Olivier Giroud: Not an Arsenal hero but a sedulous soldier

Normally Olivier Giroud is never shy while celebrating a goal. He wins an awkward header, puts it in the back of the net and wheels away towards the crowd. In fact, against Bournemouth last season, he’s accused of celebrating too much. Against Bate, he didn’t celebrate at all. It was a controversial penalty. Arsenal were cruising but Giroud wasn’t excited. He sent the goalkeeper the other way, stroked the ball calmly into the bottom right corner and jogged on to accept Mohammed El Neny’s congratulatory hug.

It was a simple finish but the moment was big for Olivier Giroud. It was his 100th goal for Arsenal. He would have ideally preferred scoring it in a North London derby or against Manchester United but that landmark deserved a bit more than just a casual shrug of the shoulders. Maybe, he’s finally accepted his fate of playing second fiddle at Arsenal.

Olivier Giroud is a proper striker.  He is an old-fashioned centre-forward.  His game lacks pace but he’s brilliant at hold-up play and intelligent link-ups. But he’s not world class and he can’t  win Arsenal the league. He can win them FA Cups but the Premier League? Nah. At least that’s what the experts believe.

But sports isn’t about experts. They don’t run the game. They aren’t the driving force for any sportsman because they don’t invest in them. Neither they create the atmosphere in the stadiums. The fans do. Hence, every sportsman cares more about the chants around the stadium rather than the jibes delivered in the commentary box.

Na..na…na..na..na… – Giroud also has one. The fans sing it too. Off late, the frequency has been abrupt. With the arrival of Alexandre Lacazette, the master of the quiff and the owner of ‘the beard’ doesn’t make the cut with the Gunners’ faithful anymore. That’s the thing with relationships in life and football. After some time, the charm is lost. There’s always someone new on offer and a new song to be sung. The years of togetherness piles on and the importance of loving each other and being supportive is often forgotten. People get tired too soon. The flaws are magnified and we shift the spotlight on what’s wrong rather than what is right. Bit by bit, it pushes us apart and a feeling of – “I deserve better” – creeps in.

The same’s happened between Arsenal fans and the Frenchman. He’s now become one of the major factors that have led to the decade-long mediocrity of the Gunners. Every time he starts, twitter sneers at his selection. Every miss chance is met with – “Ffs Giroud” – on social media. Every loss is met with scathing criticism.

Giroud biggest enemy was timing. He arrived at Arsenal at the wrong time. He put on the red and white shirt when the Gooner-clan was reeling with the wounds inflicted on them by ‘the one who shall not be named’.  In him, they searched for a like-for-like replacement. They craved for a flashing left foot. They yearned for screaming long-rangers and of course, those swerving free-kicks.

Giroud tried his best – he curled a few in with his left, flicked a few with his right, he leapt as high as he could to meet the rest with his head. But it wasn’t enough. It would never be. It won’t because Giroud wasn’t the chosen one. Most fans didn’t even know who he was.  Moreover, continuous comparisons with the Dutchman made sure that the six feet four-inch striker always fell short of expectations. They forgot that the man Giroud replaced stayed for a period of eight years but sparkled only for two seasons.

Giroud was taken for granted, immediately. Judgements were passed and he was labeled as an ordinary striker. But Giroud was far from ordinary. Back in 2012, he joined the North London outfit after he helped Montpellier clinch the Ligue 1. With 21 goals and nine assists, he was the star.

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So what happened? Where did all that promise go? The reality is that Giroud can only be as good as the rest of the team. He doesn’t have the skills to carry a team on his shoulders. He can’t-do all by himself. But he can stand beside his own when the times are tough. Arsenal opened the doors for him this summer.  Even the fans were okay with him leaving. He stayed.

Yes, the other clubs couldn’t match his salary demands but never has he had moments of public display of frustration nor has he created a racket about his situation at the club. He chose to stay in a World Cup year, fighting for his place alongside his compatriot – maybe it’s time for the Arsenal fans to laud his bravery.

But these things hardly matter anymore. Success is the ultimate indicator and in football, the meaning of success is extremely skewed. If you can’t win trophies, you are a failure. If clubs are not ready to pay a 100 million for you, you’re a reject.

Giroud has his flaws. Lots of them. He can’t bury every chance that’s created. He misses sitters. He can’t score 20 plus goals every season. He hasn’t brought the title to the Emirates. He lacks pace. He lacks intent. He isn’t Harry Kane.

Yet, he’s netted 100 goals for Arsene Wenger’s wobbling army. But even with those 100 goals, Giroud can’t be Alexis. Giroud can’t even be Lacazette. Giroud can only be Giroud. And that shouldn’t depreciate his value. He’s a necessity for the Gunners because he understands the beauty of Arsenal. He gets it and so he can produce a one touch-Wilshere against Norwich or a scorpion kick against Palace. But most importantly, with the clock running down, he can climb over defenders, stretch his neck and earn Arsenal a vital point.

Arsenal won’t win the league this season. They may not even finish in the top four. The Europa nights will decide their fate. But the heroes don’t turn up on Thursday evenings. This season Arsenal need a sedulous soldier to brave through fights in Serbia and Belarus. “Our story is not finished”, said Giroud when quizzed about his decision to stay at the Emirates.

You know what, he might just be right.

 

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