Every month the Arsenal Magazine brings you the complete Gunners guide to members of our first team squad. This time, we profiled French forward Olivier Giroud.
Name: Olivier GiroudPosition: Forward Squad number: 12 Nationality: French Born: Chambery, France, September 30, 1986 Joined Arsenal: From Montpellier on June 26, 2012Previous clubs: Grenoble, Istres (loan), Tours, Montpellier Arsenal debut: v Sunderland (h) League, August 18, 2012 (drew 0-0)First Arsenal goal: v Coventry City (h) League Cup, September 26, 2012 (won 6-1) Arsenal honours: FA Cup winner 2014, 2015, Community Shield winner 2014, 2015 Twitter: @_OlivierGiroud_
When it comes to assessing Olivier Giroud’s game, few opinions can be as valuable as that of ALAN SMITH.
Affectionately referred to as ‘Smudge’ while at Highbury, the forward made 347 appearances and scored 115 goals during a successful eight-year stint in north London.
Tall, intelligent and blessed with no shortage of physical presence, Alan spearheaded Arsenal’s attack in accomplished fashion, holding the ball up effectively and scoring with regularity.
Both his stature and his playing style have drawn comparisons to that of Arsenal’s current No 12, similarities that Alan can see himself.
“I think that aspects of his game are comparable,” Alan says. “He’s brilliant in the air and gets his fair share of headed goals, which is quite similar to me. He’s not exactly the same but he links the play well and I believe that this aspect of his game has improved since he joined.
“He’s a centre forward who plays with his back to goal, and there haven’t been many of those around since I retired really. They kind of seem to have gone out of fashion.”
So why are there fewer out-and-out No 9s now than during the 1980s and 1990s?
“Coaches are always looking for speed, mobility and people who can run in behind,” Alan says. “Maybe some teams have moved away from the type of centre forward that I was and Giroud is.
"But if you’re a good player and you can score goals, it doesn’t really matter what time of striker you are. It often depends on how your manager wants to play the game.
“I think there are a lot of benefits that a player who plays like Giroud gives you. It’s really frustrating when you see moves break down when they reach the striker but Giroud holds the ball up really well.
“As long as you have players running beyond the centre forward, it can be a very useful tool.
“I do like to see No 9s and I think the crowd do too,” Alan, who won the Golden Boot in both 1989 and 1991, adds: “They love to see someone with presence in the box and somebody who can attack the ball.
"The game has moved on but that doesn’t change. It’s a great sight to see somebody powering the ball into the net with their head. I think those goals are often spectacular.”
As well as being good with his head, Alan believes that Olivier’s technical ability is one of his most underrated attributes.
"It always helped me as a centre forward to build up an understanding with the wingers, knowing when they were going to put the ball in and in what areas they would cross to"
“I think you’ve got to be on your toes in this Arsenal team because the ball comes into you very quickly,” he says. “You get used to that in training as much as in matches.
“He’s done that well. Quite often you see Giroud play a quick flick to a team- mate and he links the play very well. Your brain has to be very sharp to lead the line in an attack like Arsenal’s, because they move the ball so swiftly.”
Alan, who famously scored the winning goal in the 1994 Cup Winners’ Cup final, names Edin Dzeko as another modern-day player he was similar to. The former England international believes forging a partnership with wide midfielders is particularly important for any No 9.
“It always helped me as a centre forward to build up an understanding with the wingers, knowing when they were going to put the ball in and in what areas they would cross to,” he remembers. “That just comes from playing together.
“In the early days, I liked playing with Brian Marwood. He was a very good winger – he didn’t necessarily need to beat his man because he could swing one around him with his left foot.
"He would get the ball into the box early and I was often on the same wavelength as him. David Rocastle played on the other side and they set up a lot of my goals in the late 1980s.
“In terms of wingers, it’s become fashionable to have a right-footed player on the left and vice versa. Games are often quite narrow as a result, with people trying to cut inside rather than going outside the full back and swinging crosses in from the byline.
