This story first appeared in the February 2016 edition of the Arsenal Magazine. 

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Olivier Giroud is on the front of the February magazine
Olivier Giroud is on the front of the February magazine

Barely a day went by during pre-season when Arsenal weren’t being linked to a new striker by the media.

The speculation about which forward Arsène Wenger would sign seemed to intensify by the day, right up until the transfer window closed at the beginning of September.

In the event of course, the rumours proved to be unfounded, as the manager wanted to stick with what he had up front, meaning Olivier Giroud would once again be given the responsibility of spearheading the Gunners' attack.

And that decision could yet prove to be a masterstroke as, far from being demoralised by the external speculation around a possible replacement, Olivier says that the talk served to galvanise him, making him desperate to prove the doubters wrong.

"I can improve my heading a lot, and I'm sure I will. It's nice to score a lot of headers though because I think that means I'm at the right place at the right time often, and even more it means that I am getting good crosses. It's all about determination and commitment, and having a good mentality when you score headers. So I'm pleased with that stat, it means I'm focused and have a good commitment

Olivier Giroud

As the cliché goes, he's let his football – and specifically his goalscoring – do the talking. By the halfway point of the season he had raced to 18 goals in all competitions, and at the time of writing, he had the best minutes-per-goal ratio in the Premier League this term.

It also says a lot about the Frenchman's form that discussion about a possible new striker had dampened down considerably by the time the transfer market reopened at the start of 2016.

"Obviously it helps to motivate you because when you are in your comfort zone, I think you maybe don’t give your best," Olivier said in an exclusive interview with the Arsenal Magazine. "So it helps sometimes to have speculation like that,
to prove that you deserve your place in the team.

"It’s part of the job," he adds. "In every single transfer period, there is some other striker’s name coming out as a possible new signing. You have to deal with that and keep focused on the team and to help the team try to win every single game. You have to give your best and that’s what I tried to do. I’m pleased with my first half of the season so far."

And so he should be. His first goal of the season came in just his second start – an acrobatic effort at Crystal Palace – and he's not gone more than three consecutive games without scoring since. In fact he's shown remarkable consistency for more than a year now, netting at least once in every (footballing) month since November 2014.

"Consistency is my target," he states. "Always getting better and better. I know what I can do, I’m pleased with what I have achieved so far but I really want to carry on and I’m sure I can still improve myself. I try to work on it every day to help the team to reach our aims and to win this league."

There have been a few shining examples of exactly what Olivier can do already this season. That volley away to Palace was eye-catching enough, but a couple of months later he proved he was the man for the big occasion too, scoring home and away against Bayern Munich. The effort in Germany especially was one of the goals of the season, though it tends to get overlooked because of the scoreline that night.

"Yeah, it didn’t help the team to come back but it was a good one," he smiles.

Olivier reveals that the inspiration behind the goal was his compatriot and former role model Jean-Pierre Papin. The ex-Milan and Marseille striker amassed a catalogue of acrobatic, spectacular volleys – referred to as 'Papinades' by his supporters – throughout his glittering career.

"It was a good cross from Alexis," Oliver recalls. "I was in the right place and that was what I wanted to do straight away.

"There was not a lot of space but I tried to hold the ball and chest it. I used to do it a lot when I was in France and I’m a fan of Jean-Pierre Papin. I used to try a lot of ‘Papinades’ – that’s like a bicycle kick, an acrobatic shot. I like to do that."

Olivier Giroud
Olivier Giroud

Although that effort ultimately proved to be the merest of consolation strikes, by contrast his next goals in the competition couldn't have been more valuable.

Arsenal travelled to Greece on matchday six, needing to beat Olympiacos by at least two goals to extend their record of reaching the Champions League knockout phase.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man.

Olivier stepped up to score his first Gunners hat-trick, securing one of the finest away European wins in the club's history in the process.

"It was an unbelievable night for me and the whole team," he says. "I'll always remember my first hat-trick for Arsenal – I got the matchball signed by the whole team afterwards.

"I was close all the time with a lot of braces, but this one I couldn't forget because above all it was a hat-trick which helped us to qualify to go through in the Champions League. It was just amazing when the penalty went in.

Close Up: Giroud
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"The thing is, at 2-0 we are qualified, but if it goes to 2-1 we are out. So if I didn't score that penalty maybe we could have been in trouble until the last minute, and you never know what can happen at the end, just like the Liverpool game. So I knew I better score it!"

The hat-trick showcased a variety of Olivier's talents: a nerveless penalty, a smartly taken left-footed finish and a
well-directed header.

