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How Olivier Giroud can help end Chelsea’s hoodoo against Arsenal

  • May 28, 2019

Had things worked out differently, Olivier Giroud might have been lining up for Arsenal in a European final rather than against them for their London rivals Chelsea.

The 32-year-old has been away from the Emirates for almost 18-months now yet the sight of him wearing Chelsea blue rather than Arsenal red still hasn’t quite been normalised given how he became part of the furniture at his former club over the course of five-and-a-half seasons.

Giroud was in a lot of ways the quintessential Arsene Wenger signing; a low-cost, low-risk Frenchman plucked from relative obscurity and developed into a household name and seasoned international player during his spell in north London.

While at Arsenal, Giroud scored 105 goals, played a decisive role in two of Arsenal’s three FA Cup wins while scoring in the other – a routine win against Aston Villa – and made more appearances (253) for the club under Wenger than the likes of Tony Adams, Gilberto Silva and Ashley Cole.

Despite that, Giroud was never universally loved by the Arsenal faithful, more grudgingly respected. A 6’4 target man renowned for his aerial prowess and back-to-goal set-up play, Giroud was persistently (and slightly unfairly) compared unfavourably to silkier, more prolific club legends whom he had succeeded such as Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Ian Wright.

Giroud won three FA Cups with Arsenal but was never universally admired by the club’s supporters (Picture: Getty)

Arsenal fans never quite took to Giroud and that feeling was mirrored by French supporters, some of whom saw their country’s success in the last World Cup as a victory secured in spite of their non-goalscoring centre forward than because of his selfless contribution to the team’s attacks.

Even his current manager, Maurizio Sarri, has been reluctant to use Giroud as his starting striker, preferring the misfiring Alvaro Morata, the off-the-pace Gonzalo Higuain and the out-of-position Eden Hazard to the Frenchman in the Premier League. Just seven of his 27 league outings have been starts.

And yet the perennially under-rated and under-appreciated Giroud, possibly even more so than Hazard, is the player whom Arsenal supporters will be most wary of inflicting damage on their team when they face Chelsea in Baku on Wednesday night given his Europa League exploits this term.

Only two players have scored ten goals in the 2018-19 iteration of the Europa League. One is the continent’s next best thing Luka Jovic, linked with a move to Real Madrid, Barcelona and others, and held up by some as his generation’s Luis Suarez equivalent. The other is Giroud.

Europa League top goalscorers


Accounting for assists on top of goals, Giroud has had a direct contribution in a Chelsea goal every 79 minutes in the Europa League this season. Amongst Giroud’s ten strikes feature a couple of trademark headers, a few predatory close-range finishes off either foot and even a free-kick, swept into the top corner against Dynamo Kiev.

Those statistics help underline why he, rather than January’s headline addition from Juventus, Higuain, is in line to start the final against his former club, yet as with Giroud there is plenty more besides the goals which have made him an integral piece of Sarri’s European jigsaw.

Unlike his competitor Higuain, who seemingly has as much interest in joining in with build-up play as a seven-year-old has talking politics, Giroud’s work outside the confines of the penalty area is almost as important as what he does inside it.

Willian and Pedro – Chelsea’s first-choice wingers in the Europa League this season – have both benefited from having Giroud to bounce off up front, while there is a general consensus that Hazard, similarly to Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe for France, performs better with Giroud rather than a big-name striker.

Olivier Giroud can help get the best out of Eden Hazard
Eden Hazard has benefited from playing alongside Olivier Giroud this season (Picture: Getty)

That is because Giroud acts as a magnet to opposition defenders, with his stature naturally drawing them towards him. With Giroud able to occupy at least one centre-back at all times, the likes of Willian, Pedro and most importantly Hazard, should find pockets of space from which to exploit as secondary runners from the striker’s lay-offs.

Chelsea’s poor recent record against Arsenal – one win in eight games – adds further weight to Giroud’s importance in the final. During those eight matches, Chelsea started Alvaro Morata (four times), Eden Hazard (twice) and Diego Costa and Michy Batshuayi once apiece.

All four are mobile centre forwards who can stretch defences, yet Arsenal, not exactly renowned for being watertight at the back in recent times, managed to defend against them all pretty comfortably keeping three clean sheets and conceding more than once just twice in total.

In the last meeting between the two at the Emirates in January, meanwhile, it was Hazard’s turn to lead the line, a role that clearly does not suit the Belgian and in a dominant Arsenal display, he was a peripheral figure, failing to have a single shot on target in 90 minutes.

Arsenal conceded 51 times in the Premier League this season
Arsenal conceded 51 times in the Premier League this season, 12 more than Chelsea (Picture: Getty)

Giroud, therefore, will give Arsenal something else to think about. Sokratis Papastathopolous is a defender built for one-on-one combat, yet somewhat surprisingly given his rugged approach to defending, the Greek isn’t all that dominant in the air.

The much-maligned Shkodran Mustafi is actually Arsenal’s best header of the ball but given his form this season, Giroud will fancy his chances of causing him problems, while Laurent Koscielny has had an injury-disrupted campaign.

Giroud has enjoyed plenty of success in his career to date, winning four FA Cups, a Ligue 1 title with unfashionable Montpellier and of course a World Cup with France, however, his throwback style of play has often seen his talents disregarded or unnoticed.

It is hard to predict, therefore, what kind of legacy Giroud will have when he retires in a few years time. Perhaps one glaring omission from his CV is the lack of a big moment in a big game that will go on to define what has been a very productive career. Providing that against Arsenal in a major final would give him just that.

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