You’ll often hear it said about the modern game that football is far too statistics-centric. How far has a player ran in a certain match? How many defensive clearances did a defender make? how many assists per 90 minutes is a creative playmaker averaging?
For the most part I’m of the opinion that they do nothing more than break down segments of the sport for analysts to pour over as they look for original content to satisfy fans. Football is a dish best served fluid and flexible, not one summed up by stats and figures that can tell you everything bar how much oxygen a player utilised whilst on the pitch (I’m honestly not sure if there is a stat for that, yet).
The important stats
But of course certain readings cannot be ignored for the sake of old-fashioned appeal. Perhaps the most obvious metric used to reflect a player’s ability is the amount of goals he’s scored, position dependent, naturally. Just ask Mario Balotelli, he’ll tell you how quickly the bayonets are branded if you’re a striker unable to find the back of the net.
In this respect - and not just for the sake of the argument I’m about to put forward - I have no problem with drawing out the stats sheet to determine just how effective a striker is. After all, we’re not talking about how many times a player has used his feet to clear a ball as opposed to his head, a figure that’s relevance is difficult to quantify with regards to how successful its translation is to on-pitch fortunes. No, we’re talking about goals scored - particularly by strikers. What’s that famous saying? Goals win games.
In recent years the role of the striker has varied to some degree. Certain sides look to use a target-man, one whose presence provides not just an aerial threat but also a literal tower that defenders have to negotiate. His usefulness is most commonly found in the support play he offers his teammates, not goals he scores himself.
Other teams rely on two frontmen, one who feeds off of the other's work ethic and ability to turn provider more often that not. It’s his partner who is the go-to-guy in front of goal. It’s also his partner who claims the plaudits.
Then there’s the more traditional form of forward. The Sergio Aguero, the Diego Costa, the err… Harry Kane. Though none of the three are set in a concrete mould of similarity they all share a trait more important to their sides than arguably any other player; they score lots of goals.
Olivier Giroud does not do this.
Forgetting Kane, who still has yet to prove his longevity can match his awe-inspiring current form, there is a selective group of Premier League forwards plying their trade at the moment, and Giroud does not count amongst their number. The Frenchman has bags of talent, and is an exceptional link-up man, but he falls short on what is possibly the most important stat of them all. Hitting the back of the net.
The 28-year-old’s track record for Arsenal is far from embarrassing, but sadly also far from world-class. 11 Premier League goals during his debut season was decent enough for an introductory campaign, and his 16 domestic strikes last year indicated obvious improvement. However neither tally puts him up there with the very best, and it doesn’t look like he’ll be getting there this year either.
Need for change
7 goals in 14 league games isn’t to be sneered at, but it makes for average reading when it’s considered Aguero has 16 in 20 and Costa has bagged 17 in 19. Moreover it’s the reason Arsene Wenger is said to be considering moving for another established striker in the summer; one who can provide him with the guaranteed 20+ goals a season needed for his Arsenal side to compete for the title.
Giroud is a classy performer, and his involvement when it comes to bringing those around him into the game makes him a unique front-man. However, he needs to add more goals to his game soon if he’s to ever realise the potential Wenger clearly believes he has.
Until that day Giroud will remain a little-better-than-average forward. Not because he hasn’t got the ability to be a top asset, but because the stats say he doesn’t directly decide the outcome of enough matches.