Now that Olivier Giroud has finally scored in the Premier League, adding the final product to his previously very good performances, Arsene Wenger has a rather pleasant problem: Who should start upfront for Arsenal? There’s Gervinho, the top scorer, as well as Lukas Podolski, who has a claim to play there, and Giroud, the big money summer signing. All three have played well; Podolski has scored crucial goals against Liverpool, Montpellier and Olympiakos, while Gervinho scored equalising or go ahead goals against Olympiacos, Montpellier and Chelsea. Giroud got his first league goal for the club against West Ham, but, has the most high profile misses against Sunderland and Chelsea, misses that would’ve potentially given the Gunners 4 more points. Gervinho, too has some high-profile misses, especially against Manchester City, but he’s also been very clinical, especially against Chelsea, where his finish was excellent.
The thing is, though, is that strikers at Arsenal shouldn’t just be judged by goals; there’s also a need for excellent hold up play, creative play and opening up space for the midfielders and wide forwards to get into goal-scoring positions. There also needs to be movement in behind; if the striker comes too deep, it clutters the midfield, and slows down Arsenal’s attack. That’s the problem with Marouane Chamakh; at this point, he no longer has the confidence to score, so just comes very deep; at that point, centre backs aren’t going to follow him, because they know he doesn’t offer a threat in behind.
Both Giroud and Gervinho create space, but to different degrees and different effectiveness. While playing at centre forward, Gervinho has often been incorrectly labelled a false 9. He is not a false 9; false 9’s drop deep into the midfield, and create as well as score; Lionel Messi is one, Robin van Persie was one before he evolved into more of a poacher, and Cesc Fabregas was used as one for Spain in this summer’s European Championships.
Collecting the ball from deep allowed Theo Walcott to make his classical, outside to in diagonal run to run onto Giroud’s through pass and score
Gervinho’s movement is that of what he is: a winger, or, to be more accurate, a wide forward playing centre forward. He makes runs into the channels, and makes runs out wide. That will, theoretically, create space for diagonal runs, but won’t allow space for runs from midfield, as the centre backs won’t follow him because he won’t drop deep. Rather, Gervinho will be passed onto a fullback, which can theoretically create overlaps, but can also leave Arsenal with thin numbers in the penalty box, which happened numerous times against Manchester City and Chelsea.
Olivier Giroud, on the other hand, creates space with his movement. When he came short to play a one two with Gervinho and Carl Jenkinson, he created space for Gervinho to run into. His movement in behind created space for Lukas Podolski against Liverpool, and against West Ham, collecting the ball from deep allowed Theo Walcott to make his classical, outside to in diagonal run to run onto Giroud’s through pass and score. Giroud also offers more directness than Gervinho. Not only does he offer a long ball option from the back, but he also makes more penetrative runs in behind, and, not for poor finishing, he could’ve scored more goals in the league as Gervinho. Giroud has the second most shots per game at Arsenal (second only to Santi Cazorla), showing he is very direct; something that is not a bad thing for a team that can sometimes be too intricate.
Against a deeper defence, Arsenal need the direct play of Giroud to break teams down
That isn’t to say that playing Gervinho doesn’t have its positives; he can create space, if the movement is particularly quick, and he was devastatingly effective against Southampton, and could’ve scored three times alone in the first half against Manchester City, but all of those chances came when the opposition defence was playing higher up the pitch, allowing Gervinho to drift in behind from a wide areas. Against a deeper defence, Arsenal need the direct play of Giroud to break teams down; like they did against West Ham, and like they easily could have against Sunderland and Chelsea.
Because teams will often play a defensive approach against Arsenal, Olivier Giroud should start a majority of games. His style of play is better suited for it, as his movement and decision making in the penalty box is more direct than Gervinho’s, and, against a deep team, he’s better at creating valuable space. Like Theo Walcott, Gervinho’s most effective time at centre forward will come against teams that defend higher up the pitch, allowing Gervinho to be quickly released by quick passing combinations, to run on from the wide areas. That space isn’t available at all times, though, and it’s during these times that Olivier Giroud should start. But after years of only being able to play one way, with the same group of players, it appears that Arsene Wenger is building a squad that can adapt to the type of game Arsenal are involved in.
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