By Julien Laurens
It has been a fascinating first season for Olivier Giroud. Arriving at the Club after the departure of a highly-successful striking spearhead, Olivier’s task was always going to be daunting. But with 17 goals in all competitions and ten assists to boot, the Frenchman can be proud of his debut campaign in which he’s made a positive impression at the Club, on and off the pitch.
The country boy from the Alps, who had plied his trade in the French leagues, had to find his feet in a new country, in a new team and adapt to a new football philosophy in the Premier League. The bedding-in period is over and, when we spoke to Olivier recently, the former Montpellier striker reflected on an encouraging opening campaign and revealed he was already looking forward to getting his teeth into next season.
Everything is done for the players to allow them to focus only on their football. I realised straight away that I was at a top club
Firstly Olivier, how would you sum up your first season at Arsenal?
I’m happy. I know what I did well but also where I need to improve and what I will have to do better next season, but it has been a positive first year. The press has been tough on me at times but it’s normal. It’s part of the game. It’s been a tiring season as it was totally different to what I experienced before. It was my first taste of Champions League football, the first time I was playing with no winter break and obviously the pace and rhythm of the game is different here.
Were Arsenal and the Premier League like you expected them to be?
Totally. With regards to the Club, I was coming from Montpellier where we had a very modest infrastructure in terms of training-ground facilities and stadium. So I was impressed by everything here at Arsenal. Everything is done for the players to allow them to focus only on their football. I realised straight away that I was at a top club. As for the Premier League, it was a dream to play in England and I was not disappointed. It’s exactly what I always dreamt it would be.
You had to adapt to a completely different world though...
I had to adapt mostly to the challenges in the game. Here, it is a key part of the game. You need to use your body, to be clever on how to jump for a header for example. I have improved massively on that. It is interesting because after a few weeks, the fitness coaches knew me better and told me that I had to work on my strengths, try to be more dynamic and work on how I hold the ball. So I’ve been doing a lot of exercises to develop my shoulders and my arms to protect the ball well. I understood that I had to play more with my body here than in France. It has paid off. I also had to adapt to Arsenal. I had to discover my team-mates, understand how they like to play. It was a new type of football where I had to do everything better compared to before. Physically, I was ready but it is a big change compared to France which is more tactical.
How did you feel when you arrived in London?
I was prepared. I felt I was ready to move abroad as it had always been my ambition to play overseas. I had to adapt to many new and different things like the language, the driving, the culture. I observed and I learnt and I quickly felt settled. I liked it from the first minute and my integration went very well.
How important was it to settle well and quickly?
It was very important. The day I signed the contract, I had already chosen a house here as well, so I didn’t have to stay at the hotel. I was also very keen on mixing with my English team-mates to immerse myself in the English culture, the language and everything. I wanted to integrate quickly, to learn the language quickly, to learn to drive. I had a good level of English from school as well so it helped.
The first league goal meant so much for me. My brothers were in the away end with the Arsenal fans at West Ham. I was very relieved
You came to sign your contract before going away on holidays...
Yes. Just after the Euros, I came over with my wife and my agents to see the training ground and to sign my contract. At the time, I hadn’t seen the boss yet as he was still in Ukraine so Dick Law welcomed me to sign the contract. Then I went on holidays.
Did you spend your time thinking about Arsenal then?
I left very excited indeed! I was happy to have a break after a long season. I wanted to really savour what I had achieved that season - winning the title with Montpellier, being a part of the national team and my arrival at Arsenal too. But the closer I got to pre-season, the more excited I was. I couldn’t not think about it.
What did it mean for you to join the Club?
For me, signing here was an ambition but also a childhood dream. I was so happy because it was what I had always wanted since I was a little boy. I understood all the hard work I had to do to get there, all the steps I had to make. That’s not enough on its own though. I don’t want to just be here. I want to become one of the best strikers in England and lead Arsenal to titles.
Do you remember your first training session?
It was another planet! I was massively helped by the French contingent, particularly Lolo (Laurent Koscielny), who has been my mate since we were playing in Tours together a few years ago. He had already explained to me how things worked at Arsenal. The biggest change really is the players around you. There are world-class players here. Even at training, there is more pace too so you need to be more focused, more aware, more committed and all of that makes you improve so much. But I felt quite good quickly. I also remember my first game, in Germany, a friendly against Cologne. I didn’t score but I had some chances and did well.
Was there a lot of banter in the dressing room when you arrived?
Of course! Lukas Podolski is always looking for stuff to take the mick out of you. If he can find photos of you on the internet with long hair or when you did some modelling, he will use them to tease you and have a laugh. I did well in my initiation. I sang ‘Aux Champs Elysées’ by Joe Dassin. It’s an old-fashioned French song from the 70s, easy to sing. They loved it! I soon learned my first swear words in English - from the physios!
You had to wait until your seventh league game to score your first goal. Was it hard to deal with?
