If Thierry Henry’s trademark finish was a curled effort into the far corner from an inside-left position, Arsenal’s latest prolific French forward has found a typical goal of his own. Olivier Giroud might not have the speed of Henry, but he’s become an incredibly reliable near-post finisher.
Arsenal’s 2-0 FA Cup victory over Middlesbrough in February was the best example. Giroud won the game with two excellent finishes in the first half, both struck from extremely similar positions to divert left-wing balls into the net with an efficient sweep of his left boot. Giroud has mastered the art of the near-post finish.
The goals, in truth, were extremely different in terms of build-up play – the opener was a flowing passing move which, incredibly, went through every single Arsenal player en route to goal, while the second was the opposite: a set-piece move that simply featured a corner into the box and a great finish. Giroud’s finishes were equally effective, though, and the second was a truly stunning volley.
“The first goal is what we try to do in our game and out build-up play,” Wenger said after the victory. “The second goal shows that the game belongs to the players as well because it’s a consequence of two players who respond quickly to a situation, analyse it quickly and do what they want to do well. That’s basically what it was. It’s a consequence of intelligence and technique.”
The interesting thing about Giroud, however, is that he’s become such an expert at those near-post runs despite not being a particularly quick striker. Compared to Danny Welbeck or Alexis Sanchez, speed is not his speciality – and strikers in his mould, especially when they’re tall, often prefer to linger at the back post and wait for crosses hung up in the air.
Not Giroud, though. He’s proved that the timing of runs is more important than the speed of them, and while Arsenal fans have become accustomed to him taking up a central position before suddenly darting to the ball, opposition defenders haven’t quite worked it out. It’s also a difficult thing to stop – defenders are often looking in one direction towards the ball with Giroud slightly behind them, ready to run across the face of goal.
By the time they react, Giroud has already stolen a couple of yards. Then again, “speed” in football is often considered in a very basic sense. Giroud compensates for his lack of speed across the ground with quick thinking, and quick footwork. Another feature is his tendency to do everything with one touch, from clever finishes to neat link play: he’s a master of efficiency whenever he receives the ball.
Two of Arsenal’s best team goals last season, Jack Wilshere’s against Norwich and Tomas Rosicky’s versus Sunderland, were assisted by Giroud’s quick passes. His outside-of-the- foot flick through the defence for Mesut Ozil’s goal in a 5-0 win over Aston Villa this season was also evidence of his guile.
“The boss is making me work daily on my technique,” Giroud told Arsenal Magazine last month. “It’s never easy for tall players to have quick feet so I”m working hard on that. As a target man, I need to be good in my movement, not just be capable of holding the ball up.”
Giroud also provides speed in another way – he helps Arsenal get the ball forward quickly. One of the most interesting qualities is his ability to control long balls downfield with an instinctive flick of his left foot, something that has been particularly notable in away wins this year against Manchester City (2-0) and Crystal Palace (2-1).
In the latter, Arsenal’s most frequent pass combination was David Ospina’s long balls to Giroud – hardly classic Arsenal, but it shows they are capable of playing directly.
These qualities – the near-post runs, the one-touch link play, the ability to receive direct passes – ensure Arsenal’s tempo hasn’t suffered despite Giroud’s outright lack of speed. If anything he’s quickened the play, and considering he’s scoring at the best rate since he joined Arsenal in 2012, Giroud has grown into the ideal Arsenal centre forward.
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