Olivier Giroud’s goal at Villa Park saw him score his 50th league goal for Arsenal, becoming only the seventh player in Arsenal history to do so. His spot kick put him in with the likes of Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Robert Pires in an elite list of goalscorers for the Gunners. The Frenchman has been rather quick to get to the fifty goal mark as well, having taken only three and a half years to get there, faster than Dennis Bergkamp to put it in some perspective. Giroud is in the form of his life and has 11 goals in his last 13 appearances, and his confidence was exemplified by his hat-trick against Olympiakos in Greece.
Arsenal traveled to the Karaiskakis stadium knowing that they needed to win by two goals or more to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League, having endured a disappointing start to their campaign. Giroud’s personal start to the competition was also on a low note, earning a red card in their opener against Dinamo Zagreb. But the striker rose to the occasion and grabbed three goals as Arsenal went on to win comfortably, securing their spot in the next round of the Champions League. Giroud will also be remembered for scoring in both of Arsenal’s matches against German giants Bayern Munich – the opener in their home leg, and a brilliant bicycle kick in the away defeat.
Giroud started the season behind Theo Walcott in the pecking order, as Wenger wanted to give the Englishman a shot at the striker’s role, with him starting a season in full fitness, and Giroud’s red card in Zagreb didn’t help his case. He did grab an early goal against Crystal Palace, but Walcott slowly started to cement his place in the side with a flurry of good performances, spearheading a pacy Arsenal attack. But unfortunately for Walcott, he picked up another knock, opening the doors for Olivier Giroud. Giroud, who for the last few seasons has rarely had any real competition for his position in the team, knew he would have to fight for his spot with every chance that he got, and he started to deliver. His goal against Bayern Munich at home increased his standing with the fans, and more goalscoring performances followed in tow. Swansea and Everton fell prey to his goals as Arsenal marched forward in their title race, but as November came, so did their customary bad patch of form. This didn’t, however, stop Giroud, as he netted in Arsenal’s defeats against Bayern Munich and West Brom. Giroud also netted the crucial second goal in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Sunderland, having scored an own goal earlier, and carried that form into the crucial match against Olympiakos.
A key factor in Giroud’s emergence has been the rise in form of Arsenal’s creator in chief, Mesut Ozil. Giroud has been a huge benefactor of the German’s vision, and was on the receiving end of 4 of his assists. His aerial presence and physicality make him a threat from set pieces, and has become a favourite target for Mesut Ozil when he has to whip in his free kicks and corners. A great example of this was, ironically, Giroud’s worst performance of the season against Tottenham. In a match where Arsenal looked tired and bereft of ideas from open play, Ozil set Giroud up on four occasions from set pieces and while the Frenchman came close to scoring, he couldn’t convert those chances.
This season could also be a crucial one for him on the International front, as France prepare to host the Euros. Giroud has been in good form for France, having scored 4 goals in 10 matches this year. Also, the ban on Karim Benzema due to an ongoing blackmailing scandal, means that Giroud has the chance to cement his spot as the frontman for his National side as well. While the likes of Griezmann and Martial have been given chances in the wide spots, with his current form, the Arsenal man looks like France’s best bet to spearhead the attack. He has scored 4 goals in 10 appearances for Les Bleus this year, and the hosts will be hoping that he can carry his current form into the tournament.
Thumping headers, near post flicks, long range curlers and spectacular bicycle kicks – Giroud has it all in his locker. Yet, until this season, he has failed to maintain consistency and has often disappointed in the big games for Arsenal. Often he has been criticised for missing too many chances, and disappearing in games. But this year, amidst injuries to the likes of Alexis and Walcott, he has stepped up and delivered, and has been a key player in Arsenal’s title challenge so far. Apparent lack of confidence has been a problem for Olivier Giroud earlier, and on some days, can look like he couldn’t hit a barn door from a yard away. Another issue that has affected his game has been his inability to perform when he doesn’t have anyone else challenging for his spot. Now whether this arises from complacency or burn out from playing too many games, it has been an apparent problem. But his belief in his own abilities seems to be higher than ever before now, as he is on his finest run of form in his career and with Walcott providing tough competition and the Euros right around the corner, he also seems more determined now than ever to deliver on a consistent note. At 29 years of age, he knows he needs to deliver his best as soon as possible, and performances like his recent ones, if maintained over the course of the season, can see him finally claim that “world class” tag that seems to elude him, even if it is for a year.