Olivier Award: Isn’t It Time We Acknowledged The Quality of Arsenal’s Leading Man?

By on February 20, 2016

As Arsenal prepare to welcome Hull City to the Emirates this afternoon in the fifth round of the FA Cup, writer Chris Weir takes a look at whether Olivier Giroud isn’t getting the recognition he deserves…

Olivier-Giroud arsenal

2012 really was the year the world ended. Well, for Arsenal fans anyway. The departure of Robin van Persie to Manchester United, as well as early cup exits to Bradford and Blackburn, ensured that North London fans would suffer their 8th year without a trophy.

Gunners fans increasingly began to call for Wengers dismissal. The Alsatian looked jaded and bereft of ideas as Arsenal’s normally placid fan base grew frustrated with their teams’ limp performances. Meanwhile, rumours began circulating about a lack of tactical preparation and poor player discipline within the walls of London Colney.

In a season of unfettered mediocrity, however, two key signings stood out. One was the capture of Santi Cazorla from Málaga, a signing which brought instant quality to a club that had swindled £15 million from Barcelona for Alex Song.

The other was the transfer of a player who’d just led Montpellier to a shock Ligue 1 title win. Whilst winning the Golden Ball in France, he was very much seen as an enabler for the artistry of Younes Belhanda and the power of Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa.

The players in question was, of course, Olivier Giroud. His early performances in red and white showed some promise, but it was clear to everybody that this was player in need of time and tuition.

4 and a half years later, it was his deft knockdown that set up Theo Walcott’s equaliser against Leicester last weekend. The Chambéry-born forward would have had a goal himself, had it not been for some inspired goalkeeping from Kasper Schmeichel late on.

This was just the latest in a long line of crucial contributions from the Arsenal centre-forward this season, who has managed a decent return of 18 goals and 4 assists in all competitions so far.

Why is it, then, that we still don’t appreciate the quality of the Arsenal forward?

The cliché goes that football can be a cruel game. But it can also be blind and pugnacious, like it has been to the virtues of the Les Bleus attacker.

Giroud’s problem is that, unless you focus on his performance, his contributions often go unnoticed by the lay observer, whether that be his knack of winning aerial duels against defenders, or his acute vision and touch around the 18 yard box. He is a master of the ‘pass before the assist’, and is particularly adept at one-twos around the opponents area – Mesut Özil’s recent finish against Bournemouth was a case in point.

“He is not only a goalscorer – he works a lot for the team” said Arsene Wenger in a recent interview. Laurent Koscielny, himself an unknown on arriving at the club before going on to demonstrate his quality, agreed;

“He smells the situations well — when he needs to shoot quickly, or control the ball”.

Image is everything in life, and football is no different. Thierry Henry, the greatest goalscorer in Arsenal’s history, was for so long accused of being a player who didnt perform in the big games, despite the evidence to the contrary (goals for France against Brazil in the 2006 World Cup, in the Champions League at the San Sir and Bernebéu).

Similarly, Giroud is still hindered by the legacy of one awful performance against Monaco in the Champions League, where he missed a handful of gaping chances as Arsenal crashed out of Europe despite being heavy favourites. Revelations about his personal life also made him, for a short time, a figure of ridicule in the media.

Giroud, whilst being a quality footballer, is also possessed of a fierce desire to improve. His trajectory from the lower tiers of French football to the marbled halls of Ashburton Grove is testament to a player who  has never been destined to ‘make it’, and his success is down to hard work rather than any expert sculpting on the fields of Clairefontaine.

Slowly, however, the footballing world is beginning to wake up to the quality of the Arsenal striker. As we go into awards season, this leading man may finally be getting the recognition he deserves.

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