One of the more impossible acts in football is the task of replacing a club legend. This is the exact task all Arsenal strikers had to face once Thierry Henry left the club back in 2007. No matter how well they did, they would never be at the same level as Henry in the eyes of the fans. In this sense, the legacy of Henry does have some negative implications. Not only would the fans have unreachable expectations, but the way Arsenal would play would revolve around the player that Henry once was. The entire manager, team, and fans would expect another superstar to lead the team single handedly, just as Arsenal’s top scorer once did.
It is time for Arsenal to realize that their striker is just another equal part on the team, rather than a position for a superstar. Only once they accept that will they be able to analyze their strikers with a fair view. This is exactly what is happening with Olivier Giroud at the moment. Being a late bloomer, Giroud rose to the global football scene only when he guided Montpellier HSC to win their first every Ligue 1 title after spending his earlier years in the lower leagues of France. He did not fit the typical striker mold that the North London team used to use; the club would usually look for forwards with more technical ability, speed, and creativity, just like the strengths that Henry used to have. Giroud, however, is a player that focuses more on his physical strengths and his tendency to be at the right place at the right time. Granted, he has developed into a much more well-rounded player since joining Arsenal, but at the time of his signing, people were confused as to why Arsene Wenger signed him and how he would fit into the team.
After struggling for the first few weeks at Arsenal – which was expected, as he was in a new league, at a higher level of competition with new teammates and a completely different team philosophy – Giroud had put on a respectable shift for a couple of years. Fans, however, continued to claim that he isn’t the star they wanted to lead their front line. The summer transfer window of 2014 was full of rumors about Arsenal bringing a world class striker to replace Giroud, but Wenger decided to keep faith with his fellow Frenchman to make the striker position his. That decision brought some discomfort from the fans at the time, but few people would voice their concerns at this point of the season.
Giroud has been in the form of his life and has established himself to be one of the first names on the team sheets. He might have been in competition with Danny Welbeck in the beginning of the season for the starting striker position, but now he is the undisputed top striker at the club. He has 17 goals and 4 assists in just 25 games this season with 11 goals in the last 14 matches. The goals and assists do show Giroud’s importance to Arsenal, but his performances are more impressive than his statistics. Since joining Arsenal, Giroud has stepped up his technical game impressively and finally looks home with the other technical players of the team. His physical attributes allowed him to carry out quality hold up play, and now that he has the technical skills to receive the ball and distribute it better, he is a total menace to defend against. He can convert long balls into through balls for his teammates storming forward, use his body to shield the ball from the opponent before spreading the ball wide, or apply that final dink over the defense after intricate passing near the opposition’s box. For examples, see his contribution to last year’s English Premier League Goal of the Season against Norwich. Watch his performance against West Ham on March 14. See his perfectly weighted dinked pass to Podolski against his former employers Montpellier in the Champions League several years ago. The list goes on to prove and show how he has become a forward capable of anything and everything on the pitch
Arsenal has a handful of attacking stars that have a claim to being the most important player going forward, most notably Alexis Sanchez and Santi Carzola this season. However, none of Arsenal’s stars would be able to shine without the presences of the greatly underappreciated Giroud. He certainly isn’t a superstar recognized by the entire world. However, he is an integral part of Arsenal’s new system, and Arsenal would not be able to be as threatening offensively without his presence on the team. Perhaps now Arsenal fans will give up their near impossible expectations of the next Henry leading the team and appreciate the newly revolutionized role of Giroud.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia User Ronnie McDonald