Such headed goals are a regular weapon in his arsenal. In fact since he arrived in England in August 2012 he's scored 17 Premier League headers – that's at least three more than any other player over the same period.

"You know what, and it's weird to say it as a six foot four guy, but heading is not my best quality," says the 29 year old.

"I can improve my heading a lot, and I'm sure I will. It's nice to score a lot of headers though because I think that means I'm at the right place at the right time often, and even more it means that I am getting good crosses. It's all about determination and commitment, and having a good mentality when you score headers. So I'm pleased with that stat, it means I'm focused and have a good commitment."

He shows this level of determination and commitment when winning headers higher up the pitch too – Opta stats show he has won more than 50 per cent of his aerial duels in the league this season, an excellent ratio for a striker.

Olivier says he relishes the physical side of English football, even if the recent game at Anfield was more bruising than most.

"Haha, well maybe after the knock I got against Liverpool, I don't know if I will jump for the ball again!" he says laughing, referring to the nasty clash of heads with Mamadou Sakho during the build up to Aaron Ramsey's goal.

"No I'm kidding, but Stoke away was maybe not the best game to play after a head injury as they are good in the air. But I always try to help the team hold up the ball up front. That's part of my job and it's what I like to do. I think I'm doing quite well in that part of my job.

"I try to keep the ball for the team, or other times I try to deflect it. So that means winning headers or going for the flick on. Sometimes I like to hold possession too which is important for the team to give the defence an opportunity to get up. It's one of my specialities, if I can say.

"You can always tell early in a game if it's going to be a physical one," he continues. "But saying that, in the Premier League you tell yourself that you will have to fight in every single game anyway. Whether it's Stoke or Chelsea, every side has strong defenders. It's always a big battle, and it's very interesting but sometimes you feel it's a bit much!

"But yeah, I enjoy the battle, it's always correct and with fair play and at the end of the game we always shake hands and say well done. So it's always done in a good mood.

Koscielny on Giroud
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"Especially with Gary Cahill at Chelsea it's always a tough battle, very physical, and with people like Ryan Shawcross too. They are very strong, and play a lot with their bodies so it's always nice to compete with them."

From opponents to team-mates, and a key partnership that has developed further this season is Olivier's understanding with Mesut Ozil. The German has set up one third of Olivier's goals in 2015/16, with Olivier returning the compliment once as well.

"Maybe I have to give him more assists then," he smiles. "But it's his job in the team to try to link the game and connect the team. He is our playmaker and his football vision on the pitch is amazing. I try to make good movements and he always passes the ball to the right place at the right time. He's a fantastic 'assist man' so I'm pleased to have him on our side.

"Santi is a very good 'assist man' as well, another creator, and he has given me a lot of assists in the past too."

Those two great creators have helped Olivier's overall Arsenal goal tally reach 76 – making him the joint 27th top scorer in club history, and now just eight goals behind Robert Pires. So do these records and landmarks inspire him?

"Yeah, of course. I want to mark the history of the club, and for a striker you always do this by measuring how many goals you score and how many assists you give. I know the part that my team-mates play of course, but the most important thing you check is the goals of the striker. So yes, hopefully I can beat my friend Robert soon!"

Joining the list of centurions (just 17 players have scored at least 100 goals for Arsenal) must be a target too, but he also has more immediate aims.

"Yes, to be honest I would like to reach 25 goals this season, and after that why not keep going? Between 25 and 30 could be nice. But in the league, yeah, hopefully I could reach 25 – that would be a nice line," says Olivier, who often holds up six fingers when celebrating a goal ("that's for my friends, we are a group of six close friends – they are my boys!")

Strong in the air, up for the physical battle and certainly able to cope with the frequency of Premier League matches (he's been ever-present for more than 12 months now), Olivier has certainly fully adapted to the demands of English football, and he reveals he is also becoming English off the pitch too.

"I used to say when I arrived that you have to adapt yourself quickly to a new country. Now I eat cheesecake, I drive a right-hand car, I speak English quite well I think! I try my best to speak English whenever I can, and not only be with the French players. I'm sure there are lots of other examples in my life of how I act in an English way, that I can't think of at the moment. I think you have to adapt to the culture of a country to be settled well in life and in the team."

So could he see himself staying in London once his playing days are over?

"Yes, why not? I have to say though that sometimes I miss my family and friends who are in France. Also my wife misses France at times too, so we will see, but I am definitely enjoying my life in London."

And as Olivier continues to enjoy himself on the pitch too, those agents keen to speak to Arsène Wenger offering a new striker or two might find their calls going unreturned for a while longer yet.

Giroud
Giroud

Copyright 2016 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source
Josh James 18 Feb 2016