of plenty of big fixtures. He was omitted from the starting line-up for a Champions League tie against Bayern Munich and for F.A. Cup matches against Liverpool, Everton and a semi-final against Wigan.

Last season, Theo Walcott was preferred in the F.A. Cup Final (where Giroud again scored from the bench). Olivier is clearly on a temporary visa as Arsenal’s starting forward until Wenger can find someone better, because he does not omit other regular picks from big matches in the same way. Giroud finds appreciation difficult to come by from all quarters, Arsenal fans reared on a diet of Wright, Henry and van Persie in their youths (or Smith, Nicholas, McDonald, Radford or Baker, depending on your, ahem, ‘seniority’) recognise him as a bracket below that vintage. As a result, his qualities are often underplayed and sometimes, even used against him. It’s quite obvious that the manager is just waiting for the right player to replace him.

Every time Arsenal’s form goes remotely south, the extended disco version of “You can’t win the league with Giroud” is the first tune to crank from the social media jukebox. However muscular and strapping, it seem Olivier will continue to be Arsenal’s unwanted stepson for a little while longer.

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Tags: Higuain, Striker, Podolski, Giroud, Wenger, Suarez, Henry, Wengerball, Centre Forward, Ennui, One Touch, Unwanted Stepson

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