By Tony Attwood
All goals count. Tap ins and lobs from inside your own half, they all just count as one goal. Which is why it is always worth considering the total number of goals your centre forward scores.
But we also know that it takes a bit of time for newly-purchased centre forwards to get themselves together with a new team - especially in a new league in a new country. They have to get used to their compatriots' style of play, and the way defenders treat them - and perhaps most importantly in England, what the refs let defenders get away with.
Those of us who were there at the time will remember Thierry Henry coming to Arsenal. We’d not heard of him, and instead of playing centre forward he seemed to want to play on the wing. To say there were “doubts” about Henry at first is putting it mildly. Not only did he not score a single goal in his first eight games, his shorts were all over the place, and the joke was he was trying (but failing) to hit the clock.
The press, who had been so seriously shown up for what they were in the confrontation on the steps of Highbury on Arsene Wenger’s first day at the club (when the manager simply dared them to mention “the rumours” and called their bluff), were still out to get him, and they chose Henry as their target.
And of course as the crowd got restless, Henry’s self-belief dipped a bit and he said he had to “be re-taught everything about the art of striking”.
Fortunately the nay-sayers (who in those days were still to some extent at the matches, rather than just on the blogs) and their ceaseless allies in the media, did not win the battle and Henry did start scoring.
In 2000/1, his second season at the club, Thierry Henry played in a total of 53 matches, and scored 22 goals. Not a bad return in a second year for a player who was pretty much unknown in England before Wenger signed him.
Let’s hold that in mind for a moment when thinking of Olivier Giroud who is just completing his second season. He won’t reach Henry’s total of games, for so far this season he has played only 45 games but he has scored 20, which by any statistical analysis is better than Henry. And it could mean that in season number two, Giroud will score more than Henry in his second season.
Of course that doesn’t mean that Giroud is a better player than Henry - in terms of what Henry became very few players in the world ever reach that standard. But less we get carried away, in Henry’s second season Arsenal lost 6-1 to Man Utd, and some games were highlighted in the eternally anti-Arsenal press as a “dull stalemate” (Villa v Arsenal) with Henry not even mentioned in reports).
The problem Giroud has is that he has, in the last couple of months, had the sort of poor run that all strikers get sometimes, and as we are now used to in blogs and the media these days, you are only as good as your last match.
But fortunately for Arsenal, Wenger is not taken in by such chat. Speaking of Giroud recently he said, “He has scored 20 goals. That is a great record and he is working very hard for the team. Maybe he has improved his finishing, but there is still some room for improvement.
"If we were to bring in another goalscorer to replace Giroud next season, and if he were to come from outside the Premier League, then we would have the same problem again"
“For example, you expect him to score more headers. He wins a lot of headers coming from deep. But the headers coming from wide areas he still has room for improvement. For a while, he played maybe too many games but he hasn’t been injured. He’s a strong guy, he can cope with it. Maybe we should have rested him a bit earlier and given him a breather.
“He’s not a guy who moves away from people to get the ball. He’s a guy who fights with people to get the ball. When he comes out of the game he has 50 fights behind him. That is more demanding than the guy who just runs away.”
What Arsenal have done with Giroud is what a lot of teams in Europe have done - played with the same striker throughout. Which means it is hard to keep a second striker happy if he is not going to get much time on the pitch.
The way around this is to have an upcoming player who can fill in on some games, plus a couple of others in the side who can also play centre forward. If, in addition to this you also have a midfielder who can score a lot of goals, then you have the right combination.
For Arsenal the upcoming reserve is of course Yaya Sanogo, and next season we can also take a look at Chuba Akpom and Joel Campbell. The back ups are Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott, and the midfielder who scores is Aaron Ramsey.
The trouble is that if you take both Theo and Aaron out of the equation through long-term injuries it looks tougher, which is why we faltered from first position. But the basic arrangements look good to me, especially when one contrasts the Giroud goalscoring with others in the past.
I can’t see why, with a player who can do as well as Henry in season two, we need another proven centre forward. Of course I don’t know how well any of the players will do next season, but it looks like a fair assembly of talent to me.
If we were to bring in another goalscorer to replace Giroud next season, and if he were to come from outside the Premier League, then we would have the same problem again - two seasons of adjustment, rather than a being in season-three mode, which is a much stronger place to be.
Henry had first Bergkamp and then Pires as his support team. At the moment Giroud has Ramsey and Ozil once again. Plus let us hope, next season, Theo as well. That will make Giroud even more prolific.
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