With Danny Welbeck still in the process of returning to match fitness, Olivier Giroud was handed an opportunity to reclaim his place in the regular starting lineup. Did he take advantage of this chance?
Yes and no.
It all depends on what you expect from a striker. If you want someone who selflessly keeps the centre-backs occupied, ensuring plenty of space for all of Arsenal’s other attacking threats to work in, and providing a foil for others to link off, then Giroud was extremely effective. If you want someone getting on the end of chances and being clinical in front of goal, then he was completely ineffective.
It was that sort of game.
Giroud did everything that he is good at, holding up the ball, acting as a de-facto wall for the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Aaron Ramsey, and even Hector Bellerin at times to bounce the ball off and then run past. When Arsenal pass the ball as well as they did against West Brom, this tactic is very effective.
But when moves broke down, and an attacking outlet was required when the likes of Mesut Özil was deep in the opposition half but isolated, he was often too slow to react or too cautious with getting into the box, and instead he looked to come short in order to get Özil out of trouble.
This is the Giroud paradox; he is so influential in getting others into the game, but does very little in creating chances for himself. He has to be incredibly proficient in making chances for others to make up for not being able to make his own chances. Tonight, he created two chances.
Two. That’s not good enough.
Then there was his defensive work. Having a striker that can deal with opposition threats during set pieces is incredibly important, just think back to how vital Didier Drogba was to Chelsea’s defensive schemes. When West Brom hit the crossbar from a header, it was Giroud who was too late attacking the ball in his zone.
These are all little errors that would be eradicated by a run of games in the starting lineup, but with Welbeck getting closer to full fitness, the chances of such a run become slimmer and slimmer, especially with average performances like this evening.
Arsenal have four games left this season. To guarantee Champions League football, they need to win three of them. Can they afford to give Giroud the time he needs to play into, whilst still needing results, and with other options displaying better form? I sincerely doubt so.