Appreciating the genius of Olivier Giroud

What do Thierry Henry, Original Ronaldo and Olivier Giroud all have in common? On the face of things, you maybe wouldn’t see too many similarities – but the three have far more in common than what meets the eye.

All three have won a league title, domestic cup, European honour, lifted the World Cup and won a top division golden boot award – as well as all having a highlights reel of some of the finest goals you’re ever likely to see.

Of course, Henry and Ronaldo are far greater players than Giroud. But the Frenchman has subtly enjoyed a stunning career, both domestically and on the international stage, whilst perhaps never receiving the credit he deserves.

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Where did it all begin for Giroud, then? A move to Ligue Deux side Tours in 2008 really kickstarted the then 21-year-old’s career, as he netted 36 in 67 – earning him the 2009/10 Golden Boot and a move to Ligue Une side Montpellier.

La Paillade were hardly a giant of French football, typically yo-yoing between the first and second French divisions during the nineties and noughties, narrowly avoiding relegation in Giroud’s first season by just three points. Despite his side’s struggles, he managed 12 goals in his maiden top flight season, but the best was yet to come.

Manager René Girard was entering his third season as manager in Southern France, with the club looking down rather than up and placed at 80/1 longshots to win their first ever league title – but that’s exactly what they did.

Soon-to-be club legends Hilton and Henri Bedimo arrived that summer, adding to the core of talented players already at the Stade de la Mosson, including Giroud, Younès Belhanda and Rémy Cabella.

Tipped to struggle, the relative minnows defied not only the odds, but the nouveau riche superpower of Paris Saint Germain – pipping the Parisians to the title by three points to lift their first ever league title.

Of course, Giroud or ‘Le buteur de charme’ (The charm striker) as he became known, played a huge part in the side’s success, netting 21 league goals to once again take the golden boot, and his place in the Team of The Season.

This success didn’t go unnoticed, as the 25-year-old was earning a reputation as a talented and technically gifted target man, who had now made over ten appearances for the French national team, including caps at the 2012 European Championships.

He left Montpellier that summer to join Arsenal for €10m, leaving with a record of 39 goals in 85 games – the fourth most in the club’s modest history – as well as a Ligue Une winners medal, a golden boot, and a collection of picture book goals – a trend that continued throughout his career.

“I will need some time to adapt, of course, but I’m not worried about that – I think I will adapt well.” Giroud said upon his arrival – and adapt he did, albeit not immediately.

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Arriving in the same summer as Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski, Arsenal stuttered in the early season, but were ultimately unbeaten in their first six games. This included a 6-1 rout of Southampton, and a victorious mid-september visit to Giroud’s former side Montpellier in the Champions League.

It took until his seventh appearance of the season for Giroud to make his mark however, opening his Arsenal account with a delightful chip in a home cup tie against Coventry, in which the Gunners once again netted six.

Giroud then went on to score five in his next ten before really making his mark in an Arsenal shirt – scoring the third of Arsenal’s five in a drubbing of bitter rivals Tottenham at the Emirates. The hallmark of a true Arsenal centre-forward, like Henry and Ian Wright before him.

He rounded off his debut campaign with 17 goals in all competitions, including strikes against Tottenham, Liverpool, Bayern Munich and three against West Ham, as Arsène Wenger’s men once again qualified for the Champions League.

This perhaps best sums up Olivier Giroud. He has guaranteed goals for so much of his career, including those in the big games and the occasional wonder goal, too. But trophies have typically followed him, as they did in his second season.

He started 2013/14 like a house on fire, netting three in three to open the campaign, before another North London derby goal against Tottenham took all the spoils in a 1-0 slugfest at the Emirates. At six foot four, Giroud has perhaps been unfairly pigeonholed as nothing more than a target man, but as they so often do, he has excellent feet.

A darting near post run left Michael Dawson for dead, before the Frenchman latched onto an inch perfect Theo Walcott cross with an impudent flick of the left boot to send the ball home. Très bon indeed Olivier, but that was no accident.

Down the years, Giroud has scored many goals like that, and perhaps that’s another facet of his game which goes under appreciated – his sangfroid and finesse.

Like all good target men, Giroud racked up the assists and claimed twelve in 13/14 – including a textbook pin on Sunderland’s Santiago Vergini before laying off Tomáš Rosický to score, or his genius flick to Jack Wilshere against Norwich – assisting perhaps the greatest Premier League goal of all time in the process.

But the Frenchman’s crowning glory came on May 17th 2014, as Arsenal defeated Hull City 3-2 in the FA Cup final – ending the Gunners’ nine year wait for a trophy.

