Having enjoyed two fruitful pre-season outings for Arsenal already, Olivier Giroud will be hoping to secure his place in the starting line up for the beginning of the season as Arsenal attempt to replace the gaping hole left by the departure of Robin Van Persie last summer. Last season proved to be a difficult one for him, frustrating the crowd by giving the ball away cheaply, and also experiencing a barren spell of over 5 hours without a goal and finished with an eventual return of 11 goals in the league. With the pressure still on for somebody to step up and emulate the form of RVP, it has seemed from early on that Giroud is a confidence player who thrives off of his reputation, and without any clout in the Premier League he has had a difficult time demonstrating the many different dimensions to his game, while also desperately trying to satisfy the clubs’ need for goals above all else.
But the truth is, Olivier Giroud wouldn’t be the first player to come to the EPL and experience a tough first season, a period of adaptation and settling in, where nearly everything is different, from refereeing style, pace of the game, importance of style and tactics, even down to the individual habits of players and knowledge of the leagues defenders. An accurate comparison to this would be the arrival of Luis Suarez (obviously not similar in playing style), who came to England having been prolific for Ajax hitting 35 goals and 14 assists in his previous league season. His first full season in England resulted in a return of 11 league goals, which would have Liverpool fans claiming they would be pleased if he could hit 15 the next season. But Suarez like many others spent a season having to adapt, and now having figured out the league, the players, and gaining confidence from the fans he was able to more than double his previous total. One of the reasons Giroud was signed was because like Suarez, he had already proven he could score at the top level with 21 league goals for Montpellier before joining Arsenal, so thinking realistically, is 11 goals in your first Premier League season actually that bad? It’s certainly something to work with. So to begin this analysis of where Giroud could be, lets look at the sort of statistics we were seeing from a player who did turn into an Arsenal hero. I will compare Giroud’s first season with Robin Van Persie’s season of 2008/09, which I feel is a decent reference point as it was at a time when he was beginning to mature into his mid-twenties. He had also found some consistency despite his previous injury problems (though he did get injured again in the next two seasons) and played 2198 minutes, compared to Giroud’s 2323 minutes.
The similarities here are incredible. Though Van Persie was about a year younger than Giroud is now, they were both in a similar position at the club, getting enough minutes on the pitch to be fighting for a regular starting spot. These statistics may serve as a reminder to Arsenal fans that every striker needs to start somewhere, and Giroud has arguably shown that despite a fairly average season, he has all the tools to make something of his career in North London. So looking at the statistics above we can see that goals, minutes per goal, shots on and off target, minutes per shot, shooting accuracy and chance conversion were all nearly exactly the same for the two players, but what did Van Persie do to step up his game and become more efficient in front of goal the following seasons, and where must Giroud look to improve this time around?
So above we can see that Van Persie by the end of 2010/11 had halved his minutes per goals statistic from 08/09, but aside from the obvious increase in goals scored (we should realistically expect more goals from Giroud this season), we can also see that RVP went on to increase his shooting accuracy by 10% in 10/11 and then a further 7% in his final season for Arsenal. This is clearly something that Giroud must work on dramatically increasing, and the fans will recall the many occasions last season where he was presented with opportunities that most strikers would thrive on but couldn’t manage to score. For RVP, probably as a result of his shooting accuracy increasing, his chance conversion then went up by 8% and remained the same for both seasons, while his clear-cut chance conversion in 2011/12 nearly triples Giroud’s for 12/13.
So statistically the areas for improvement for Giroud are quite clear; improve general accuracy, which will naturally lead to more goals, I feel goals will boost his confidence which will lead to him finally converting the golden opportunities he missed last season. He and Van Persie both faced the same struggle in that sense, from a tactical perspective however, Giroud and RVP are quite different players (at the moment), so we cannot treat them the same.
The statistics above (and simply watching them play) will tell you that Van Persie thrives with the ball on the floor, while Giroud’s strength is in the air, and this video perfectly summarise Giroud’s current ‘ball into feet’ problem, where from the opening minute or two of the video it is clear to understand where the frustration for Arsenal fans comes from. When watching the video clips of Giroud try to contrast how he copes with the ball on the floor compared to in the air.
At a strong 6’4, Giroud has the perfect make up for a hold-up type centre forward, but with Arsenal playing a particular type of possession football that doesn’t involve too many high balls, the type of pass Van Persie used to receive (fizzed quickly into his feet to break the midfield lines) are a lot harder for Giroud to deal with. When he receives these types of passes, the ball gets caught under his feet or he takes one touch too many (a habit he might be able to break), however contrast this to when the ball is played in the air, the statistics show just how different he is to Van Persie (it is also extremely evident in the second half of the video).
With a 56% win percentage in his aerial 50-50’s (compared to just 31% for RVP), Giroud can be an absolute bully in the air, an important asset for a team like Arsenal who possess so many small, technical players. His tackle success of 94.74% shows that he can also win the ball on the ground, however here you can also see the main way he is effective. He drops deep to drag his centre back out of position for a high ball, where he can either get the ball down to his feet and play it wide to the full back or set the midfielder (this is where he has struggled), or he can flick first time to the runners in-behind.
I don’t want you to think that this makes Giroud one dimensional in any way though, even in the Montpollier example he still managed to produce two vital assists in a game where his touch really let him down. Elsewhere you can also see the goals he went onto score by arriving at the right time in the box and also by receiving into feet, he certainly has the potential to carve out opportunities for himself.
If you examine the way Van Persie plays the forward role, his strengths have come from his incredible movement, misleading his defenders, playing on their blind side and taking advantage of poor shape and organisation. He pounces on loose balls, gambles in the box and times his runs, while he is also perfectly comfortable receiving the ball into feet either in space, or in a difficult position in the area under pressure from defenders. In fact, you will rarely see him receive a ball that isn’t played into his feet, and none of these awkward positions deter him from getting the ball to its destination.
From RVP’s 9 seasons in the Premier League he averages 13.5 goals per season, his tally’s have obviously increased as time goes on and I think the same can happen for Giroud. It took RVP a long time at Arsenal for him to reach a peak level of consistency, a long struggle to ensure that he is both injury free and getting picked. These are the challenges now facing Giroud before he can make a name for himself, and it is not unlikely that with this consistency will come confidence, and it is arguably confidence which will make or break him.
Arsene Wenger has spoken very highly of Giroud in the last week since he has scored 5 goals in his two pre-season appearances, and has suggested he can be the main man if deals for Higuain or Suarez fall through. He will at least be posing the question to the manager of whether they actually need another striker if he can come good? Arsenal fans may be slightly hesitant despite this current form, having seen players shine in pre-season many times before and then fail to produce the goods. However for me, Giroud is built for the Premier League, and now after finding his feet he may well showcase some ‘second season syndrome’ and become a real asset for the Gunners.
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