Olivier Giroud’s form since joining Arsenal has been indifferent. His performances in the Premier League have left a lot to be desired and after just one goal in ten appearances, it appears Giroud is a long way from filling the void left by his predecessor Robin Van Persie. But was Giroud brought in for that purpose? Or was he brought in for another reason?
Giroud doesn’t strike one as a typical ‘Wenger-style’ forward. When compared to the majestic talents of Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka and Robin Van Persie the differences are clear. Henry, Anelka and Van Persie were all creative, fast and clinical strikers. Giroud is a classic centre forward – relatively slow but good in the air and capable of holding the ball high up the pitch. In a lot of ways he is almost incomparable to his forbearers.
With this in mind, Wenger must have bought Giroud to suit a different purpose. His predecessors existed to win and change the dynamic of games – Giroud simply doesn’t look like that type of player. So why did Wenger buy him?
Wenger brought Giroud to Arsenal so he could accommodate a new system, a system that no longer relies on goals from only one source, an interchangeable forward line each member of which is capable of scoring and creating. Giroud was bought to lead this line, using his assets to combine with teammates, playing provider as well as goal scorer.
Liverpool play a similar style of attacking, possession-based football under Brendan Rodgers, but with one key difference: Rodgers doesn’t play with a centre forward like Giroud (which is why he released Andy Carroll to West Ham). Luis Suarez leads the line for the Reds, a player very much in the Henry-, Anelka- and Van Persie-mould. So it’s interesting to compare the two teams’ lead strikers and the way in which they play.
Arsenal and Liverpool are both attacking, possession-based teams. Arsenal lead the Premier League with an average of 60.4% possession and 541 short passes per game and Liverpool are fourth, averaging 57.5% possession and 470 short passes.
Both teams have world-class creative midfielders, fast, agile wingers, both make a lot of short controlled passes, and both share a very attack-minded philosophy. This is why it’s interesting to see the differences between the two strikers, because the teams around them play in similar ways, yet the players themselves are very different, and fill very different roles.
Now there are lot of contributing factors to take into consideration, some of which we’ll investigate below, but would Arsenal have benefited more from buying a striker like Suarez, than they would have by buying Giroud? Or does Giroud provide more than just goals?
Below are a sample of the players’ statistics so far this season. The table shows how many minutes each player has played, as well as goals scored, total shots, total touches, successful dribbles, and minutes per loss of possession.
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Suarez has had more pitch time than Giroud, but he has also scored considerably more goals. Suarez is averaging a goal every 119.28 minutes, where as Giroud’s average is one every 622 minutes. Suarez is also seeing much more of the ball, getting a touch every 1.36 minutes compared to Giroud’s 2.28.
The other statistic heavily favouring Suarez is how many successful dribbles he has made over Giroud. Suarez has made 35 (3.5 per game), where Giroud has made just 5 (0.5 per game).
These two stats in particular highlight the different ways in which each player is used. Suarez is involved in as much attacking play as possible, where as Giroud is used more sparingly when deemed tactically necessary. Suarez sees a lot of the ball and creates his own goals as well as finishing chances created by his team mates. Giroud has to use his strength and aerial ability to hold up the ball and play in his team mates – very different to Suarez.
One statistic that favours Giroud, and that begins to paint a picture of his style of play, is the ‘minutes per loss of possession’ stat. Here we can see that Giroud loses possession only once every 39 minutes. This is what Wenger has him on the pitch for. When Giroud receives the ball, he rarely relinquishes it to the opposition. This gives Arsenal’s plethora of attacking talent time to get up the pitch and turn defence into attack very quickly, without compromising their defensive solidity.
So it comes as no surprise to see Arsenal ranked third in the Premier League for goals scored on the counter attack. Giroud plays a big part in Arsenal’s transition when attacking. He buys Arsenal’s midfielders and wingers like Cazorla, Gervinho, Podolski and Walcott time to get forward and get at the opposition defence.
Steve Bould has joined the coaching staff at The Emirates and, alongside Wenger, seems to have made Arsenal a much better defensive unit. They now defend deeper (most of the time) and to allow for that they have to be able to counter-attack effectively. This is where Giroud shines, and Arsenal need his skill set to be able to adapt effectively.
Liverpool struggle on the counter-attack. They sit bottom of the league for this stat, not scoring a single goal. Liverpool rely on their main striker (Suarez) to provide their goals, mainly from open play, as Arsenal did with Van Persie last season.
Suarez has scored seven of Liverpool’s thirteen goals this season, and is the only player on his team to score more than a single goal. Of the fifteen goals Arsenal have scored this season twelve have come from their attacking players – Cazorla, Podolski, Walcott and Gervinho have all scored two or more and Giroud has one.
Arsenal are looking to share the goal scoring responsibility amongst all their attacking players this season, rather than rely on a single source. Giroud is a crucial part of this and Arsenal wouldn’t be able to play this style of football without using the kind of player he is.
Suarez is a trememdously talented footballer and would be an asset to any club. But Giroud suits what Wenger is trying to achieve, and just because he isn’t on the score sheet every week doesn’t mean he isn’t a world-class forward. Wenger has bought him for a purpose, and so far he is helping Arsenal achieve what they set out to do: to become more versatile, reactive and adaptable.
All of the stats from this article have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.com – Subscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) Check out our new Top Stats feature on the Stats Centre which allows you to compare all players in the league & read about new additions to the stats centre.
Football In Numbers looks at football matches, tactics, players and teams across Europe with a focus on the Premier League.
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