It is Wednesday morning /and Arsenal fans are full of hope as the unknown quantity of Monaco rolls into north London. It is a big day for every Gunner, but none more so than Olivier Giroud.
The striker had been in fine form leading up to the Champions League first leg and was expected to make the difference against a defence that had conceded just one goal in six group games. Expectation was high, not just in England but in his native France as well.
He drummed up even more press by giving L'Equipe a juicy exclusive interview, in which he suggested that he had been just as good as Chelsea's Diego Costa and Manchester City's Sergio Aguero since returning from a broken leg. Big talk for a man flanked with as much criticism as praise since he arrived at the Emirates in 2012.
Despite scoring eight goals in just ten Premier League starts this season, he has taken an average of 112 minutes per goal. Compare that to Costa (99mins) and Aguero (86mins) then the difference between the Frenchman and the other two becomes quite apparent. Thanks to an abject performance against Monaco, you don't need stats to see the difference between Giroud, Costa and Aguero.
The big man upfront missed a host of chances when the game was still well within Arsenal's reach. A header from a free-kick on 52 minutes, when the scoreline was still 1-0, would usually have been buried by Giroud, but went sailing over the bar. It wasn't even close and his frustration was clear, punching the ground three times.
A poor performance
2-0 down and things got even worse for Giroud. He missed an open goal from six yards out, skying the ball to make Arsenal's night worse than it ever had to be. Arsenal fans' unofficial mouthpiece 'Claude' stated he was a "£10million striker", whatever that means and that Arsenal needed a "£30, £40million striker" to win major trophies.
It seems all of Giroud's hard work, his masterful display against Manchester City at the Etihad and his growingly impressive goal scoring return, had gone out of the window by the time he was substituted for Theo Walcott.
Ironic cheers rung round the Emirates when Giroud trudged off the pitch, a man beaten not just by his misfortune but by the unnecessary jeers from 60,000 disgruntled Arsenal fans.
The ultimate outlet
However, as soon as he came off, Arsenal's attacking threat went down measurably. They no longer had an outlet to play the long ball game that is almost always required against a stubborn defence like Monaco's. They play a chronically deep line and Walcott thrives on just the opposite. The Englishman was useless.
On any other day, Giroud would have scored at least one goal and the entire game would have changed. The law of averages suggests any striker, even Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, will have these games from time to time. To suggest it was evidence that Giroud is not good enough is farcical, desperate and shortsighted.
The fact is that Giroud has been a crucial part of Wenger's tactics and has been a terrific servant for the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil in recent weeks. He makes their job easier. He wins headers, holds up the ball and, usually, can finish well.
His confidence may have been shot during the game against Monaco and Arsene Wenger may have felt obliged to take him out of the firing line, but all he did was eradicate any chance of redeeming himself.
Luckily, he has the ability, confidence and determination to recover from such an episode and the reactionary nature of football fans suggests that he is a winning goal away from redemption. For now, he is perfect for Arsenal's tactics and suggestions that Wenger should blow the lion's share of his £50million summer budget is ludicrous.
This Arsenal team is not the same as the one that relied so heavily on Robin van Persie. If the likes of Sanchez, Walcott and Danny Welbeck are doing their jobs properly then Giroud does not need to score 20 or 25 goals to justify his place in the squad. It is a team game, and Giroud is the ultimately team player.
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