“If you can get that kind of player, it’s still one of the most dangerous weapons available,as we’ve seen with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain recently. A player like Giroud thrives off that.
“A lot of people are talking about Liverpool and Christian Benteke at the moment. People say Liverpool’s style doesn’t suit him and there was a stat that they put fewer crosses in than any other team last season but I think they will tweak their style to play to his strengths.
“I saw Montero for Swansea at Chelsea recently and he gave Ivanovic a torrid time. If you’ve got somebody like that, you’re going to have teams doubling up on them because they pose a huge threat to you.”
Alan retired from football 20 years ago and, while he initially missed playing, he is still very much involved in the game.
“You do miss it. All my team-mates were still at Arsenal when I retired, especially the boys in the back four. You miss the camaraderie more than anything.
“My joints were playing up and, while I was 32, I was neither old nor young. I would have liked to have gone on for a bit longer but I had 13 years in the game and won a few trophies, so you have to look at those times.
“I’m delighted to be involved with Sky Sports and The Daily Telegraph. I’ve worked with both outlets for nearly 20 years. The game just seems to be getting bigger and bigger and it’s good to be a part of that.”
Five moments which have shaped his Arsenal career
Signing for Arsenal June 26, 2012
With speculation about Robin van Persie’s imminent departure to Manchester United dominating the back pages, Arsenal moved to sign the little-known Montpellier striker early in the 2012 transfer window.
Then aged 25, Giroud’s goals had just fired Montpellier to the French league title for the first time in their history. In fact he had top scored in the league during his last season, with 21 goals in 36 games.
His form throughout had led Montpellier owner Louis Nicollin to value him at £50 million, after he was linked with a move to Newcastle United in December 2011.
But it was Arsenal who won the race for his signature, and he was handed the no 12 shirt upon joining. “I was attracted by the philosophy of football and Arsène Wenger’s ‘touch’ at this club,” Giroud said after signing.
“I have always admired Arsenal with its great history and reputation, and I now hope to achieve great things here.”
First goal September 26, 2012
The pressure was just starting to mount on Giroud, having gone five Premier League matches without breaking his duck, as well as one scoreless appearance in the Champions League, against former side Montpellier.
In fairness, he had only started three of those games, and Arsenal had remained unbeaten during that time regardless. However, the relief was palpable when he did notch his first goal, at home to Coventry in the League Cup.
Running onto a Francis Coquelin pass inside the area late in the first half, the striker kept his composure to lift the ball, left-footed, over the advancing keeper to open the scoring.
“It was in everyone’s mind that the sooner he gets it the better,” Arsène Wenger said afterwards. “It was certainly more in his mind even more than in our minds. That is positive, of course.
“It was a good finish – he is a good finisher, Olivier – but at the moment I believe he is looking for confidence and that goal will help him. I expect him to take that into the Premier League.”
That’s exactly what he did, proceeding to score at least twice in each of the following four months and finishing his debut season with 17 goals in all competitions.
Goal v Tottenham September 1, 2013
The best way for an Arsenal forward to find their way into the hearts of the Emirates faithful is to score in the north London derby.
Giroud had managed that in his first meeting with Spurs – a 5-2 home win in November 2012 – but his strike the following season was even more important.
All the pre-match talk had centered around a possible ‘shift in power’ across north London from Arsenal to Tottenham, with many pundits tipping big-spending Spurs to take the Gunners’ Champions League spot at the end of the season.
But the hosts brushed aside such talk, and Giroud’s first-half strike proved the difference. Theo Walcott crossed to the near post, and the Frenchman neatly flicked home – a goal that has become his trademark over the past three seasons.
The following day Arsenal announced the signing of Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid. Suddenly Oliver had a world-class No 10 providing the bullets, and a new partnership was born.
FA Cup final assist May 17, 2014
Giroud’s Arsenal career has been about more than just goals. During his first three seasons, he also added 26 assists, including the one to win the FA Cup in 2014. And what an assist it was.