The fact that I didn’t score straight away in my Arsenal career was not too bad. It made me work even harder, focused even more until finally it came at West Ham. I was waiting for it and I had to work hard for it. I was told when I arrived that for a first season in England, seeing the change in the level from Ligue 1 to the Premier League, was not going to be easy. Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Robin van Persie all needed a few games before scoring their first goal and before playing at their best. The first league goal meant so much for me. My brothers were in the away end with the Arsenal fans at West Ham. I was very relieved. Of course I wished I had scored earlier. I lacked a bit of luck and efficiency at times. All of that showed though that I was strong mentally as I never gave up.
Were you ever worried at any point?
No. I was never worried because any striker goes through times where you score less, where you make the wrong choices. You can’t score at every game. So you need to refocus on the main things, the basics and work hard. It always comes back in the end because I have always scored goals. I know I am a striker.
I am a real ‘Savoyard.’ We are tough, solid with a strong temperament and we don’t give up
You were also coming after Robin van Persie...
And it was not easy at all. It was a massive challenge with a positive pressure. I arrived here in a very humble way. I never said I wanted to replace Robin. He needed a few seasons to really be at his best here. I hope that as early as my second season, I can play week in week out and keep scoring regularly because it’s key for a striker.
Do you feel you are a better player now than 12 months ago?
I think so. I have scored fewer compared to last season in Montpellier but the ratio, minutes played to goals scored, is good. I scored 17 goals in all competitions and gave 10 assists which, for a first season in England, is good. I am happy with the stats. However, you can always do better and I know I can do better and there is a lot of room for improvement. That’s why I’m already looking forward to next season.
How would you describe your relationship with the boss?
It’s very good. The boss has always talked to me. I like that. We can talk together, he listens a lot. He gives his opinion but he takes into consideration what you are telling him too. I felt at ease with him straight away.
You had some disappointments this season, how did you overcome them?
The red card against Fulham was the second one of my career. I was very frustrated, disappointed and also angry at the referee. But I don’t dwell on things and I move on pretty quickly, which I did with that red card. After the Everton game, I was disappointed because I was not efficient enough. I was told the press was critical of me but I quickly refocused on working hard.
I didn’t expect them to sing a song for me at all. And at Liverpool, the fans were so loud and at some point in the game, I thought: “I can hear my name!” And they were singing it. It was incredible
You have scored most of your goals at the Emirates. Is there something special for you there?
I feel at home there already. When the fans sing your song after only your first game for the Club, you can only feel happy and welcomed. It gives you extra motivation to give everything for the fans. We have great fans and an amazing stadium.
What about “Hey Jude”?
I knew the name of the song but I could not remember the tune until they sung it for me! I didn’t expect them to sing a song for me at all. And at Liverpool, the fans were so loud and at some point in the game, I thought: “I can hear my name!” And they were singing it. It was incredible.
You come from Savoie in France, in the Alps region. How important are your roots for you?
It is my identity. I was born in Chambéry and grew up between Chambéry and Grenoble. So I am a real ‘Savoyard.’ We are tough, solid with a strong temperament and we don’t give up. We are very family orientated, we don’t mind the cold, we ski a lot and we have great food, based mostly around cheese as we have great cheese coming from Savoie. So we love raclette and fondue.
We saw in ‘Gourmet Gunners’ that you really like your food?
I do. I have more of a savoury tooth than sweet. However, my grandmothers are Italians and they make an unbelievable Tiramisu. I eat a lot because I need it due to my physique, but I am not greedy. I know how to stop myself. I am careful about what I eat. My brother gave me good advice when I started my career. We eat very healthily at home. I really like Joel Robuchon’s restaurant “L’Atelier” in central London. The mash is amazing there! I consider myself as an epicurean, I enjoy good wine too, though obviously only a little, very occasionally.
The landscape has changed in France now, with PSG claiming their first league title in nearly 20 years…
I followed the French league closely this season. I thought PSG were playing and winning with ease. Take Ibrahimovic, he is not always brilliant in the game but he is very often decisive. That’s what you ask him to do. He had an amazing season. It’s not just him. They are impressive at the back with Thiago Silva who brings a lot of serenity, despite being still quite young. Lavezzi and Pastore had a good season too, Lucas is a future world-class player. For me, PSG will be a strong candidate to win the Champions League in the coming years. It would be good though if Marseille and other big clubs make the league more competitive by competing with Paris.
Read the interview with Olivier and more in the latest edition
Does it make you realise even more how much you achieved with Montpellier last season?
It does. Exactly. It was tight at the end of last season but we had an incredible campaign, especially for a team like Montpellier where we didn’t have any big stars. That’s when you realise that what we did was amazing.
How do you see next season from a personal point of view?
It is a massively important season with a lot of challenges. I will become a dad for the first time, which will be an enormous change. I also want to really establish myself with Arsenal and make a name for myself here. Finally, I dream of playing in the World Cup in Brazil next summer as well. I played in the last Euros but this would be even more amazing. So I am really excited by the season to come.
And as a club?
If we start better than we did this season, I know that we will compete for the title next year because we are used to playing together now and have improved as a team. We have also improved as individuals throughout the season, especially the newcomers like Santi, Lukas and me.