Giroud may not have scored in the final, but his ingenious backheel in extra-time set up Aaron Ramsey to score the winner; another demonstration of the forward’s varied skill set. He ended that year with 22 goals, as well as one at the 2014 World Cup as France were knocked out by eventual champions Germany in the quarter-finals.

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The next year was more of the same. Giroud scored 19 goals and laid on four assists in all competitions, despite being sidelined for three months with a tibia injury in the season’s infancy. As always, the now customary trophy followed too, as Arsenal retained the FA Cup with a 4-0 final beating of Aston Villa – with Giroud scoring in a final for the first time in his career.

He put the gloss on the scoreline, emerging from the bench to turn home an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain cross by impudently flicking the ball home with the outside of his left boot – very similarly to how he scored against Tottenham the season prior.

Despite such a positive end to the season, that goal was Giroud’s first in nine games for the Gunners and that patchy form continued into 15/16, as he netted just three times in eleven games to open the campaign.

But a close-range finish away to Watford on October 17th was the first of 15 that Giroud would go on to net in his next 19 games, including two against Bayern Munich and Liverpool, as well as a Champions League hat-trick away to Olympiakos.

This form soon tailed off however, and whilst Leicester ran away with the title, Arsenal were left licking their wounds as not only runners-up, but the side that really should have won the title, as so many big clubs floundered throughout the season.

Some blame was, perhaps understandably, placed on Giroud. He failed to score in the final 15 games of the Premier League season prior to a last day hat-trick against Aston Villa – a result which confirmed second spot and a famous leapfrog over Tottenham.

However, Alfie Cairns Culshaw brilliantly dispels this myth, displaying that Giroud generally performed to his xG throughout the campaign, and that other factors were more to blame for the side’s relative nosedive in form when it came to the title run-in.

Whilst Arsenal didn’t reach a final that season, Giroud did, as he Spearheaded a wonderful French attack to the final of the 2016 European Championships, netting three goals in five games. Whilst the nation fell to a surprising 1-0 defeat to Portugal, it wouldn’t be long until he tasted success on the International stage.

The next year was again good in terms of goals scored, 16 in all competitions with a further seven assists to be precise, but his campaign will be remembered for one goal, and one goal only.

On New Year’s Day 2017, Arsenal hosted Crystal Palace knowing that a win would lift them back into the top four. The opening fifteen minutes went by without much incident, until Lucas Pérez intercepted a Mathieu Flamini ball across Arsenal’s defensive third.

From there, the Gunners broke in numbers, as Héctor Bellerin laid the ball into Giroud, who nonchalantly flicked it into Granit Xhaka’s path to spring the counter. Not content with admiring his part in the play, the Frenchman ploughed into the Palace half as Alex Iwobi and Alexis Sánchez led the counter.

The Chilean cut back inside on the corner of the visitors box before lifting a hopeful ball into the danger zone, but it was behind the onrushing Frenchman and appeared to be drifting harmlessly towards a sea of Palace defenders – or so we thought.

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Giroud inexplicably flicked a left boot at the ball as he tumbled towards the Emirates turf, sending it crashing in off the underside of the bar and into the back of the net – sheer, utter brilliance.

Remarkably (and perhaps farcically), not only did his scorpion kick fail to win Goal of The Season, it didn’t even win Goal of The Month! Yet more bizarrely, it did take home the 2017 Puskas Award – awarded to the scorer of the most ‘beautiful’ goal of the year.

That wasn’t the only accolade Giroud won, either. Arsenal took home a third FA Cup in four years, defeating Chelsea 2-1 in the Final, with a sense of déjà vu about the winning goal, as the big man once again assisted Aaron Ramsey to win the Cup for Arsenal.

A great way to end a generally stellar career at the Emirates as, after five-and-a-half years, Giroud swapped North for South-West London the following January by signing for Chelsea, for a fee of around £18m. Making him one of the most expensive 30+-year-old transfers ever at the time.

He left Arsenal with three FA Cups and 105 goals – the 18th most in the club’s history, and sixth most during the Premier League era. After scaling the heights of one London giant, Giroud set his sights on another.

He scored his first Chelsea goal in his third match during a 4-0 thumping of Hull City in the FA Cup, with the forward also assisting twice. Goals were hard to come by from there for Giroud, but two games against Southampton live long in the memory.

First, a clash down at St. Mary’s in mid-April saw Chelsea two goals behind with only twenty minutes to go – but a quickfire Giroud double either side of an Eden Hazard strike dragged the Blues into the lead, before their FA Cup semi-final eight days later.

