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It has been a long, hard slog of a season for Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman has delighted and frustrated in equal measure but Arsenal fans have become increasingly exasperated by his inability to convert clear goalscoring opportunities in the biggest games.
Arsene Wenger's failure to strengthen his forward ranks in either of the transfer windows has only added to Giroud's workload, which has acted as a growing burden on the Frenchman's shoulders.
And it is one he has increasingly wilted under, as the pressure grows on Arsenal's title challenge and pursuit of the FA Cup. Giroud, unsurprisingly, has not been able to sustain the early goalscoring spree which initially led some to believe Wenger may have been right to place so much faith in the France striker.
Giroud has toiled badly with just two goals to show from his last six games. When you consider Sunderland's defensive inadequacies and the fact the Black Cats' minds were firmly fixed on an upcoming Capital One Cup final in Arsenal's recent 4-1 win, when Giroud bagged a brace, it doesn't reflect well on his input over the last few months.
Giroud has struggled to replicate the heights of earlier this season when he scored fired four in as many games from the opening-day 3-1 loss to Aston Villa onwards, but it has ultimately been his inability to breach top-level defences which has caused most irritation amongst supporters.
No-shows at Old Trafford and Anfield were followed up by an equally turgid showing at White Hart Lane last weekend during the Gunners' North London derby success, with some fans believing Giroud showed a lack of effort, particularly in the second half when the visitors were on the back foot.
The main complaint from Arsenal fans, though, should be Giroud's average position on the field. With the interchanging of Tomas Rosicky and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain amongst others on the right flank, there ought to have been enough movement to leave Giroud free to concentrate on his duties at the apex of the Arsenal attack.
For some reason unbeknownst to the aghast Arsenal fans, Giroud's natural inclination was to peel wide and receive the ball. It hints at resignation, a concession of defeat to the central defenders, but leaves Wenger's side with no feasible target to hit with crosses or passes into advanced areas of the field.
It appears a ploy which Giroud has adopted on more than just the one occasion. While not as reliant on the wide positions as he was at White Hart Lane (19.35%), there were suggestions he had raised the white flag at Anfield in the 5-1 drubbing as he came out to the right flank 14% of the time.
Again, at Old Trafford it was a similar story. In defence of Giroud, his prominent position was central again (36.05%) but spending 11.63% of his time on the wings failed to offer Arsenal the requisite firepower needed against the more illustrious names in the Premier League.
These games are all in stark contrast to his performance against Sunderland, where he notched his highest performance score of the season and spent almost 68% of his time in central areas.
In relation to firepower, Giroud's shooting statistics make for startlingly grim reading, showing just how confidence-shot the towering striker appears when faced with defenders a step up from the lower reaches of the table.
Against United and Liverpool he registered just two shots and, from those four, found the target just once. In the reverse fixture against United and in the chastening 6-3 defeat at the hands of fellow title chasers Manchester City, 0% accuracy was the sum total of his endeavours.
It all makes for a rather damning assessment of a striker's qualities and while his attempts to lead the line all season have been admirable, he lacks the killer instinct of a Luis Suarez to truly allow Arsenal - at least as an attacking force - to be considered contenders for the title.
He has attempted 65 efforts on goal this season, getting just 26 on target, and was so meagre at White Hart Lane that he failed to summon up even one goalscoring attempt.
If Giroud can boast of any particular talent as a top marksman, then it his ability in the air. He has won a respectable 108 duels from 214 in the league this season but even this facet to his game has seemingly eluded him when tasked with producing the goods on the biggest of stages.
Against United and Liverpool he won just five of 13 and two from eight duels respectively, with the burly duo of Nemanja Vidic and Martin Skrtel relishing the tussle and coming out on top. Meanwhile at Tottenham it was a similar story, as Jan Vertonghen and Younes Kaboul teamed up to snuff him out.
The problem facing Wenger and Arsenal is a lack of viable alternatives. Nicklas Bendtner's off-field indiscretions count him out while Yaya Sanogo's youthful exuberance and energy masks some more detectable flaws in his game.
For now, Wenger must hope he can rely on Giroud's physical toolkit to unsettle backlines. The striker simply has to notch sooner or later in a big match and the weekend trip to Chelsea represents the perfect chance to silence the critics.
A goal at Stamford Bridge could prove pivotal in his side's title chase and would stand him in good stead for the future. Staying in a conventional striking role would be a good start.
- Sports & Recreation
- Olivier Giroud
- Arsene Wenger
- White Hart Lane