Olivier Giroud is not world class.
At least, that’s a common shot fired by Gunners the world over.
It’s not that anyone wants to belittle our French forward, but most people think that, although he can do a job at a certain level and makes for a decent Plan B, he is not good enough to take us to the next level as a club.
He’s not that household name, that star player, he’s not that world class talent that we require.
Louis van Gaal was recently in the news for lamenting his lack of a 20 goal per season striker, despite boasting three forwards in his squad who rank significantly higher on most people’s lists of quality strikers than Giroud.
Indeed, all three of Rooney, van Persie and Falcao have been (and often still are) labelled as world class talents.
Yet Olivier scored 17 and 22 goals in his first two seasons in English football, and is well on course to hit 20 again despite missing a large chunk of the season with a broken ankle.
What has he done to deserve such a tarnished reputation in comparison?
This season, ‘flop‘ Giroud has the same number of league goals (10) as £27m Rooney and £22m van Persie despite playing markedly less games, and £43.5m Falcao has just four goals in the same number of matches.
Is he really getting a fair deal?
Let’s take a closer look.
SHOTS -> ON TARGET -> GOALS
For a forward, there is a school of thought that only one statistic matters – how many goals you score.
Olivier Giroud has more goals (0.83) than any of the United forwards – they have a best of 0.45, including 1 penalty (all statistics are per 90 minutes to remove the bias of starts over substitute appearances).
So maybe he has more shots?
Indeed, he does – 3.96 shots per game with van Persie the next closest at 2.95.
But OIi also has the best conversion rate of his shots (21.0%) compared to Rooney as the pick of the United trio at 19.8%. So he has more shots and he converts more of them?
Well, that means he scores more goals.
Ok, but maybe all his shots are in prime positions?
Actually, Giroud takes 74.5% of his shots from inside the box, and only Rooney has fewer at 47.1% – perhaps not a surprise when you consider he has been playing in midfield for chunks of the season. Indeed, van Persie takes a whopping 86.1% of his shots from inside the area.
This is all intuitively confusing, as anyone who has watched Arsenal this season will doubtless be able to recall countless chances which Giroud has spurned to the left, right and over the top of the goal.
In terms of shot accuracy, our Frenchman has the worst shot accuracy of the four at 48% (van Persie is the next lowest at 53% and Falcao best at 60%).
PERCENTAGE GAME? WHAT PERCENTAGE GAME?
Yet, despite having the lowest shot accuracy, Oli has the highest conversion rate and Falcao is the exact reverse with the greatest shot accuracy but just 13.5% conversion rate.
All of a sudden it starts to make sense – Olivier Giroud shoots on an all or nothing basis – he doesn’t mess about trying to hit the target, instead his focus is on giving himself the best possible chance of scoring a goal.
So he’s equally likely to hit the back of the net as make a complete hash of it – he’s not going to hit many ‘percentage shots’ which are on target but unlikely to truly test the keeper.
Intuitively this makes sense – Giroud has an uncanny knack for mixing the sublime with the ridiculous.
In some games – oh hey Monaco – all the stars align in a particularly bizarre jinx and he can’t buy a goal for love nor money.
Yet when all is said and done, he delivers more for his team than any of the United three, despite being regularly chastised for spending too much time running the channels and playing as a pivot for the midfield to use as a springboard.
Indeed, the Frenchman also creates 1.38 chances per game, which Rooney, admittedly, can better at 1.60 from his deeper midfield position, but is still markedly in excess of van Persie and Falcao.
The naked eye backs this up – whenever Arsenal are playing one of their exquisite passing moves, you can bet that somewhere along the line Olivier Giroud is involved with some one-touch interchanges, such as those which epitomised Jack Wilshere’s goal of the season last year against Norwich.
To add some perspective, the current darling of the Arsenal twitterati and, increasingly, the English media – Mesut Ozil – racks up 2.76 chances created per 90 minutes, while the greatest assist maker the world has ever seen* – Cesc Fabregas – is notching 2.99 chances per game. England’s great white hope, Harry Kane, is down at just 1.06 per 90 – it turns out that Giroud’s figure isn’t too shabby in that context, especially for a ‘target man’.
*Anyone familiar with Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea conspiracy…?
In fact, it’s pretty hard to find an area where Giroud doesn’t surpass his United rivals – he has the most headed goals, the most goals from set pieces, as well as the most goals overall.
But still he gets called a flop – perhaps it’s his all round game that’s the problem?
JACK OF ALL TRADES?
When we look at pass completion, we start to find a slightly different picture – and we all know how important pass completion is to the success of a team!
Giroud has just 64% pass completion, with all three of United’s trio at 84% or 85%.
However, that is on significantly more passes than any of the Mancunians, and a whopping 51.9% of his passes are forwards in spite of his position on the pitch. Even Rooney in his midfield role only managed 48.3% forward, while van Persie and Falcao are at 42.3% and 35.9% respectively.
If we step away from the stats for a moment, and think about Giroud’s game – quite often he’ll try an ambitious through ball or a cross field pass to open the game up – while his execution may not always be perfect, he is weighing up in his head the benefits of his actions, and whether it is worth the risk.
It is greatly to his credit that he seems equally adept playing delicate one-twos around the box, swinging the ball across to the other wing or sliding it in behind the defence for one of his teammates.
There’s also a reason Arsene Wenger (a) starts him so often and (b) is reluctant to take him off in all but the most secure of games.
MASTER OF SOME
Olivier wins 52.7% of his aerial duels despite regularly being isolated up front – Rooney is United’s strongest performer (a bit of a trend – maybe the United fans claiming he should be played up front rather than in midfield have a point!) with just 38.7% and neither of the two real forwards at Old Trafford have surpassed 30%.
Clearly winning the ball is important up front, but in an Arsenal team so unreliable at defending set pieces, it takes on new significance – rare is the game where we see Giroud taken off unless we have at least a two goal lead, as he is our best header of the ball defensively.
If sometimes his accuracy is suspect, his timing and strength to negotiate the right position are undeniable.
At 6’4″ he’s not so very much smaller than Mertesacker yet significantly better at jumping and attacking the ball. His role in his own box cannot be underestimated, making 1.47 clearances per game (again only bettered by Rooney with 1.65 in his midfield role).
FLOP OR NOT?
Every way you cut it, statistics-wise anyway, Giroud is streets ahead of his United rivals.
I don’t think for a moment that any of them are actually world class at this moment in time, but in terms of contribution at both ends of the pitch, I wouldn’t trade Giroud for any of the Mancunians.
It just makes a mockery of the “flop” tag that is oddly pinned to his lapel by his detractors.
Yes he frustrates, with his Gallic shrugs and his obvious despair when he does miss a chance (would you really rather have Balotelli? Really? I love that he cares). But he is also the perfect fit for this Arsenal team, with a unique skillset that allows him to get involved in build up play and finishing, from his own half and in the six yard box.
Truth is, in writing this piece I’ve actually become even more convinced of his importance to this Arsenal team, and how underrated he is.
He will always have the odd game where he can’t buy a goal for love nor money, but that is true of pretty much any forward.
It’s easy to gloss over some of van Persie’s misses (think of the chance away at Barcelona which would have put us through!) but the reality is it happens to all great strikers.
All we can ask is that he tries his maximum, and 99% of the time that means we have a fantastic striker on our hands.
Let’s hope that Monday night isn’t one of the 1% days.