Goalless at the break, Chelsea needed something special to break down a stubborn Southampton rearguard – that’s where Giroud came in.

Just twenty seconds after the restart, Hazard laid the ball into the Frenchman’s path, as he twinkle-toed his way past everyone. Mario Lemina, Maya Yoshida, Cédric Soares, Mark Hughes, The Bobby Moore Statue. He took them all on, before prodding the ball into an empty net and helping himself to a fourth Cup final in five years.

Chelsea went on to lift the Cup after defeating Manchester United 1-0 in the final, with Giroud playing near enough the full 90 before being replaced by Álvaro Morata. His fourth FA Cup – a number bettered only by four players in history – but the trophy he won next trumped all previous accolades.

By the summer of 2018, it was clear Giroud was a favourite of France manager Didier Dechamps, winning all but nine of his now 105 caps under the legendary Frenchman, despite some incredibly stiff competition.

But whilst the likes of Anthony Martial and Karim Benzema sat at home that summer, Giroud travelled to Russia to help Les Bleus lift their second World Cup. Whilst he failed to score in the tournament, he still appeared in every game, and assisted the winning goal in the 4-3 quarter-final win over Argentina in Kazan.

Now feels like a good time to bring up the absolutely stellar career Giroud has had on the international stage, as he rubs shoulders with some of the greats of not only French football, but the world.

At the time of writing, his 105 caps make him the seventh most capped player in France’s history, and just four away from overtaking Zinedine Zidane and entering the top five. In terms of goals, his 44 is second on the all-time list – meaning he is just eight away from breaking Thierry Henry’s record of 51.

Add to this four international tournaments, two finals and one World Cup winners medal, it’s clear that Giroud is one of the greats when it comes to French football.

Whilst he was readying to feature in that World Cup Final, it was all change at Chelsea, as Maurizio Sarri replaced Antonio Conte in the dugout the day before the showpiece match against Croatia.

The appointment of the Italian could have been the end for Giroud, especially once Sarri’s own favourite Gonzalo Higuaín joined the club. But instead he enjoyed his most fruitful season in Chelsea blue as the go-to man in Europe.

He started 12 of their 15 Europa League games, including each of the final nine fixtures, as the Blues reached the final in Baku – with Giroud rolling back the years in each passing round.

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Prior to the final, he had netted ten and assisted three, including a hat-trick away to Dynamo Kiev, and a worldie free-kick against Fehérvár in the group stage. Then came Arsenal.

He put his old side to the sword. Opening the scoring with a trademark diving header, before winning the penalty for the third and setting up the fourth to clinch his first European honour, as Chelsea ran out 4-1 winners in Azerbaijan.

Unfortunately for Giroud, whilst his muted celebrations on the pitch showed respect for his old side, he somewhat let himself down after the game. Despite saying that Arsenal changed his life in his post-match interview, he was filmed sarcastically saying ‘thank you, Arsenal’ when lifting the trophy on the coach afterwards.

Whilst many fans didn’t mind this, it’s certainly affected his reputation in some parts of the Arsenal fan base.

The next season brought another new manager, with Frank Lampard also opting to generally use Giroud in reserve throughout the year. Despite this, he still managed ten goals in just 25 games, including one in Chelsea’s 3-1 FA Cup semi-final win over Manchester United – another near-post flick with that trusty left boot.

This is exactly what Giroud has become in his latter years; reliable. Whenever called upon, he helps the team, scores important goals and, typically, wins trophies. So far in 20/21, he’s scored two goals in just 178 minutes, with his latest being the one to defeat Stade Rennais in the Champions League – confirming Chelsea’s progression to the last 16 with an injury time header.

Since he arrived on English shores back in 2012, Giroud has scored 135 goals, laid on 55 assists, played in thirteen semis/finals at club level, scoring or assisting eight times in those games. He’s scored every type of goal, played every type of role and won almost everything available to him.

Am I saying Olivier Giroud has been the greatest striker to ever grace the Premier League? No, of course not. Has he missed big chances, and is he perhaps below the level of the true elite? Yes, most likely.

But his 86 Premier League goals to date puts him 42nd on the all-time list of Premier League goal scorers, and only behind Nikolas Anelka and Thierry Henry in terms of French players.

Whether it’s scorpion kicks or free-kicks, off the bench or leading the line, scoring in semis or assisting in finals, Giroud has done it all – and he should be recognised for that.

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James Pendleton

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