In the summer of 2012 Robin Van Persie left Arsenal for Manchester United with Arsenal fans devastated with the loss of their captain and top goalscorer. While Arsene Wenger said that summer that no one individual was brought in specifically to replace the Dutchman, Olivier Giroud took his place as first choice striker. Coming from Ligue 1 and playing in Ligue 2 only two years prior, the task of replacing a world class player like Van Persie was always going to be to tough a task for Giroud. This season has been different. After yet another brace against Middlesbrough, Arsene Wenger praised him for his improvement. “Giroud is today a different player to the guy that arrived here. He understands what top level football demands – he works with a great concentration in training and he has improved in his mobility tremendously and his technical quality. And of course his body is very strong and he uses it very well.” said the Arsenal manager.
Giroud came under a lot of criticism in his first season. Considering it was his first season in a new league, the criticism may have been a bit harsh, but it was always going to come after Van Persie leaving. The Frenchman started 2013/2014 very well, but dropped off around New Years and drew more criticism. Again, I think the criticism was over the top, but there were some games where he was very poor. While he did eventually fall off, Giroud did show measured improvement last season. This season Giroud missed three months early in the season. Since he has come back from injury, the Frenchman has been phenomenal and shown huge improvement in his game.
Giroud has improved in all areas since he has arrived at Arsenal. He’s technically better, he’s physically stronger, and he even seems a tiny bit quicker. He has become more clinical in front of goal this season, something he was often criticized for in his first two years at the Emirates. In his first season, the Frenchman finished a measly 10% of his chances. He showed improvement last season finishing 14% of his chances, although, for a team like Arsenal, their striker should be more clinical. This season he has been clinical in front of goal finishing 21% of his chances and scoring much more regularly. After scoring every 212 minutes in his first season and every 192 minutes last season, Giroud has scored every 114 minutes in 2014/2015. In compared to other Premier League strikers, Diego Costa has scored every 94 minutes, Harry Kane has scored every 111 minutes, £25m man Wilfried Bony has scored every 144 minutes, and Robin Van Persie has scored every 190 minutes.
Giroud has not only become more efficient in front of goal, but his overall play has improved. One specific improvement is that his hold up play has improved massively this season. With the loss of Bacary Sagna, Giroud is the new go to target man on goal kicks. Since getting to Arsenal he has become much more adept at using his body to create space for himself. Now he is better at holding defenders off and either heading or chesting long goalkicks to teammates to start attacks in the oppositions half.
Giroud’s comeback from injury and improvement has been key to Arsenal’s recent improvement. He has become a more consistent goalscorer which in turn adds to the points tally for the team. He will get the praise for the goals, but Giroud’s overall improvement should be recognized. The Frenchman has come on leaps and bounds since he arrived at Arsenal and, while some will still have their issues with his lack of pace, he has become a very good striker and one that should get more recognition than he does.