When asked before the Bournemouth game about Giroud’s chance of starting on Saturday, Arsene Wenger gave a reply straight from the Football Manager handbook. A coy Wenger said “It’s just game by game, I make the decision on the next game…I thought in this game [against PSG] his physical presence could give them problems at the back…We need everyone on board and it’s just the next game that matters.”
In the two games that Arsenal had played before that question was posed to the manager, Giroud had managed to score two goals – after getting subbed in at Old Trafford and also throughout the game against PSG. Against United he played the last 18 minutes, in which he won one aerial duel, placed that headed shot accurately past De Gea and scored the equalizer. However, against PSG he played the entire 90 minutes scoring one from the spot. In that game as well, to say that he was dominant on the pitch is a bit of an exaggeration. He was certainly dominant in air but in passing, chance creation, and holding on to the ball he was not as good. If chance creation was lacking in the game against PSG, he made up for it by assisting Arsenal’s third goal against Bournemouth on Saturday. Again he was a substitute, but for a change Arsenal were not chasing the game. They were winning 2-1 and Giroud combined with Sanchez to ensure the Gunners’ victory.
But just when it seemed that his fortune was turning for the better, he has suffered a hamstring injury and is out of contention for Arsenal’s League Cup quarterfinal against the Saints. Hopefully his injury will not lay him off for long and he will be able to come back to the Gunners’ squad in a similar form to what he has recently shown. But assuming that this happens, in the mere 123 minutes that he has played in the league so far, has Giroud proven to Arsene Wenger that he deserves to start?
The question is a bit tricky to answer. One part of this question can be answered by understanding why Arsenal will need a striker to either assist Sanchez or to replace him. The other part of the question is what Giroud brings to the table and is that enough for Arsene Wenger to consider him.
Before Arsenal meet Bournemouth again in the league on 4th January, they need to play six league games, one League Cup quarterfinal that can extend to 120 minutes and penalties, and one largely inconsequential but required-to-be played away Champions League game in Basel. That is potentially 720 to 750 minutes of football in 34 days or put another way – 8 games in 34 days – one game every four days. That is some fixture congestion. And while other Premier League teams such as Liverpool or Manchester City have similar fixture congestion, they seem to have better backup plans.
To this number of a game every 4 days, we add one more stat – Alexis Sanchez, Gunners’ primary goal threat, has been really busy. Since the summer of 2014, Sanchez has appeared in a game every 5.8 days. While this stat proves his amazing fitness levels, it also indicates a possibility of fatigue setting in or Sanchez getting injured due to the stress.
Finally, out of the next eight opponents mentioned above, at least four (West Ham, Stoke, West Bromwich Albion, and Crystal Palace) are teams known for their defensive, physical and in-the-air playing style. Arsenal have struggled a bit to put to bed games against such teams and might need a goal-scoring threat who is good in the air.
Two goals and an assist in three appearances point to undoubtedly good form for Giroud. However, how does he fare versus the options that Wenger has at his disposal?
This season, Wenger has tried to go completely strikerless in his formations and it shows. Of the players considered as strikers by Fantasy Premier League, Giroud has played 123 minutes and summer signing Lucas Perez has played only 87 minutes. Alexis Sanchez has on the other hand, has not played only 81 minutes in the Premier League this season. Of these three, Perez has not scored a goal yet so I believe him to be below Giroud in the pecking order.
So the comparison is between Giroud, who has been sparsely used and Sanchez who has rarely been not on the pitch.
In terms of goal threat, because Giroud has scored 3 goals in 123 minutes, his average comes out to be 2.2 goals per 90 minutes, which is much higher than 0.7 for Sanchez but is inflated as it would regress to a much lower value had Giroud been used as a starter and had played more minutes. Giroud also shows his strikers’ credentials by shooting more often, especially from inside the box with higher shots on target number and higher shot conversion. Given a combination of these stats, it might be fair to assume that Giroud would be a better goal threat than Sanchez is, provided he gets the service more suited to him.
In terms of providing the service, Giroud and Sanchez have stats that kind of cancel each other out, but the Chilean is a better provider than the French man. Sanchez provides more shot assists but Giroud has assisted 2 goals in 123 minutes. Giroud also creates more big chances. However, Sanchez leads in successful passes in the final third, passes into the penalty area, and successful crosses.
These stats tell me that Sanchez is a much more efficient provider of goals than he is a goal scorer. Also, he is terribly overworked. So, if Giroud is fit again soon, assuming that his goal scoring form does not dip a lot, he does deserve a chance in the starting eleven. In fact, a bit rested Sanchez on the wing, with Giroud leading the line could be a very difficult proposition for the opponents to line up against. If you are an Arsenal fan, you might as well hope that Giroud gets fit again very soon and Wenger sees the wisdom in starting with him once he regains match sharpness or Arsenal could find themselves stuck on the fourth spot yet again.