“Great touch for a big man.”
It’s a classic comment often bandied about which is nothing but a backhanded compliment.
Usually it is directed at the likes of Peter Crouch and Andy Carroll – big men who find the odd piece of fantastic technique every now and again but struggle to replicate it with any kind of regularity.
Arsenal have a big man too – Olivier Giroud is 6’4”, second only the Per Mertesacker and Wojciech Szczesny in the height stakes, and he has an enormous impact on this squad which is heavy on small nippy players and light on inches.
I’ll get to his touch later, but he is such a versatile player – when we’re defending set pieces he is a rock for example. Moreover, when we need someone to hold the ball up he is able to take on – and defeat – two centre halves at once.
His work rate is impressive both in terms of running the channels, filling in for his wide colleagues when they are out of position and can’t (be bothered to) chase back. He also covers a huge amount of ground laterally to get across to help out with throw ins and charging towards any aerial ball often aimed some distance away from him.
Against West Ham our striker with the model looks delivered a fantastic performance which saw him decimate the unfamiliar centre back pairing of Collins and Kouyate. Every time the ball was played up to him he had them tied in knots, unsure whether to get tight or stand off.
On some occasions he nodded it on for waiting colleagues, on others he brought the ball down on his chest.
However his most common movement was to suck the defenders under the ball, and then bring the ball under deft control in behind them (usually after chasing country miles to make it to the ball as a result of Ospina’s short goal kicks). On all occasions, the ball seemed attracted to him as if drawn by some magnetic force.
It’s not just on Saturday either.
Despite Danny Welbeck’s rapturous reception at Old Trafford, the difference when Olivier came on in that game was notable. Danny’s contribution was all the better for being emotive – the reaction he generated was all about glee and revenge – yet Giroud brought a huge physical presence and also a sense of calm when he was introduced. He also covers a lot more ground laterally than his English colleague, which makes getting the ball forward – and keeping it there – significantly easier.
GIROUD’S BOX OF TRICKS
The other thing that was so magical about Olivier’s game today was the sheer variety of the skills he displayed. Yes, he was indisputably the dominant presence in the West Ham half, but his touch in and around the box was at a level to make a mockery of the “good for a big man” style accusation.
It’s no coincidence that many of Arsenal’s best team goals have involved the Frenchman – he played integral in our two worldie goals last year (Wilshere against Norwich and Rosicky against Sunderland) and he was at it again on Saturday, setting up Ramsey for his goal and generally producing deft touches to set up teammates all game.
GIROUD’S KEY NUMBERS
Then of course there was his goal.
A criticism of Giroud continues to be that he doesn’t score enough goals, in spite of his superior figures to Manchester United’s three forwards and his consistency (and improvement) season on season.
He hit a pretty sweet strike against United earlier this season which was nothing more than a consolation, but his goal today was of similar standard and anything but a consolation.
In a game where Arsenal had been struggling to find the final touch to put this passive West Ham team out of their misery, he applied one which crashed the ball into the top corner. In doing so, he not only settled the nerves of his teammates and manager, but he also served some just desserts to the swathes of fans that had already disappeared off to beat the half time queues.
GIROUD- A MAN FOR ANY OCCASION
We now have, for the first time in a long time, two players who can play through the centre of this Arsenal attack, albeit in very different styles.
The Telegraph hastily published a rather curiously titled article labelling Giroud a flat-track bully.
There’s no denying that he had an absolute shocker against Monaco, but Sergio Aguero ably demonstrated in the evening kick-off against Burnley that even ‘world class‘ strikers can have days where the net eludes them, no matter the number of chances they have.
Olivier has scored in all three of his Premier League games since, and since his return from injury he has also scored in ‘big games‘ against Liverpool, Man City and Everton.
In all honesty, that kind of article just makes me wonder whether the author understands the importance of Olivier to our team – even when he’s not on the score sheet, he rarely fails to stamp himself all over the match, whether by assisting or even just in bringing teammates into the game.
He may not be the perfect striker for every club, but he is ideal for us. I’d be open to signing a striker to support him over the summer, but I’ve yet to see one I’d trade him for.
He had six chances against Monaco in the home leg when his finishing deserted him.
Let’s put it this way: if he can get on the end of six chances in the away leg, I’d fancy our chances of going through.
I have a dream.