Olivier Giroud is underrated. Yes that’s right, underrated. Despite bearing the brunt of Arsenal-based criticism from those outside the club (be it fans or pundits) because of his commitment to his hair and physique, Giroud is now so commonly scrutinised it’s more than fair to describe him as unappreciated. However, instead of targeting him for what he isn’t, perhaps we should start lauding him for what he is.
The Frenchman joined the Gunners from Montpellier in a reported £12m deal which has paid for itself over time in the context of modern transfer fees. He underwent an adjustment period upon joining the club, like any new signing, and finished with a very respectable 17 goals and 12 assists in his first English campaign.
Not many in England knew much about him when he initially arrived, and some were frustrated that he wasn’t the man they wanted up front to replace Robin van Persie who’d departed for Manchester United earlier that summer. Realistically, though, Arsenal were never going to replace his production with just one player; at the time, there were very few players like the Dutchman in world football.
What they didn’t know was that Arsenal had acquired one of the brightest talents in the French league, snaring a player who’d just come from a 25-goal campaign. Some did know that, and expected him to instantly replicate it in England. However, the Premier League is a far different breed and very few players hit the 25-goal mark.
Giroud is not simply a goal-scorer, though. He is always the player doing the little things, the intangibles that bring others into the game. There are few in the league so dominant in the air (let alone also so technically proficient), and only four of the other top 20 strikers can claim to win headers at a similar rate as the Arsenal number 12.
To put that into further context due to the way his side plays, his aerial ability is not used as much as other strikers might be in other teams. However, his skills are there allow him to be a safety valve for his team, holding up play for the forwards and midfielders around him to run onto. He’s also adept at through balls, and it’s a big reason why he’s tallied 28 assists since arriving in England.
Despite lacking the pace required to latch onto the cutbacks he receives, Giroud is still a classy finisher. Not quite world class on the level of a Sergio Agüero, though, but there aren’t many who are as good as Arsenal’s frontman. It can be cheap to say, but the fact remains that statistics back it up. Fans don’t want to see that, though, but here’s the dirty secret of a lot those less enthusiastic about his skills – there’s a chance that many don’t watch him play enough.
Nobody has scored more goals with their head since he joined Arsenal (17), and his goals per 90 minutes ratio this season (0.8 per 90) is only bettered by Agüero and Jamie Vardy. In fact, he was fourth last year in that statistic (behind Diego Costa, Harry Kane and Agüero again) despite breaking his leg in August and not returning until December. If all those strikers are considered elite and are lauded with praise, then why not Giroud? It seems to be all about perception.
Look at a comparison between Giroud and England captain, Wayne Rooney, who, despite recent criticism, is the golden boy of the English public and press (via Transfermarkt):
- 2012/13: Giroud 17 goals, Rooney 16 goals
- 2013/14: Giroud 22 goals, Rooney 19 goals
- 2014/15: Giroud 19 goals, Rooney 14 goals
- 2015/16 (so far): Giroud 10 goals, Rooney 6 goals
Yet, throughout this period, Rooney is constantly praised as a great whereas Giroud is constantly lambasted. The numbers add up, but the criticism doesn’t.
The Frenchman will be the one heading clear defensive corners or flicking them on in attack while chasing back as part of the defensive unit (which, in modern football, is a crucial part of a team’s tactical set-up). He is a good finisher with a lethal shot off his left side, and he bagged his sixth headed goal this season already with this superb finish:
If another striker amongst the elite scores similarly, it’s touted as a magnificent header, and let’s not forget it turned the game in Arsenal’s favour when they’d been mostly pedestrian until then. However, with Giroud, it’s largely ignored because it doesn’t fit people’s narratives.
When Arsenal falter, people like to point out that they believe the Gunners still need a striker to truly be title challengers. This is despite the fact the glaring need is where they have not reinforced their midfield appropriately over the last few transfer windows, and are now paying it through an injury crisis in the area.
Upfront, they can call on Giroud, Theo Walcott, Alexis Sánchez, Danny Welbeck (when fit) and even Joel Campbell and Mesut Özil. Do they really need more there besides perhaps width and versatility? In Walcott and Giroud they have a striking combination worth 40 plus goals a season; another pure striker would merely present not enough games for the players they’d have in that position.
At the end of the day, statistics don’t lie; people do so to support their own version of the story, though. Instead of degrading Giroud for being a “pretty boy” and for what he isn’t, start appreciating him for what he is. He’ll be vindicated when he’s gone, because there aren’t many well-rounded forwards like him in world football as it is today.