The Gunners are closing on one of the most sought-after French forwards, but he should be seen as the team's future star striker, not merely as a substitute for the Dutchman
On May 24, when he arrived at Clairefontaine to prepare for Euro 2012 with the rest of the French squad, Olivier Giroud shared his room with his best friend Laurent Koscielny, the Arsenal defender.
They played together for a year in Tours back in the 2008-09 season. At the time, Tours were competing in Ligue 2 under Daniel Sanchez, one of Arsene Wenger's closest allies. Koscielny was voted best defender of the year and Giroud, who signed 12 months earlier from Istres after one campaign in the third division, was already starting to make a name for himself there with nine goals in 23 league appearances.
It didn't take long for Koscielny and Giroud to become good mates. They were almost the same age (Koscielny was born on September 10, 1985 and Giroud September 26, 1986), had the same strong-valued education and hard-working mentality and more importantly, they were going through the same atypical journey to reach the top level. In the same way he had faith in Koscielny, Sanchez was really the first one to believe in Giroud, who went through the Grenoble Youth Academy but never got his chance there.
He never gave up, though, as he kept fighting and finally, following his move to Montpellier, made it right to the top with a French league title this season after scoring 21 goals in Ligue 1, sharing the Golden Boot with Paris Saint-Germain's Nene.
Back to Clairefontaine just a few weeks ago. Koscielny had these words for his old friend when I saw him there: "I always knew he would become the great player he is now. He always had something more than the others.
"I am delighted that he won the French title and finished the league top goalscorer because he deserved it. He has worked so hard for it. And the best is yet to come."
While they were room-mates in the France training camp, you would have thought that the two friends may have had time to speak about perhaps becoming team-mates again, this time at Arsenal. But there was probably no need.
Giroud has always dreamt of plying his trade in the Premier League and pulling on the Arsenal jersey. He doesn't need to discuss it with Koscielny. He doesn't need to be convinced by anyone. It was just his dream and he was hoping that it could become a reality one day.
|GIROUD'S CAREER STATS
It's not a done deal yet but reports both in England and in France agree that talks between the two parties are ongoing. The Gunners won't comment on it but it's common knowledge now that Wenger is a big fan of Giroud, like many other coaches in Europe. The manager, who is also a pundit on French TV for France's Euro 2012 games, has been following him since that first season at Tours.
He watched him in the three friendly games before Poland-Ukraine and was particularly impressed with his performance against Iceland, where the striker set up the last two goals - one with a great one-two with Franck Ribery and the second with a fine header for Adil Rami, to turn the contest round for France and win the game 3-2. This week, Montpellier coach Rene Girard admitted it would be very hard for his club to keep Giroud for one more year.
"He has chosen Arsenal. He wants to go there. His clause is €12 million and with a price like that, it will be tough to keep him," said the former France Under-21 coach.
Girard and his president Louis Nicollin know of Giroud's desire to become a Gunner.
So what can Arsenal fans and Emirates Stadium regulars expect if Giroud becomes yet another French signing for Wenger this summer?
They will see a very tall and physical player, a pure goalscorer. As an added sweetener, he netted against Olympique de Marseille, Lille, and Olympique Lyonnais, three of the biggest Ligue 1 clubs, in 2011-12.
They will see a clever footballer, brought up by an affluent family near the Alps, with a great left foot and intelligent movement. They will see an athlete who has improved immensely in the last five years, from the third division to Euro 2012. They will see a versatile striker who can play on his own up front, with two wingers, another forward next to him or a playmaker behind him.
They will see a man who has had to work so hard in life that he has developed incredible mental strength, and has drawn a lot of self-belief and confidence through his journey. However, he is not a selfish player; more a team player, one capable of making goals for his colleagues. And all that for €12 million ... a bargain for Arsenal.
However, there are a few question marks over his big-game experience. When France played Germany away in Bremen in February in a friendly, which Les Bleus won 2-1 thanks to a goal from Giroud, it was only the second time in the 25-year-old's whole career that he played a game away from home.
Before that, he had only ever once played away from French soil: it was in Gyor, Hungary, in the third-round qualifier of the Europa League and Montpellier got knocked out. Giroud, as it appears, has never played in a Uefa club competition proper, let alone in the Champions League.
His lack of high-level experience (he only has six caps for France) could pose an issue in what he hopes will be a smooth transisition to the English game. In addition, there's no telling how he would react at a big club, with increased pressure and stern competition for places.
At the moment, Robin van Persie remains a Gunner, and Giroud would not be brought in to replace him. They could play together or, if the Dutchman stays, the Frenchman could shadow him as his understudy and prepare to succeed him in future.
There is no need to remind anyone that Wenger rarely gets it wrong when it comes to signing a French forward. Gilles Grimandi, Arsenal's scout in France, has watched Giroud many times this season and each time, he loved him more and more.
Let's hope that, if he signs, the Arsenal fans will feel exactly the same as Grimandi.Julien Laurens is a French football journalist who is based in London and works for a number of publications including Le Parisien, RTL and Infosport.