After half of his fourth season at Arsenal being completed, surely the amount of articles about Olivier Giroud’s “to be or not to be” has now reached an apex that can only be met by apathy and exasperation. Despite double-figure goal scoring in all four seasons, Arsenal’s main man somehow cannot escape scrutiny, criticism and a constant comparison with the reverie that we’ve come to know as the “Top Quality Striker”.
This towering image of a striker that – year after year – scores loads of goals, provides heaps of assists for his teammates and infantilises opposition defences week in and week out, all the way to domestic and European prosperity. Conquering hearts and minds for decades, the “Top Quality Striker” is what all teams dream of and what all fans will always compare their players with. However, assuming that this utopian figure of a footballer is our ideal choice as a striker; how far off are we in reality?
By now, we’re all quite familiar with Thierry Henry’s comments about Arsenal being unable to win the league with Olivier Giroud up front, comments that he backtracked on less than a month later. But was anyone surprised? Yet another “expert” (and I use that term loosely) using Giroud as a doormat, tarnishing his hard work on the pitch and influencing millions of fans that gobble up their judgements like an all-you-can-eat buffet. Giroud has somehow become an easy target.
This summer’s transfer window proved to be the last straw on my proverbial camel’s back, when literally any striker that had scored a goal in their career was hailed as a better option than the French donkey at Arsenal. I was sick of hearing how the acquisition of the latest flavour of the month player would suddenly transform Arsenal FC to the next Roman Empire. But what is it that makes Giroud such an easy target? How come he’s never enough? Even this season, with 10 goals scored after half the season gone by (1230 mins played, 0.73 goals per 90 mins), it seems like he’s not even close to matching the TQS (Top Quality Striker) criteria.
In this spreadsheet, I have compared Giroud with more or less all the other strikers that fans wanted to see him be replaced with. Some of them were excluded due to not even playing enough this season, such as Jackson Martinez, Alvaro Morata, Mario Balotelli, Loïc Remy and Fernando Llorente. Other players have been eliminated due to how unrealistic it would be for a rival to sell their top striker to us, or players that are out of our reach financially, such as Sergio Agüero and Robert Lewandowski. I have only compared these players for the first half of this season, so it might not be decisive statistics, but I felt like I needed to correlate their numbers anyway to gain some sort of a perspective.
My comparison wasn’t as telling as I had thought. I learned that Karim Benzema is one of few players with consistently good stats and it also reaffirmed my belief that Higuain could possibly be our TQS, even though last season’s Giroud had better numbers than last season’s Higuain.
But what are these numbers really telling us?
It’s definitely not painting a clear picture of each player. Giroud is so far only leading on three fronts: Headed goals, goals from set pieces and goals from crossed free kicks. Despite that, he has scored 10 goals in 1230 mins, compared to Cavani’s 10 goals in 1268 mins and Diego Costa’s 5 goals in 1268 mins. The number of shots he takes per 90 mins is only trumped by Benzema and Higuain, and he’s only outdone by Benteke and Mandzukic in terms of aerial duels won. So he’s not exactly showing consistently top-ranking numbers, but who is? Higuain is having a Vardy-like season in Italy and Benzema is once again proving to be one of Europe’s most consistent strikers, but other than that…what? Who is coming close to our absurd TQS requirements? There were brief, quixotic rumours about Robert Lewandowski coming to Arsenal in the summer, but not even he runs away from the rest in terms of equating numbers.
So these statistics can be defined as somewhat arbitrary in our hunt for the TQS that we so desperately need (apparently). Because that’s our only chance of winning the league, right? A TQS that demolishes anything that comes in his way, scores a million goals and wins his team the league title as the top scorer in the league.
Actually, if we look back at last year’s football season, none of the top scorers in the Top 5 European leagues won the league title.
- In England, Sergio Agüero was the top scorer when Chelsea won the title.
- In Spain, Cristiano Ronaldo was the top scorer when Barcelona won the title.
- In Germany, Alexander Meier was the top scorer when Bayern München won the title.
- In Italy, Luca Toni and Mauro Icardi were the top scorers when Juventus won the title.
- In France, Alexandre Lacazette was the top scorer when PSG won the title.
There are other factors that you can correlate between the main strikers for the teams that have won the league in the Top 5 European leagues in the past seasons and they are far more important than purely scoring goals and being your league’s top goal scorer.
First of all, they’re all consistent in their goal scoring.
With the exception of the anomaly that is Leo Messi and a substandard last season at Manchester City for Carlos Tevez, we can see that the title winning strikers all follow their goal scoring patterns with pretty decent consistency.
The anomaly in this scenario is clearly Sergio Agüero, who we all know is a fantastic striker, but has a troubling injury record.
Other than that, all four strikers show their consistency, with our Frenchman doing his best to keep up. But I dare say that he’s not the incompetent buffoon in front of goal as he often is portrayed as.
The second important factor for the strikers is what players they have around them. Being serviced by technical and efficient players behind and around you is key and time has surely taught us that no striker wins the league singlehandedly, not even Messi.
Okay, maybe Messi, but you get my point.
