It’s often said that cockroaches would be the only living species to survive extreme nuclear fallout. Their simple bodies and slower cell cycles resist radiation, which is fatal towards beings with more active biological sequences.
Olivier Giroud has the opposite of what could be considered a ‘simple body’, and while I don’t have his exact anatomical figures to hand, it’s unlikely he’d survive extreme nuclear fallout. But no matter what is thrown at him, whatever alternatives are tried, the Frenchman keeps clawing his way back to score goals and rescue his team-mates with regularity. Arsenal’s very own cockroach. Throughout Arsene Wenger’s tenure at the club, world class striking talent has become the norm. The likes of Ian Wright, Nicolas Anelka, Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry have all set an incredibly high standard, and even Emmanuel Adebayor was transformed into a 30-goal-a-season forward. But when Robin van Persie decided to leave the club in 2012, Giroud, having finally earned his big money move, would learn quickly that settling in wasn’t an option. Having originally been signed as back-up to the Dutchman, first team football came quicker than anticipated.
After a slow start (which included a glaring miss against Sunderland on his debut), you’d do well to find fault in the 30-year-old’s numbers. For someone criticised so frequently, 70 Premier League goals and 23 assists in 165 appearances is extremely impressive. He’s also scored 14 in the FA Cup, another 13 in the Champions League and two in the League Cup. That’s 99 goals in total, which leaves him 19th in the list of Arsenal’s all-time top scorers, sandwiched between Theo Walcott and Paul Merson.
Since his arrival in English football, nobody has scored more headed goals than Giroud (31). Not only that, but following his trademark bullet header against Manchester United last November, he became the club’s leading scorer as a substitute with ten goals – he now has 14. The former Montpellier man is also one of five to score a Champions League hat-trick for Arsenal, in addition to becoming the first ever player to score a brace with his first two touches of the ball (vs Sunderland in October ’16). He has made a significant impact in North London regardless of what many think of him.
However, beyond the Frenchman’s productivity as Arsenal’s frontman, the manager has never hidden his craving for attacking fluency. For all his strengths, the Gunners simply cannot play a smooth and flexible game with a 6ft 4in, 90kg focal point ahead of them. Failed pursuits of Luis Suarez in 2013 and Marco Reus in 2016 highlight Wenger’s desire for mobility, with both Theo Walcott and Alexis Sanchez given license to lead the line over the last 18 months with varying degrees of success. Gervinho was even used as a centre forward due to the threat he posed in behind, and in July, a club-record fee of £46million was withdrawn from the bank balance to secure Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette.
But here we are, five years on from his debut, and Giroud is still a valuable member to this squad. Wenger admitted recently that he ‘opened the door’ for him to leave this summer, but took time to praise his mental strength and revealed admiration in how Giroud constantly looks to prove people wrong. ‘Olivier is a guy who is mentally absolutely fantastic,’ he told the club’s official website. ‘He’s strong and every time he’s questioned, he gives you the right answer on the pitch. I admire that in him. He’s a guy who has gone through some difficult times.’
It’s easy to criticise the players we watch week in, week out because we are privy to every mistake, every misplaced pass and every missed opportunity. But watching them regularly also makes it easy to praise players because we get to see the finer details that are cut and cropped out of the highlight shows. For every shot he’s shanked wide, for every counter attack he’s slowed down, there’s been a clever lay-off or a great piece of hold-up play to match. There’s no denying that Giroud is an effective striker who has proven his worth for both club and country, even though doubts are repeatedly raised. His late heroics against Leicester on the opening night were just another example of his qualities.
This is a man who has worked his way up from the fifth tier of French football with Grenoble to playing at the highest level of European football in the Champions League. He never hides on the pitch when things aren’t going his way, he rarely shirks media responsibilities, and when he is questioned, will always provide genuine and honest answers about what’s going wrong and how improvements can be made.
He may not be a Sergio Aguero or a Robert Lewandowski, but few players in Europe can dominate defenders physically like he can, while also having the technical quality to fit in with a squad full of smaller, more technically accomplished players. Few have mastered the near post flick as delicately and precisely as him, and few can take so many hits to the chin and still have the mental strength to bounce back so efficiently. If Arsenal have serious ambitions of competing this season, they will need Giroud in their ranks because whenever menacing soles loiter from above, he’ll take a crunch on his back before getting back up to do what he does best – putting the ball in the back of the net.