Having fought back from 2-0 down, Arsenal were piling on the pressure against Hull City in extra time, when one moment of magic won the game, and earned the club’s first silverware for nine years.
With 11 minutes remaining, the ball fell to Giroud wide inside the area, and rather than take a speculative pot shot on goal, he cleverly opted to backheel to the onrushing Aaron Ramsey.
It wrong-footed the Hull defence, and despite the pressure of the situation, the ball was perfectly weighted for the Welshman to take early and smash home first time just inside the post.
Cue jubilant celebrations and Giroud’s first honour with the Gunners. It was by no mean out of character for the French forward – his flicks and layoffs to team- mates inside the area are a prominent feature of his game, and his intricate exchange with Jack Wilshere at home to Norwich in October 2013 resulted in the latter scoring the goal of the season.
Goal v Manchester City August 10, 2014
After finishing the previous season as the team’s top scorer with 22 goals in all competitions, the pressure was on to follow up in the new campaign.
Alexis Sanchez had just signed from Barcelona, but Giroud was keen to keep his crown as the main goal-getter. He certainly got off to the best possible start. Arsenal were 2-0 up against the champions at Wembley when Giroud came off the bench for the second half.
Less then 20 minutes later he took up possession 25 yards out and lashed a fierce, dipping shot over Willy Cabellero and under the bar.
At first glance you presumed it had to have taken a deflection, such was the way the shot deceived Caballero, but replays revealed it was a clean strike from Giroud.
“I had a look at the keeper and I was thinking that he was a bit too much forward from his line,” he said afterwards. “I tried instinctively to shoot and to hit the target. I was a bit lucky but that’s what I wanted to do.”
Arsene Wenger on Olivier Giroud
When he first became aware of Giroud... I first became aware of him when he was at Montpellier. But I had a friend of mine who had him at Tours and he told me that he was a good player.
Then when I watched him at Montpellier, and he was an important player for them. What struck me was his presence, his charisma and the way he could carry a team.
It looked like the belief of the team relied on him. In the bad moments of the game, he continued to have that belief. It looked stronger than football even, that he could absorb the strength of the team, and that’s what struck me.
Giroud’s style of play...
When you see him you think that this guy can adapt to the Premier League. He looked like a former England no 9, an English- style striker, but as well he had the French touch. I thought it would be a good mixture between an English-style centre forward and a continental striker.
From Julien Laurens, journalist
I can still remember one of the friends I used to play football with as a kid telling me one day that he had just played for the France under-16s with a tall guy with a lot of talent.
It was back in 2001, Yohan Gourcuff was also in that team and the guy in question was Olivier Giroud. My friend was a good player but never made it as a professional.
It looked for a while that Giroud was not going to make it either. At Grenoble, where he went to the academy, he never really got a chance, even though it was his home team. You could see the potential in him, but he was only playing 10 or 15 minutes there and then and never really made an impact.
Funnily enough, he made it to the Emirates via an unconventional route – the French lower leagues, like Ribery, Valbuena or Koscielny. First there was Istres, in the third division in 2007/2008 then Tours, in the second division, from 2008 to 2010 where he really exploded.
I did my journalism course at Tours University and I still have friends from there. And it was one of them who mentioned Olivier to me again.
This time it was 2008, and for the second time in seven years, his name was mentioned to me. He scored 36 goals in 67 games in Tours. He was so powerful in the air.
The manager, Daniel Sanchez, was a very good friend of Arsène Wenger and he made the most of Olivier’s qualities: the eye for goal, the positioning and the headers. But he made him improve his first touch, his movement and his overall game.
The fans in Tours loved Giroud like the Montpellier fans did. He had an instant impact there too (39 goals in 85 games) for his Ligue 1 debut. The second season, he was unstoppable. He led Montpellier to the league title.
He would score from any positions and not only was he a handful with his back to goal, but he’d become a complete striker by the time he left for Arsenal.
I knew he would improve even more in London but I also knew he was ready to take on the challenge too.
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