Strikers are judged on how many goals they score.
It’s just one of those facts of life, one that they simply have to get used to. It’s the fact which causes Jamie Vardy to be (currently) worshipped, despite the fact that he’s just a more in form but less talented and more limited version of Theo Walcott.
And in Olivier Giroud‘s case, it’s the fact which dictates that however many cute knock downs or delicate flicks ons he produces, even if they lead to a goal, he will still attract a huge amount of criticism if he goes 15 games without a goal.
Make no mistake, he’s a good striker. This season his number read 37 starts for Arsenal in all competitions, with a further 16 substitute appearances, with returns of 24 goals and six assists. Even allowing for the fact that he brings a defensive contribution and that he has the ability to hold the ball up (critically important at times in a team of midgets), they’re still numbers which aren’t the end of the world but they’re equally not setting the world on fire.
In fact, they’re numbers which place Giroud pretty much exactly where he should be: a valuable and useful squad player, but not quite at the level required to be the main man in an aspiring title winning team. A contributor but not a director.
Meanwhile for France he’s currently on a run of five goals in his last four games, having picked up the mantel so carelessly and casually discarded by one Karim Benzema. Yet, he is received by those French fans with an even worse atmosphere – if that’s even possible – than he faced at times last season from us Arsenal fans.
It’s become so bad that the likes of national boss Didier Deschamps and teammate Andre Pierre Gignac have felt compelled to come out publicly in his defence. “Unfair” and “ridiculous” are two words they’ve used to describe criticism of our forward, and Deschamps has turned to that fact I spoke about at the top – the requisite of scoring goals – to underline how Oli has more than done his speaking on the pitch: “he scores…which is what we ask him to do.”
Oh the irony.
Even the banner wars have managed to cross the channel, with some fans begging: “Get injured please Giroud.”
I hope they’re not Arsenal fans.
At times this season, especially during Giroud’s barren spell, I’ve been slightly embarrassed by the atmosphere in the North Bank. At the end of the day, you can potentially take issue with the manager’s decision not to purchase another striker – more on that later – but the man himself always puts in the effort. He typically suffers from dips in form which are compounded by his being the very definition of a confidence player. He doesn’t help himself by so clearly beating himself up about missed chances too.
There were memorably raucous boos when Arsene Wenger withdrew Alex Iwobi in favour of Giroud against Norwich late on in the season, only for it to prove the correct decision as he delivered a quality assist for Danny Welbeck’s winner. It was almost doubly pleasing for that ‘boy done good’ feeling you get when someone comes through when the odds are stacked against them.
You can disagree all you like about whether the man is good enough to play for Arsenal, but I always find it hard to blame the player concerned that they find themselves at the club. I find it particularly difficult to express that dissatisfaction at a point in the season where we’re still playing for something and that player is a critical part of the proceedings.
To be clear, that’s not to say I’m happy with the Frenchman as our key striker – I’m not. Our improvement in that area over the summer could be the difference between winning a major title or falling well short.
Equally though, I see no point in purchasing someone who isn’t going to be a marked improvement – either now or with the potential to be so in a year or two – on Giroud.
I was disappointed last summer at our lack of recruitment in that area, but it was hard to see a striker who moved during that window who was available to us and would really have been a big step up. Whether we like it or not, availability does play a part – this is real life not Football Manager.
However, this summer the merry-go-round has started early, and with an international competition to push it around with greater pace, it would be very difficult to accept the same kind of summer this year.
For me, Oli needs to have a really good tournament to come back to London Colney with confidence, so that he can be a key member of the squad in 2016/17. He won’t be the one to dictate whether that’s as the first choice or the benchwarmer, but all he can do is come back fit, firing and ready to fight for his place.
He’s a hugely streaky player – he actually scored 13 goals in 12 starts between September 26th and December 21st last year – so that confidence and form from the Euros is the key to him being able to deliver some early season success for us.
There’s a certain symmetry between his situation, as a forward of choice for the national side facing fan disgruntlement, and that of one Wayne Rooney but in a white shirt.
The difference is: only one of them is currently delivering the goods where it matters – on the field of play.
So good luck Oli, have a great tournament, and prove to us that you’re up for the fight.
And fingers crossed too that you have a new teammate to help you raise your game.