Olivier Giroud’s first season in English football yielded a fairly decent return. He scored 17 times but Arsenal’s desire for the utmost quality up front led them to pursue the likes of Gonzalo Higuain, Wayne Rooney, Luis Suarez and eventually Karim Benzema this summer, none of whom they managed to land. Benzema however, has been out of sorts at Real Madrid and ironically, it’s Giroud’s good form this season that’s threatening to dislodge the Madridista from his starting role in the national team.
Giroud has made just five starts for France and even then, he was normally accommodated along with Benzema rather than being picked ahead of him. Despite hinting that the two strikers could learn to play in tandem over time, new coach Didier Deschamps has made it clear that for the time being, he will have to pick one over the other.
On current form, you’d have to say that Giroud should be ahead in the pecking order. The Frenchman has responded to several pundits’ determination of Arsenal’s deficiency in the striking department by scoring six goals and providing two assists in 11 games for the club this season.
With a star-studded midfield behind him, Giroud has led the line like a seasoned veteran. Thanks to his height and aerial threat, he makes for a good target man but that’s far from describing the extent of the job he does for the side.
Deschamps must back Giroud now
At the moment, Arsenal’s midfield is like a well-oiled high performance engine with a lot of moving parts. For all of that to bear fruition in the final third, you need a hard working striker up front who’s intelligent enough to know where he needs to be at all times, not a lone stationary figure to merely bypass enroute to goal.
Giroud can receive the ball into feet, bring it down or flicks it on for a colleague and can hold up the play but that’s not all that goes with leading the line. His movement has been better than he’s been given credit for. He drops deep, drags defenders wide and makes runs in behind the back line. However, his link-up play has been outstanding as well.
It’s that side of his game that came to the fore against West Bromwich Albion on the weekend. With Arsenal 1-0 down away from home and creating precious little, Giroud received the ball on the right flank and did exceptionally well to hold on to it under pressure. He forced his way past two defenders to cut inside and play a crisp pass to Tomas Rosicky who laid it off for Jack Wilshere to strike and drag Arsenal level.
Against Napoli in the Champions League, the 26 year-old had a huge hand in Mesut Ozil’s goal which is arguably one of the best of the tournament so far. Giroud dragged his center-back out of position, chested the ball down, was aware of Aaron Ramsey’s run down the outside and found him with a neat flicked pass before the Welshman picked out Ozil who finished in style.
Giroud must be handed a start
However, despite all the work strikers may put in, they’re invariably judged by their goal-scoring exploits and Giroud has become something of a fox-in-the-box this season. All six of his goals in this term have come from within 12 yards of the goal, one from the spot while four of the other five were clinical one-touch finishes.
His goal in the north London derby stands out as it broke the deadlock and was superbly worked. His dummy run to the far post was quickly followed by a dash to the near one as he nonchalantly flicked in Theo Walcott’s cross with the outside of his left boot.
It’s that kind of finishing touch that’s complimented the embarrassment of riches Arsene Wenger has in midfield. With the way Giroud spearheads the attack ahead of such a quick and creative midfield, there’s no reason why he can’t do the same for France whose midfield is in some ways reminiscent of Arsenal’s with the likes of Yohan Cabaye, Paul Pogba, Samir Nasri, Franck Ribery, Mathieu Valbuena and Hatem Ben Arfa just some of the illustrious names to choose from.
Benzema on the other hand has struggled in Madrid. The striker was renowned for his clinical finishing at Lyon but the number of times he’s fluffed his lines for Los Blancos is more than a little worrying. His goals to games ratio of 0.45 in Ligue 1 has only marginally improved to 0.47 in the La Liga despite gaining experience and operating with better players around him.
The 25-year-old hasn't found the back of the net for les Bleus for 1,217 minutes, but insists he knows that run will end sooner rather than later.
"It is true that it's the longest period of my career without scoring, but it will not last 10 years," Benzema told Sport.
While watching his talent fade amongst his glamourous teammates at the Santiago Bernabeu has been disappointing, his failure to take advantage of the platform he’s been afforded this season is truly disheartening.
With only a 20 year-old Alvaro Morata to compete with, Benzema has failed to establish himself as the undisputed leading man in attack for Madrid, primarily because of his wastefulness in front of goal. The 25 year-old has gone over 500 minutes without a La Liga goal despite starting every game. What’s worse, he’s currently on a drought that extends beyond 1200 minutes with the national team as well.
France’s friendly against Australia on Friday night will be an opportunity for Deschamps to have a look at his options and if Giroud’s recent form doesn’t earn him a starting berth, not much else will. Of course, the World Cup winner will also have to contemplate playing Newcastle United’s Loic Remy who has five goals in five games for the Magpies but notably in a vastly different system.
At present, Giroud appears to be the most suitable option for Les Bleus and should be granted the opportunity to prove himself against worthy opposition.
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