As Olivier Giroud trudged off the pitch on Wednesday night against Monaco, the boos were audible. The frustration was evident. The levels of anger were at boiling point.
By the Frenchman’s standards, he had endured a miserable evening’s work. Countless chances had been squandered against Monaco, opportunities he would usually gobble up.
I am never one to criticise fans for voicing their opinions. They are always entitled to do so. They can boo, shout, cry and scream. At the end of the day they have paid to be there, they are the loyal ones. Players will come and go, managers will change and so will owners too – but the fans will always be there.
But, when it came to Giroud walking off to those frustrated fans, I couldn’t help but feel for the striker. Not because his performance didn’t warrant criticism, but because of the expectation labelled on him by supporters.
Let’s get one thing straight, Giroud has essentially carried this Arsenal side when it comes to the striking department. A quick glance down the road at Chelsea tells you all you need to know. Like the Gunners, the Blues usually play one up top – Diego Costa. But in reserve are Loïc Rémy and Didier Drogba.
Manchester City can amazingly boast four top strikers; Sergio Agüero, Edin Džeko, Stevan Jovetić and Wilfried Bony.
That quartet cost £112m. Giroud cost £9.6m.
Even Manchester United typify the bank-busting point, with their trio of Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Radamel Falcao dwarfing Arsenal’s options.
Admittedly this season Giroud has been given help by the signings of Danny Welbeck and Alexis Sánchez, but you’d argue Arsenal still don’t have the 30-goal-a-season striker that fans crave.
And that’s another thing to get straight, Giroud is not a 30-goal-a-season striker. In fact, he probably never will be – but would you expect that from a player who cost £9.6m?
Below is a list of the Premier League’s top scorer’s for the past six seasons, including the current one.
Luis Suárez ———————————2013/14—————
Robin van Persie —————-———2012/13 ————————————— £24m
Robin van Persie ———————— 2011/12 ————————————— £2.75m
Dimitar Berbatov —————-—— 2010/11————————————— £30.75m
Didier Drogba ————————-— 2009/10 ————————————— £24m
Excluding Van Persie’s final year at Arsenal, you can see the fees make clear reading. Unless you cost above £20m, odds are you won’t be winning the golden boot.
That being said Giroud is still a very good back-up striker, the man you’d arguably have in my squad to rotate with the first choice frontman. We have seen it predominantly against the lesser sides this season where the 28-year-old is able to fill his boots.
Indeed, 75% of Giroud’s goals this season have come against sides who finished outside the top four last season.
With his strength, brilliant hold-up play and tireless running, Giroud capitalises against weaker opponents. Every team needs a flat-track bully – so why can’t Giroud be Arsenal’s?
And that is what frustrates me when I see Giroud trudging off the pitch to a chorus of boos. What do people really expect from him? He’s a £9.6m striker. He’s not Agüero.
For my money, Giroud’s tally of 52 goals in the two and a half seasons since joining Arsenal is what I’d expect. In fact, for £9.6m he is a very good striker. Exceptional value for money given the ludicrously inflated prices that players go for in today’s market.
Of course, someone must take part of the blame for the first leg defeat to Monaco. Undoubtedly Giroud should have perhaps taken one of those chances, but in reality is it not Arsène Wenger’s responsibility to have signed a world-class striker?
For how long have supporters cried out for a goal machine to catapult Arsenal up the league? As soon as Van Persie left it was stated that a direct replacement was needed.
Undeniably finding a world-class striker is not easy. There are very few out there who could come in and make their mark on the Premier League. Knee-jerk reactions from supporters often lead to loose and wild suggestions.
Christian Benteke? Michu? Mario Balotelli?
Thankfully Wenger is more patient.
Finding that striker to take Arsenal to the next level will not be easy, but Giroud’s difficulties against the top teams show it is necessary to bring one in.
The squad is not yet complete, not yet ready to win a title. It is close, no doubt about that, and other areas of it will be easier to bolster in the summer.
The defensive midfielder department is full of players around Europe who can offer more than Francis Coquelin. Another centre-half can be found by scouring Germany or dropping in on Italy for one round of Serie A fixtures. A solid and reliable number one goalkeeper could be there in Wojciech Szczęsny, but if not José Mourinho has admitted Petr Čech could leave.
“I won’t lose my time trying to persuade him to stay because I know nobody can persuade him,” the Chelsea boss recently said.
When it comes to strikers though, it is tough. That’s why they go for so much money. They are the match winners, the game changers.
In the past five years, every winner of the PFA Player of the Year award has been a forward.
Strikers are the most prized commodity in football. And that’s why for now Giroud needs to be cut some slack.
In a world of £20m forwards, he is doing a very good job. He came from Montpellier to one of the biggest clubs in Europe and he’s developed and held his own. When the team has been without a top level striker he has dug in, done the donkey work and held the side together. It has been his hold-up play which has allowed creative players to flourish.
It was perhaps poetic that just four days after that miserable Monaco night, Giroud found the net against Everton.
Wenger said in his press conference afterwards that he never thought about dropping the Frenchman.
“Olivier has one great quality when he’s back is to the wall. He has the personality and the quality to respond,” said Wenger.
“Because I know him better now that is one of the reasons I kept him in the team. He acknowledge that he missed his game [v Monaco] and I know when he is conscience of that he will respond.
“He has the strength to do it.”
Wenger was right – he did respond. And for now, the boos have once again turned to cheers for Giroud – and so they should. He’s done all that can be expected of him. Now all Arsenal need is the striker to take them on to the next level.
Simon Collings is a Regular Columnist here at #ABW – check him out on Twitter at @sr_collings. He is also part of a Premier League Podcast called All About the 3 Points which we definitely think you should check out.