Olivier Giroud: An Underappreciated Star
“He offers an aerial threat but doesn’t have the pace;” “He fails to perform under pressure;” “He lacks consistency.” If you’re a soccer fan, you’ve probably heard these comments tossed around about Olivier Giroud.
“He offers an aerial threat but doesn’t have the pace;” “He fails to perform under pressure;” “He lacks consistency.” If you’re a soccer fan, you’ve probably heard these comments tossed around about Olivier Giroud. The soccer community, especially Chelsea FC supporters, is well aware of Giroud’s tumultuous journey during his three-year stay at Stamford Bridge. In the latter half of the 2017-18 season, Antonio Conte benched Giroud for Alvaro Morata; in the 2018-19 season Maurizio Sarri preferred Argentinian Gonzalo Higuain. Since 2019, Frank Lampard has opted for 23-year-old Tammy Abraham, making Giroud Chelsea’s eternal second-choice striker.
So it was refreshing to see Giroud deliver a solo performance without caveat against Julen Lopetegui’s Sevilla FC––his first start since September. The Frenchman completed a perfect hat-trick (scoring with his left foot, right foot, and with his head) and fired a spot-on penalty into the top corner as Chelsea thrashed Sevilla 4-0 to remain on top of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League Group E table.
Here’s what’s ironic: Giroud can hardly get playing time at Chelsea (he played less than 1000 minutes in the 2019-20 Premier League season) yet remains a regular pick in Didier Deschamps’ number two-ranked France squad over elite players such as four-time Champions League winner Karim Benzema and Manchester United FC ace Anthony Martial.
Though often overlooked, Giroud is arguably the best target man in world football, utilizing his large 6’3’’ frame to secure possession and free up fellow attackers. The Frenchman catalyzed both Eden Hazard’s and Alexis Sanchez’s attacking influence on Chelsea and Arsenal FC respectively. Hazard and Sanchez, both world-class wingers, love to cut in from the wings and penetrate the six-yard box. While their shooting skills deserve credit, Giroud consistently created the attacking opportunities by receiving long passes and dragging out opposing defenders. Moreover, Giroud’s hold-up play, an intentional dribble into space to delay until support can arrive, is often second to none. Upon receiving a pass, he selflessly buys time and lays off precise through-balls to the sprinting wingers. The statistics also support Giroud’s role in unleashing Hazard in the 2018-19 Premier League season. In the seven league games Giroud started, Hazard scored six times, meaning Hazard netted 37.5 percent of his league goals while starting alongside Giroud. Following a 4-1 victory against Cardiff City, the Belgian forward said: “Olivier’s a target man, maybe the best in the world. When he gets the ball, he can hold the ball and we can go in deep with him, so for us it’s a pleasure to play with him.” Likewise, Giroud didn’t score at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, but he remained a starter in France’s winning squad by contributing to Antoine Griezmann’s goals during the campaign.
Yet, one must not forget his finishing ability, particular in the air. Since Giroud’s 2012 debut for Arsenal in the Premier League, he has scored more headed goals (31 out of 87 goals) than any other player. Often in attacks, Giroud initially backs up to beat the offside trap, then rushes in between the defenders, creating room for a threatening header. Yet, his heading ability is not his only forte. Against Sevilla, notably, the second goal was Messi-esque––quick short steps and faultless touches before a classy chip over the keeper. It’s the type of quality goal that you expect from small, agile players, not a towering man such as Giroud. Following the world-class performance, Lampard kept the 34-year-old veteran in the starting lineup against Leeds United, and it paid off brilliantly. Though Chelsea caught a frustrating start with Leeds’ Patrick Bamford netting the first goal, the Blues were quick to respond; Giroud intelligently positioned himself between the defenders and extended his lower body to convert right back Reece James’ cross into a much-needed equalizer before the half-time whistle.
During his seven seasons at Arsenal, Giroud’s tally of 105 goals in 253 appearances aided the team’s success in multiple Football Association (FA) Cup and FA Community Shield campaigns. At the international level, he has 44 goals for his country––making him France’s second-highest goalscorer––and has eyes on Theirry Henry’s record of 51. Giroud’s trophy cabinet is splendid, and it is odd that a career containing four FA Cups, one Ligue 1 title, three FA Community Shields, the UEFA Europa League, and the FIFA World Cup is somehow undervalued; instead, it is one that deserves a thrilling conclusion. And in the past few games, Giroud reminded the soccer world that he still carries a unique threat. So next time you criticize his lack of flashy skills or doubt his impact on the field, think again. You’ll be thankful you did.