Olivier Giroud was a surprise signing for Chelsea during the January transfer window. It is rare for a player to go from Arsenal to Stamford Bridge, but the early indications are that it could be a good move for the player. The French international was hardly playing for the Gunners as he lost his place to compatriot Alexandre Lacazette. A move across London may not have appeared to be the best career move, but the current Premier League champions play a style of football that is better suited to the striker.
Antonio Conte spent the entirety of last month trying to sign a target man, as he wants his frontman to bring the midfielders into the game. The biggest goal threats in the squad play behind the striker and they have not been given great service in recent months. Eden Hazard has had to carry Chelsea on his own, as Alvaro Morata has struggled with confidence and Michy Batshuayi was never going to be the answer due to not suiting the system. The Belgian couldn’t hold the ball up and failed to link-up the play effectively. He has since moved to Borussia Dortmund and made an immediate impact. There was no doubting his talent, but he was not a good fit for the way the Blues’ manager wanted to play football.
Since signing for Chelsea, Giroud has been given an opportunity to establish himself in the first-team and he has started well at Stamford Bridge. During his first three matches, he has scored once and contributed three assists. In the two matches that he has started, the team have scored seven times. It would be too simplistic to suggest he has been reasonable for that, but he has shown impressive link-up play since joining. To already have three assists to his name underlines his intelligence in the final third. He knows exactly what is going on around him and he often anticipates the movement of his team-mates.
This was best shown by his assist for Eden Hazard against West Brom. The Belgian international made a superb run beyond Giroud as the ball was coming into the Frenchman. The 31-year-old opted to flick the ball deftly into the path of his team-mate for a simple finish. It takes great technique, vision and confidence to pull off such a manoeuvre, but the former Arsenal man made it look simple. He followed that up with a brilliant target man display against Hull.
Last Friday, he got another two assists as he twice laid a goal on for Willian. His distribution was near faultless that night as he ended the match with an 88% pass success rate. The Hull defenders couldn’t get near him and his link-up play was a key reason for their runaway lead gained in the first half. He led the line to great effect and played himself into contention to be the regular starting striker. He is exactly what Conte wants from a number nine and opened his account with a smart finish just before half-time. It was important that he got that particular monkey off his back and his record in the Premier League at Arsenal will give confidence to his manager that he can contribute goals on a regular basis.
Target men are expected to be dominant in the air and Giroud qualifies as that. There are few better at winning the ball aerially than the Frenchman and he is more than up for a physical contest, as he showed against West Brom. He won four aerial duels against the Baggies and offered a good outlet when Chelsea wanted to play the ball long. Although Morata is good at scoring with his head, his hold up play can be poor at times and the new signing from Arsenal offers an upgrade on that.
It would be a brave call to start with the January signing ahead of Morata considering he wasn’t getting into the team at Arsenal, but the early impressions are that he will offer more to the team than the Spanish international. Conte will be hoping that the competition brings the best out of Morata, but time will tell if that is the case. At the time of writing, Chelsea are at risk of finishing outside of the top four and they need a settled team to start to build momentum. Giroud is unlikely to save their season, but he is the best striking option at the club right now.