Date: 4th February 2014 at 2:11pm
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Goals win games so it`s natural that those who play in the positions most likely to score these goals get the most attention, the most adoration and of course the most criticism. Our own man up front creates a lot of debate amongst us Gooners, some feeling he is second rate while others feel he is simply underappreciated. So just how good, or bad is Oliver Giroud and is he really the man that will lead our charge towards the league title?

Comparison wise I don`t think you can really compare him to the likes of Suarez, Augero or even Van Persie mainly because they are very different types of players to Giroud. Yes they are main strikers, and you could argue are all better options than Giroud but they play very different roles in the team to our handsome Frenchman. The fact is that Giroud will never be as prolific as these players as firstly he doesn`t play in a system where he is the main man when it comes to scoring. And secondly, and I say this with the greatest of respect to Oliver, he is simply not as good as they are. He will never be as skilful as RVP, as lethal as Augero or as quick as Suarez but that doesn`t make him a bad striker.

In order to be fair to Giroud I think that we should compare like for like, both in roles that they play and how the teams that they play for are setup. Both Henry and Linekar were both great strikers but had very different skill sets so to directly compare one to the other would be unfair. Looking at the other teams in the league I think that the closest to Giroud are Benteke, Lukaku and Lambert. All are traditional target men who spend a lot of the game playing with their back to the opposition goal and work hard at bringing their team mates into play rather than worrying solely about scoring. It`s an odd thing to have a conversation about a striker when goal scoring is not their strongest point but with the now popular 4-3-3 formation more and more teams are employing their main striker with a view to offering something more than the traditional.

Physical size wise all 4 of our selection are big, Lambert at 6ft 2in is the smallest of the bunch and he gives up an inch to Lukaku and Benteke and 2 inches to Giroud. Weight wise Lukaku at 100kg (that`s 15 and a half stone!) is the real heavyweight of the bunch leaving Giroud in his wake at 88kg. While far from a lightweight Lambert comes in at only 78kg which is just 13 stone and relatively light for a lone front man. Drogba, possibly the best exponent of the lone front man is around 88kg and about 6 ft 2 inc. It`s obvious that in order to play the role they are being asked to play you have to have physical strength and height which all four players have. Robin van Persie, of the other top strikers out there, comes closest in terms of size and while he has the height he would perhaps be a bit too light to play the single forward role the way the other four do.

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Performance wise I think we`ll look at goals scored (naturally), assists, goal/assist per game ratio and percentage involvement in overall team goals. Time wise I`m going to focus on last season and this season so far which gives us a decent sample size. In order to really compare like with like I`m only going to look at Premier League games.

Looking at last season first they all played quite a lot of football considering how much of a battering that they take. Lambert played in all 38 games, Lukaku in 35 and Benteke and Giroud both in 34. Goals wise Benteke got 19, Lukaku 17, Lambert 15 and Giroud got just 11. None of the four were particularly creative with Giroud on 3 and compared to 4 assists for each of the other three. So looking at goals & assists per game Benteke was at 0.67 (as in each game he played he contributed a 0.67 of a goal or assist), Lukaku was 0.6, Lambert 0.5 and Giroud bottom at 0.41. Put into perspective last season top scorer Van Persie, would score a 0.95 using the same measurement. Finally looking at how much they were all involved in their respective team`s overall league goals produces some interesting numbers with Benteke scoring or assisting in a whopping 49% of Villa`s league goals last season, Lukaku with 43%, Lambert with 39% and Giroud at only 19%. Now you can look at this metric and say that too high a number is bad in that the team relies on you too much and while an injury to Benteke last season for Villa would obviously have been a disaster I do think that you would expect your main striker to be involved in more than a fifth of the team goals. What`s the perfect number? I`ve no idea.

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Overall while Giroud`s scores aren`t terrible he did lag behind the other three in the numbers that mattered but this season has brought a marked improvement. His goal/assist ratio has risen to 0.61 (from 0.41), his involvement in overall team goals has gone from 19% to 34% and with 10 goals and 6 assists so far this season he has already surpassed his combined tally from last season (10 goals and 3). Carrying on at the current rate we can expect him to add about another 6 or so goals and maybe 3 or so more assists which would give him a respectable 16 goals and 10. Respectable but far from frightening.

Lambert`s goal/assist per game has stayed pretty much the same at 0.52. Benteke`s form has been pretty poor and it shows as he drops from 0.67 to 0.42 while Lukaku has improved (possibly from playing in a better team?) from 0.6 to a very impressive 0.7. Interestingly all four strikers are involved in between 30%-38% of their teams goals, Lukaku leading the way at 38% and Lambert at the back with 30%.

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So what does that tell us about our man? Well first of all it tells us that his contribution is improving. He is scoring and assisting more and is involved in more of our league goals. After a solid, if unspectacular first season, he seems to have settled down and now has the confidence of his team mates and importantly has more confidence himself. Is there more improvement to come? Well I`m not so sure, I think that there`s a bit but not sure of how much. If you were given these stats without any names and asked to pick the best striker I think that Lukaku would come out as a clear winner. Taking the players ages into account you would think that Lambert is likely to go down while both Benteke and Lukaku are young enough to expect some serious improvement. Giroud is 27 and while that it not over the hill by any means he is not likely to get any faster and I think that the one thing stopping him from comfortably breaking the 20 goal a season league barrier is his lack of pace. Lukaku and Benteke are both faster and you do wonder how much they would benefit from playing in a better side? Lukaku has already improved moving from WBA to Everton, could he make the same step up going from Everton to us?

Now I fully appreciate what Giroud brings to the team. His work rate is exceptional and that fact that he gets injured so little is incredible when you consider the battering his body takes. And you can`t measure the sense of team spirit and morale that he brings to the squad but, (and this is where all the “you just hate Giroud” guys can start bashing me) I do think that there are better strikers out there. There are far more lethal finishers who may not suit our current setup (Suarez) but you could also argue that there are also better strikers (in Lukaku for example) out there suited to playing the lone front man role.

The big unknown here is how much more is to come from Giroud? Has he reached his peak or is there another 10% or 15% improvement to be had? His second season at a club has always been a marked improvement on his first which would suggest that he needs time to settle but the problem is that he`s never stayed more than two seasons at a club to judge. He`s still young enough to improve some aspects of his game but unfortunately for him and us, he is unlikely to get any quicker which is the one big drawback for me. Our team is setup such that it requires all our forward playing midfielders to contribute almost double figures in goals and Giroud provides a vital role in that he not only provides direct assists but also drags and batters defenders all over the place for the full 90 minutes. It`s no surprise that we score more in the second half of games and Giroud is key to that with the work he puts in. I suppose the question really is; is hard work, dedication and effort enough to cancel out that lack of pace and the less than 100% finishing rate? And the answer, honestly I don`t know. But if you come back to me at the end of March I`ll have a much clearer picture.