Does Giroud deserve to start ahead of Sanchez?
Olivier Giroud’s prominence in the Arsenal team has diminished since the start of the season for various reasons. He was handed an extended break by Arsene Wenger after his excursions for France during Euro 2016, a competition which changed the views of many of his compatriots. The positive vibes surrounding Giroud throughout the tournament which France almost won have worn off now in what sums up the quickly changing landscape of modern day football. From leading the line for club and country, to taking a place on the Arsenal bench due to Alexis Sanchez’s birth as a central striker, things have changed quickly for Giroud - and they look likely to change again before the season’s out.
Tuesday’s defeat away to Everton, which was Arsenal’s first league loss in 13 games, gave Gunners boss Arsene Wenger and his team a stark warning not to take their foot off the gas when they have the lead. The introduction of Giroud on 71 minutes was evidently the wrong decision to make when Arsenal were chasing the game. He slowed play down and completely killed the pressing tactics of the forward players, allowing Ronald Koeman’s side to freely dictate play by finding Romelu Lukaku with long balls. That certainly isn’t a mark on Giroud as a player, more that he wasn’t what Arsenal needed at such a crucial stage of the game.
If Arsenal are winning, putting crosses in the box or playing it long from defence to attack then Giroud is your man. He possesses his own unique qualities which make him a fantastic option to start in certain games or come on as an impact substitute when the situation suits. However, when control, pace and possession are required in such a match then it is the likes of Lucas Perez, Alex Iwobi and even Mohamed Elneny who would have been better options.
Regardless of the drab display at Goodison Park, Sunday’s crucial Premier League clash against Manchester City represents a different type of contest. Pep Guardiola’s team are ravaged by absences across the pitch - from Vincent Kompany to the suspended Fernandinho and Sergio Aguero, there will be no better time to beat the oil-rich outfit than now. A centre-back partnership of Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones may be the perfect concoction for Giroud to be involved in, where he could take advantage of the latter’s aerial weakness and recent poor form.
With the second-most headed goals in the Premier League since the start of last season and four goals in successive appearances against City in all competitions, Wenger looks almost certain to ring the changes upfront for the trip to the Etihad by bringing Giroud back into the fold - most likely as a replacement for one of Theo Walcott or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The prodigious Alexis Sanchez, who has had a hand in 27 goals in his last 27 PL apps for Arsenal (19 goals, 8 assists), could revert to his favoured position on the left flank where City’s ageing fullbacks in Pablo Zabaleta and Aleksandr Kolarov will find it difficult against the Chilean.
Wenger has confirmed that talks are underway to offer Giroud a new contract, along with his compatriot Francis Coquelin and several other first-team stars at Arsenal. That signifies exactly how much the 30-year-old is valued by his manager and explains why he backed him during the tough times for club and country.
“I am an admirer of Giroud because he has gone through some tough times and he bounces back,” Wenger said.
“When his back is to the wall, he has an answer every time. When I go into a big game, you always think: ‘I can rely on him.’ You know that when the competition starts, he will be with you.”
There seems to be an admission that Giroud is no longer Arsenal’s main striker. It is clear that Sanchez has taken on the mantle of goalscorer, talisman and most important player in the squad and Giroud's 15 games without a goal last season - the second worst goal drought of any player in the league in 2015-16, provides a timely reminder of why he doesn’t have the consistency to start in every single game for Wenger’s men.
But Sunday’s encounter with City could be the one in which to reintroduce himself. The Premier League’s most prolific this striker who has the best goals-per-minute ratio in the top flight at 51 minutes apiece will be determined to win back his place in the starting XI and shift Sanchez back onto the left hand side. If he’s given an opportunity against Guardiola’s side, there will be no better way to prove his doubters wrong.