All of Arsène Wenger’s title-winning teams at Arsenal, as well as George Graham’s great 1990-91 side, have had at least four centre-backs and four strikers in their squad. It wasn’t simply a question of quantity which led to their moments of glory, but quality: a title-winning team needs four high-quality central defenders and centre-forwards, and not just one or two of each, supported by untried youngsters. Now, for the first time in many years, Arsenal might just be about to meet Adams’s minimum requirement for a title tilt, but only if they refuse to sell Olivier Giroud.
The Olivier Giroud Situation
Whatever the French equivalent of marmite is—and given the general excellence of French cuisine, there may not be one—Giroud is it. He is either loved or loathed, regarded as a top-class striker or a useless (and slow) lump, both by Arsenal fans and those of the French national team. He is seen as either a great balance to the other forwards in the two sides, be it Alexis Sanchez, Danny Welbeck and Theo Walcott or Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappé et. al., or exhibit A in the cases against Wenger and Didier Deschamps.
Such ambivalence about Giroud also extends to his own performances. Quite simply, he is capable of being either brilliant or awful, even within the same game. For every scorpion kick, there is also the memory of an atrocious inability to score the easy goals that a top-class marksman should. Whether his performance at home to Monaco in the 2014-15 Champions League will live as long in the memory as his goal against Crystal Palace last season is another matter entirely.
It appears that Wenger is equally unsure about him. After all, he signed Alexandre Lacazette to be the kind of penalty-box predator for whom he has been longing for decades, and started the out-of-practice Danny Welbeck in place of the Frenchman in the FA Cup final. At the same time, only this week Wenger was maintaining in his press conferences in Australia that he wants to retain most of his existing players, including Giroud, rather than sell them on to offset the money spent on Lacazette.
It is likely that Wenger will stick with Giroud. After all, even he has to retire some day and it is almost inconceivable that he will remain the Arsenal manager for much longer than the two years of his new contract, at the end of which he will be nearly 70. As a result, the next two years represent Wenger’s last chance to win one of the two big prizes – the Premier League or the Champions League – and if the Champions League is likely to remain elusive, winning the Premier League is at least a possibility.
It is in that context that Wenger’s stance on Alexis must be seen. For so long, Wenger has been the shrewd businessman who has arguably put financial success ahead of footballing achievement, but now, with so little time left at the sharp end of football, he is prepared to keep the Chilean for one more season, even if it means losing him next summer for nothing.
Similarly, he will probably be prepared to keep Giroud at Arsenal as one of the four strikers he requires for a serious title challenge, alongside Lacazette, Welbeck and Alexis, who showed last season that he can comfortably play at centre-forward if required.
The difficulty, of course, will be convincing the 30-year-old to remain at a club where, in little more than a season, he has gone from being first-choice striker to fourth-choice, especially when there is a World Cup next summer and so many younger strikers are competing for his place in the French side. Nevertheless, Giroud signed a new contract last season, even when he was largely stuck on the substitutes’ bench, and Wenger should compel him to adhere to it, at least for one more year.
Arsenal have more than the four centre-backs needed to win the title. In fact, given that Wenger is likely to continue with the three-at-the-back system that enabled Arsenal to finish the season so strongly, culminating in their FA Cup triumph, the five or six they currently have could prove to be a bare minimum. Regardless, they will need at least four strikers and as things stand, Giroud should be one of them.