For the 2014/15 season, the main strikers of each title-winning team had at least three key players behind them that not only served them with vital passes and plays, but the team as a whole. These numbers can portray different scenarios: either the style of play for each team is so vastly different that these so-called key players aren’t as vital for the eventual goal scoring as one might think, or maybe the main strikers of the teams pull a pretty heavy load themselves. That case can definitely be argued for in the cases of Barcelona and Paris St Germain.
I, however, believe that the involvement of the three main key players is extremely important to consider when discussing and comparing strikers, especially in the Premier League.
Arsenal’s three main key players last season were Santi Cazorla, Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez. All three were heavily involved in basically every Arsenal attack and are thus a pivotal part of Arsenal’s goal scoring.
With those three players totalling the highest numbers, the spotlight is immediately cast on the main man: Olivier Giroud. Connections can be made to his shot accuracy, which last season was 50%, compared to Lacazette’s 67% and Higuain’s 59%, and continues to be 50% this season. However, the three key players around him are stepping up their game. The number of key passes per 90 mins total between them is now 8.04 halfway through the season and to add to that, Mesut Özil is likely to break Thierry Henry’s assist record of 20 assists in one season. How many of those assists will have lead to Olivier Giroud goals come May?
Giroud himself is showing a remarkable consistency in his game. His goals per 90 mins, shot accuracy and pass completion halfway through this season are identical with what they were at the end of last season. His main improvement seems to be in his holdup play, where he’s already known for his outstanding strength and efficiency. Higher numbers in aerial duels won, successful take ons and total duels won shows how he fights harder than ever before and compared with Benzema and Higuain, he tops their numbers.
The third factor I consider to be essential is whether or not the striker is effectively part of the team’s spine or not.
Now, this one is quite abstract and open to interpretation. I’m sure people will be split on this and argue ad infinitum, but I’d like to throw my name into the hat and say that Giroud is most definitely part of our team’s spine and he’s doing a great job at it. His contribution to Arsenal’s play is immense and stretches beyond the number of goals scored.
In the past couple of seasons, the team has cultured a strong backbone of experienced, hardworking players and no one has been more suitable to be the leading man up front in that spine than Giroud. I’d like to even argue the fact that Olivier is more part of our current team’s spine than Robin van Persie ever was, no matter how many goals he scored. His 30 league goals in 38 games during his last season at Arsenal was mightily impressive and was rightfully hailed by fans around the world, but van Persie’s acrimonious departure from the club left behind a burden that any professional striker would’ve struggled to handle.
Despite never reaching the goal-scoring heights of RvP so far, Giroud is doing a steady job. After van Persie’s last season with Arsenal, he went on to score 26 goals in 38 games for Manchester United and helping them on to the title. So why didn’t he help Arsenal to win the title the season before? Factor two and factor three: lack of potent support from the key players in the team and the inability of being the spearhead in the so desperately needed spine in the Arsenal team. Actually, that last one might not be so much down to him as the rest of the team, since he went on to perfectly gel in to a strong and efficient Manchester United squad, where he wasn’t the lone and shining star anymore – he was part of a collective, a forceful collective that was acutely needed at Arsenal.
However, Robin van Persie would’ve never won the Premier League with Arsenal if he had stayed anyway. Factors two and three were already missing, but what about factor one: his consistency? We all know how much he struggled with injuries, but during his 8 years at Arsenal, he still managed to string together at least 22 games in 6 of those seasons. In those 6 seasons, his goals/game ratio came to 0.46, whereas if you look at Giroud’s four seasons, his ratio currently stands at 0.47 goals/game. Not much of a difference, you might think, but Giroud is getting better – and so are his teammates.
Hence bringing forth the importance of having a strong spine in your team and that’s where I’d like to argue the fact that Giroud is a fantastic striker to have in your team’s spine. Having a TQS should be less of a priority for a top-level team such as Arsenal than having a dependable, experienced and solid spine, which we now have.
Comparing the backbone of today’s team with the squad of the 2011/12 season, our centre backs in Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny are vastly more experienced and more comfortable playing together; our key players have changed from the struggling Gervinho, Arshavin and Alex Song to the amazing trio of Santi Cazorla, Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez; but what’s even more important is that we now have one of the best goalkeepers in the world playing week in and week out. Add to that an ever so consistent striker, that couldn’t react to criticism and a lack of form better than he has, and you’ve got yourself a team that has every ingredient for a title winning team. Keep in mind that we’re not talking about a financially comfortable mega brand of a club, such as Manchester United, Manchester City, Bayern München, Real Madrid and Barcelona. If we were to win the league this season, it would be a god damned miracle, but we’re slowly but surely shaking off the deadweight that has held us down over the past couple of seasons, we’re building a squad that looks stronger than it has in years and the team possesses a stability which we fans have desperately called for over the past decade.
Arsenal finishing the first half of the season as league leaders isn’t anything new to us and not many of us are counting our chickens before they’ve hatched, but this year is something out of the ordinary. Chelsea has done us all a huge favour and eliminated themselves from the title race early; the drama filled Manchester United boat is slowly but steadily rocking in the table below us and surely there’s no one that actually thinks that Leicester is going to keep fighting come May? So what stands in our way isn’t whether our striker is “good enough” for our team or
So what stands in our way isn’t whether our striker is “good enough” for our team or not, what stands in the team’s way is the team itself.
This article was written for Arseblog News by Nima Safai. You can follow him on Twitter here.