Olivier Giroud’s capture has been confirmed by Arsenal – joining Lukas Podolski as fresh attacking options for Arsene Wenger in the 2012-13 season. The arrival of another striker could have signalled the exit of Robin van Persie, but given the relative youth of Giroud (25) and the immense positional flexibility of Podolski (winger, attacking midfielder, centre forward) we expect that this will simply add another petal to the flourishing rotation policy at The Emirates.
Giroud enjoyed a strong season in Ligue 1 this year, his 21 goals joint best with PSG’s Nenê and one better than fellow Premier League newcomer Eden Hazard. To his 21 goals he added a further 9 assists, bringing his total goals involved to 30, 3rd top behind only Hazard (36) and Nenê (32). Unlike his fellow poachers, Giroud was more of a one-trick pony with fewer passes by half than Hazard (1973) and Nenê (1637). Each also completed passes at a significantly higher % (Hazard 81.9%; Nenê74.8%). Neither of these statistics should diminish the excitement surrounding the arrival of Giroud in London, as Arsenal has no shortage of skilled player for the midfield and attacking midfield role. What Arsene Wenger has been lacking is a poacher in the Adebayor mold.
Perhaps unsurprising for a forward that measures 192cm (6′ 3″), Giroud has been spectacular in the air for his Ligue 1 side. He started 36 of 38 Ligue 1 matches for Montpellier and won 3.7 aerial duels per game. Perhaps also unsurprising for a big man is that, as noted above, his passing numbers were not good. He attempted only 852 passes for the season, completing 589 for a 69.1% completion %. With the ball at his feet he was marginally better, successfully completing a dribble every other match and he was dispossessed 109 times over those 36 matches. Despite the overall poor quality of his passing numbers, he managed 1.3 key passes per match, a total of 47 on the year. If his role will be to provide the foil for Robin van Persie it will warm Gunners hearts that he’s able to pick out the odd pass and, should he transfer this skill to the Premier League, will help carry the attack in the final third.
The addition of Giroud would appear to signal the end of van Persie’s run as the only out-and-out striker at the top of the Arsenal attack. In comparing his numbers this past season to Giroud’s it is clear that van Persie is the more comfortable player with the ball at his feet and a return to the second striker role could immensely benefit Arsenal’s attack. For Wenger, it would make sense to deploy his new player as far up the pitch as possible with little defensive value to be had. In the 2011-12 season for Montpellier Olivier Giroud made just 16 successful tackles and 22 interceptions. However, Giroud is not shy when it comes to contesting 50/50 balls in the air. Giroud won 132 of 188 aerial challenges, winning 3.7 per match. Playing him as far up the pitch as we have here would provide a strong aerial target for the wingers and give van Persie a foil without stripping him of his creativity on the ball.
Of course, the above graphic is also subject to as much rotation as any Arsene Wenger squad. With Podolski a threat from the left or centre of the pitch he could replace any of Gervinho, van Persie or Giroud in this lineup without Wenger having to change tactics. Similarly, the young Oxlade-Chamberlain can come into this side without much of a tactical shift, replacing either of the two wingers.
We have already discussed at length the role that van Persie played at Arsenal this season – in van Persie, Best of the Best – where it was noted by this author in the comments that what made van Persie’s season an anomoly even compared to the best seasons in the Premier League history was the volume of goals that flowed through him.
The general point here was not to prove that RvP was a one man team, rather to compare his season to other top scorers. In looking at the numbers, however, it became clear exactly how dominant a season he enjoyed. While I would love the opportunity to see all of the OPTA data for other top leagues, left with just the English Premier League it is a unique thing for a player to be both the leading scorer for his team and create the most chances. Here we have van Persie accomplishing both feats and both by a wide margin. Some quick numbers for other sides, all ’11-’12:
MCFC Top Scorer Aguero 23;
MCFC Top Chances Created Silva 104, Nasri 76 (Aguero 57)
MUFC Top Scorer Rooney 27;
MUFC Top Chances Created Nani 68, Valencia 65 (Rooney 51)
THFC Top Scorer Adebayor 17;
THFC Top Chances Created Modric 96, Bale 84 (Ade 61)
Just a few examples but certainly illustrate how much of an anomaly van Persie’s season was. Again, he may well be replacable if Wenger’s system was the root cause of this level of success.
While Wenger is known for his rotation the pressure of Champions League, two domestic cups and the increasing competition for a top four finish means that a dogmatic ‘strengthen or perish’ mantra must become the byword not only at The Emirates but at White Hart and Anfield as well. Considering this, if the new boys fit the mold, the arrival of Podolski and Giroud may leave last year’s summer signing Gervinho out in the cold. Podolski, deployed to the left or centre of an attacking midfield, or as a centre-forward, posted solid numbers again this season for FC Cologne. He scored 18 times in 29 appearances – 28 of those starts. He added 7 assists, leading his club in both goals and assists as Cologne ended the Bundesliga season relegated having scored just 39 times; taking 30 points from 34 matches.
Podolski will be looking for a fresh start and immediate success as the 27-year-old German international joins Arsenal with an eye on Champions League football.
Certainly, Arsenal fans couldn’t find much complaint with The Three Amigo’s and the arrival of Podolski and Giroud could lift from the captains shoulders enough weight to sustain his fine form through another Premier League campaign and see him lifting silverware for the first time as captain.