Brought in to help replace a man tagged as Judas by Arsenal fans to this day, Olivier Giroud has become a faithful and reliable disciple of Arsène Wenger since his recruitment in the summer of 2012.
Always a polarizing figure among Gunners fans, Giroud hasn’t been able to lead the club to that elusive league silverware, something said Judas, Robin Van Persie, led rivals Manchester United to in his first season after getting his proverbial 30 pieces of silver from the Red Devils. But he should not be slagged off for that reason, especially considering the fact he’s done above and beyond what’s been asked of him by the North London club.
Make no mistake, Giroud was not bought to be the main man to replace RVP, at least that was not the intention. He was supposed to be cover, an insurance policy in case the prolific Dutch striker followed through on his intent to leave the Emirates Stadium amidst the club’s then seven-year trophy drought. When Van Persie did leave, ridiculous expectations were heaped on Giroud’s soldiers to fill the shoes of a man who bagged 30 Premier League goals the season before departing, the first Arsenal player since Thierry Henry to achieve that tally. Giroud himself appealed for patience on Arsenal’s website before his debut.
“People are clever enough to know that Robin took a lot of space here. His last season was wonderful. But before that, he took time to settle. So I’m just asking people to be a little patient with me. I know Arsenal is a great club and needs a striker ready and efficient quickly.” – Olivier Giroud.
Those aforementioned expectations were further fuelled by the fact Giroud carried Montpellier to a shock Ligue 1 title in 2011/12, scoring 21 league goals along the way, winning plaudits for his strong link up and hold up play, as well as strength, aerial presence and positional sense with an occasional air for the spectacular.
In his first two seasons, critics of Giroud were validated to some extent given his inconsistencies in front of goal, a sign he was buckling under the (excessive) pressure he faced. No one in the Premier League had more big chances missed (39) than the French international in the 2012/13 and 2013/14 campaigns combined. He had 19 big chances missed in his first season – Van Persie led the league, ironically, with 23 in 2012/13 – and 20 in the latter, by far and away the most in the division. His 2012/13 season only yielded 11 league goals as he, Theo Walcott, Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski all shared the goal scoring responsibilities with double digit tallies, trying to make due with a sometimes capable but often flawed attack. The 2013/14 season saw Giroud look more comfortable in the attack thanks to the arrival of expert string puller, Mesut Özil, from Real Madrid, bagging 22 goals and 10 assists in all competitions. His deft flicks, movement and savvy build up play helped launch Arsenal’s best title bid in years as they led the EPL for four months before damaging defeats against Liverpool and Chelsea triggered an all too familiar collapse. Though Arsenal would win the FA Cup, thanks in part to his four goals and game-winning assist in the final, fans still pandered for a world class striker.