Football - Giroud finding rhythm at Arsenal

Tom Adams pays tribute to Olivier Giroud's increasing influence in the Arsenal team.

Football - Giroud finding rhythm at Arsenal

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Olivier Giroud, Montpellier v Arsenal

It is not often that the self-obsessed metropolis of London, bursting at the boroughs with its own overpowering cultural identity, moves to the beat of the Mersey Sound.

But at Emirates Stadium this season, 'Hey Jude' has been played on loop. No wonder, when Paul McCartney's lyrics have been tweaked to sing the praises of Olivier Giroud, a man who is increasingly, effectively, finding his rhythm at Arsenal.

Perhaps it's the dashing, chiselled features worthy of Paris fashion week, or the unassuming air that comes with being a late starter to the game - his older brother Romain played international youth football with Thierry Henry; at the age of 24 Olivier was still playing for Tours - but Arsenal fans, desperate for a new hero after a summer in which they lost their outstanding player once again, appear to have fallen for their latest French import.

The striker's maturation in English football has not been without its growing pains, but after a sweeping finish in last weekend's North London derby took his tally to five in five games - “It's nice to have marked my territory,” said Giroud - Wednesday night's Champions League win over Montpellier supplied further evidence that he is becoming as integral to the Arsenal attack as the man he had the daunting task of replacing, Robin van Persie.

That is not to say Giroud is as brilliant as the Dutchman - he'd need seasons of excellence to make that audacious claim - but his particular physical attributes mean the Arsenal attack is gradually moulding to his shape, as it did Van Persie's. Like an unstable new solar system gradually allowing gravity to pull it under control, Arsenal's players are beginning to orbit around their new star.

It has been a perennial criticism of Arsene Wenger's Arsenal that they have no Plan B, no alternative approach when their pretty passing breaks down. Since 2005, the sight of a player like Alexander Hleb dribbling down a dead end or Aaron Ramsey playing a superfluous pass invoked frustration.

Yet in Giroud, they now have an asset who allows a more varied attacking strategy. His hold-up play is impressive - giving Arsenal an obvious out ball when under pressure, and while he can contribute to the more aesthetic combinations - his flick for Lukas Podolski's thumping volley was positively Bergkamp-esque in its combination of imagination and execution - it was his first assist of the night that proved so instructive to the new dimension he brings to the side, the Frenchman perfectly nodding down a Thomas Vermaelen cross for Jack Wilshere to score.

The Frenchman is a pleasing mix of the old and the new: a player with elements of a 1970s-style target man who also has the quality to engage in the modern passing game. Previously when Wenger has purchased big strikers they have not been Duncan Ferguson clones but more unconventional forwards: the elastic Emmanuel Adebayor and his personal hero, the unique and beguiling Kanu, being the obvious, rather erratic, examples.

Marouane Chamakh - now almost completely faded from view, like the siblings in the McFly family photo in Back to the Future - was a misstep in the target man direction but it has taken another recruit from Ligue 1 to give Arsenal a real aerial presence and recalibrate their attack following the loss of the more considered and cerebral Van Persie.

Change has been swift and it was striking to see Arsenal bombard Spurs from wide positions in the derby on Saturday, particularly in the first half. There was something rather unsettling about watching a Wenger team that possesses a genuine threat from high balls into the box; it goes against everything we know about football. It's all a bit, well, Stoke-y for a side that self-indulgently prides itself on 'playing the right way'. As we know though, tactics are morally and ethically neutral, and it has been to Arsenal's credit that they have opened up a new avenue of attack that was previously closed to them, even if they will not be able to fully exploit it until they have wide players capable of providing consistently good service.

To underline the point, four of Giroud's seven goals in all competitions have come from headers. But his all-round game - producing a further six assists with his clever hold-up and combination play - has also impressed team-mates in the few months he has been in England. Though initially Wenger used him from the bench, and some sections of the media unfairly talked of a 'drought' as he grew accustomed to the demands of English football, he has rapidly blossomed into a vital player.

“They were two great assists,” defender Per Mertesacker tells Eurosport following the Montpellier victory. “He is a main part of our game. It was difficult for him at the beginning of the season to come and be a part of our game but he is more and more focused and wants to adapt and he is becoming more and more important. You see it with the two assists today. He also protects the ball well, and he is always dangerous, especially on set pieces.”

The loss of Van Persie this summer was a moment of a major demarcation for Arsenal: an entire attack was built around one of the most naturally talented forwards to represent the club. Giroud was never going to be able to replace the Dutchman - who could? - but rather than attempt to try and imitate his predecessor he has instead brought something fresh to proceedings.

“When Robin was here it was maybe a bit different,” Mertesacker adds. “He loved to get the ball around the box and create. He has different skills than Olivier, but now we have a new player in front and maybe a new style. You could see at the beginning of the season it was hard to be successful because everyone has to adapt to this game. But he is doing very well and everybody is happy with him here.”

And as a mangled version of 'Hey Jude' gets another airing when Giroud is withdrawn towards the end of a 2-0 victory he engineered himself, it's hard to disagree.

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