Olivier Giroud’s performance against Stoke City in Saturday’s 1-0 win was a perfect demonstration of a quiet, understated but important centre-forward display.
Watch the highlights of the game on Arsenal Player and Giroud would barely feature, but anyone who witnessed the entire 90 minutes would understand his influence upon the game.
Giroud is a more traditional striker than Arsenal fans have become accustomed to: he’s naturally a penalty-box prowler, someone who thrives on crosses towards his head, and low balls to meet his darts towards the near post.
Against Stoke City, however, that isn’t necessarily the right strategy. Tony Pulis’ side are the most physical side in the league, their centre backs love defending high balls, and they actively encourage opposition crosses by playing extremely narrow, inviting teams to attack them down the flanks.
He’s naturally a penalty-box prowler, someone who thrives on crosses towards his head, and low balls to meet his darts towards the near post
Arsenal had to resist the bait, exploiting space in wide positions on occasion, but also trying to penetrate through the centre.
Saturday’s contest took place less than 72 hours after Arsenal’s previous home match, against Liverpool. The contrast between Arsenal’s task in the two matches was huge: Liverpool pressed while Stoke sat deep, Liverpool played short passing football while Stoke hit it long. Arsenal, and Giroud, were forced to show their flexibility.
As Liverpool pressed Arsenal high up the pitch, Giroud remained in central positions, offering another passing option in a central position when Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere dropped deep to receive possession, and allowed Arsenal the opportunity to play forward, past the Liverpool pressure.
Against Stoke, however, Giroud concentrated on drifting into wider positions - Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross tried to stay tight to him, so Giroud dragged them out of position.
Giroud also played quick one-twos with various players - Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mikel Arteta and Abou Diaby - and Arsenal broke into the space Giroud’s movement towards the ball had created.
The chalkboard representation of his passes in the two games demonstrates the difference in Giroud’s distribution. Against Liverpool, with the opposition pushing up, denying Giroud time on the ball and trying to intercept his passes, Giroud’s distribution was often wayward. Against Stoke, he appeared happier drifting out wide, where he could link play and encourage others forward.
But even against Liverpool, he provided a decisive contribution with his passing, teeing up Theo Walcott for Arsenal’s equaliser. “He has been on fire in recent weeks and he is great to play with,” Walcott told Arsenal.com. Walcott played the ball to Giroud six times, and Giroud to Walcott just once - but it was a crucial contribution:
“His touch [for the equaliser] was fantastic and allowed me to hit it first time - I think I caught the keeper by surprise,” said Walcott.
The England star, like Lukas Podolski on the other flank, loves hitting the ball early across the goalkeeper, and Giroud’s measured passing when spinning away from a centre back into the channels compliments both players’ pace and direct nature.
Giroud has also become a reliable scorer of goals in recent weeks, and it’s interesting to see how his positions of shots varies from game to game. Against Liverpool his shots were from various distances, but against West Ham United he focused on getting into the six-yard box:
But it’s Giroud’s link-up play that has been particularly impressive in recent weeks. “I have matured in my mind,” Giroud told Le Parisien ahead of France’s friendly against Germany on Wednesday. “I have also learnt a lot, in particular with my back to goal - I control the ball more when I receive it, and I read the situation.”
Interestingly, when quizzed about his performance in English football, Giroud is always quick to cite how many assists he’s recorded, as well as his increasingly impressive goals return.
That sums up Giroud’s mentality - to him, the collective is more important than the individual, and his job is to create goals as well as score them.
It’s an attitude that fits well with Arsène Wenger’s preferences for a centre forward, and Giroud’s all-round game makes him a perfect Arsenal striker.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