It’s often said that cockroaches would be the only living species to survive extreme nuclear fallout. Their simple bodies and slower cell cycles offer resistance to radiation, which is fatal towards beings with more active biological sequences. Olivier Giroud couldn’t be further away from having a ‘simple body’, and while I don’t have his exact anatomical figures to hand, it’s unlikely he’d survive extreme nuclear fallout. But no matter what is thrown at him, whatever alternatives are tried, the Frenchman keeps clawing his way back to find the back of the net with regularity. Arsenal’s very own cockroach.
Throughout Arsene Wenger’s tenure at the club, world class striking talent has become the norm. The likes of Ian Wright, Nicolas Anelka, Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry all set an incredibly high standard - even Emmanuel Adebayor was transformed into a 30-goal-a-season forward. Robin van Persie’s departure in 2012 was a tough pill to swallow for Arsenal fans, and Giroud, having finally earned his big money move, would learn quickly that settling in wasn’t an option. Despite originally being signed as an alternative to the Dutchman, first team football came quicker than anticipated.
After a slow start (which included that glaring miss against Sunderland on his debut), you’d do well to find fault in the 30-year-old’s numbers. For someone criticised so often, 60 Premier League goals and 20 assists in 140 appearances is extremely impressive. He’s also scored 13 in the FA Cup, another 13 in the Champions League and two in the League Cup. That’s 85 goals in total, which leaves him 23rd in the list of Arsenal’s all-time top scorers – sandwiched between Robert Pires and Cliff Holton.
Since his arrival in English football, nobody has scored more headed goals than Giroud (21). Not only that, but following his trademark bullet header against Manchester United, he became the club’s leading scorer as a substitute with ten goals. The former Montpellier man is also one of five to score a Champions League hat-trick for Arsenal, in addition to becoming the first ever player to score a brace with his first two touches (vs Sunderland in October). He has made a significant impact in North London regardless of what many think of him.
However, beyond the Frenchman’s evident success as Arsenal’s frontman, the manager has never hidden his craving for attacking fluency. For all his strengths, the Gunners simply cannot play a smooth and flexible game with a 6ft 4in, 90kg focal point ahead of them. Failed pursuits of Luis Suarez in 2013 and Marco Reus in 2016 highlight Wenger’s desire for mobility, with both Theo Walcott and Alexis Sanchez given license to lead the line over the last 18 months with varying degrees of success. Gervinho was even used as a centre forward due to the threat he posed in behind.
But here we are, approaching 2017, and Giroud is still a valuable member to this squad. His progress has been halted slightly this season thanks to a persistent toe problem, yet in just 128 minutes of football he has found the net four times – that's a goal every 32 minutes. With the boss often seeking an alternative to him in the past, the tables have turned with his aerial presence and ability to hold up play providing a welcome change to the dynamism of Alexis.
Wenger admitted recently that Giroud is not happy sitting on the bench, but took time to praise his mental strength and revealed admiration in how he continuously proves people wrong. ‘Olivier is a guy who is mentally absolutely fantastic,’ he told the club’s official website. ‘He’s strong and every time he’s questioned, he gives you the right answer on the pitch. I admire that in him. He’s a guy who has gone through some difficult questions.’
It’s easy to criticise the players we watch week in, week out because we are privy to every mistake, every misplaced pass and every missed chance. But that also makes it easy to praise players because we get to see what cut and cropped highlight shows don’t give you. For every time he's shanked a simple shot wide, for every counter attack he's slowed down, there’s no denying that Olivier Giroud is a fantastic striker who has proven his worth for both club and country when doubts are repeatedly raised.
It’s easy to forget that this is a guy who has worked his way up from the fifth tier of French football with Grenoble, to playing at the highest level of European football in the Champions League. One thing I’ve always admired about him is that he never hides on the pitch when things aren’t going his way. He rarely shirks media responsibilities, and when he is questioned, will always provide genuine and honest answers about what’s going wrong and how he can improve.
He may not be a Sergio Aguero or a Diego Costa, but few players in Europe can dominate defenders physically like he can, while also having the technical quality to fit in with a squad full of smaller more technically accomplished players. Few have mastered the near post flick as delicately and precisely as him. Whenever menacing soles loiter from above, he’ll take a crunch on his back and struggle a bit before getting back up to do what he does best – score goals. With a few dramatic flicks of his hand along the way, of course.