Why Olivier Giroud’s transfer signifies a shift in the dynamic between Arsenal and Chelsea

Olivier Giroud hails Chelsea manager Antonio Conte for his ‘positive energy’ and ‘tactical philosophy’
Olivier Giroud hails Chelsea manager Antonio Conte for his ‘positive energy’ and ‘tactical philosophy’

Olivier Giroud’s relationship with Arsenal and their support was always a difficult one to decipher. The Frenchman was unfortunate enough to arrive at the Emirates just weeks before the watershed departure of Robin Van Persie to Manchester United. That was a transfer that prompted a sense of malaise to fester around the club. That malaise has still to shift in the time since and Giroud often bore the brunt of that.

And yet for many, Giroud was something of a cult hero. They marvelled at his occasional scorpion kick finish or thumping volley just as much they did his well-groomed facial hair and continental good looks. But all this idolisation came with a twinge of derision. Giroud was a figure of fun at Arsenal, and in the end Arsene Wenger decided that he no longer needed him.

Not that the 31-year-old will be too cut up about his departure from the Gunners. In a sense, he’s fallen upwards, leaving a club in something of an existential crisis struggling to make the top four for the reigning Premier League champions also playing Champions League football. But there is an underlying dynamic shift in this move.


For years, Chelsea have been London’s predominant footballing force. Roman Abramovich’s oil billions put the Blues on a perch that nobody else in the city, not even Arsenal, could reach. And the Stamford Bridge side seemingly took great please in underlining their superiority over their rivals.

They poached Ashley Cole in a move that set a precedent for the generation to come. What’s more, and perhaps more significantly, they sent their wastage in the other direction, with Yossi Benayoun, William Gallas and Petr Cech all pitching up at the Emirates once they were no longer required at Chelsea.

But Giroud’s switch goes some way to reserving this power dynamic, as does Arsenal’s club capture of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. While the Gunners spent £56 million on one of the best forwards in the European game, the Blues scrambled around for a striker, any striker. They enquired about Peter Crouch, Andy Carroll, Ashley Barnes and made an offer for Eden Dzeko before eventually settling for Giroud, a player deemed surplus to requirements across the city.

This could be taken as an isolated case, but it’s possible that Giroud’s move to Chelsea is reflective of something bigger. In the Abramovich era, the Blues have been English football’s quintessential rich club, winning Premier League and Champions League titles on the back of millions upon millions spent in the transfer market. But are they now banging their head against a glass ceiling?

For all that Abramovich remains one of the richest owners in football, Chelsea are not self-sustainable as a club in the same way the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal are. And that’s where Giroud’s move across London could come to represent a turning point in the trajectory of both clubs going forward from this point.

Of course, Arsenal are club with their own strife to overcome, but they may well be better set for the future than Chelsea such is the nature of the modern game and the transfer market. Their ceiling might be higher, even if their shareholders and directors never allow them to reach those heights.

Many will point out that £19 million for Giroud, as is the reported fee, actually represents good business for Chelsea such was their desperation for an alternative striker. The Frenchman, after all, is a proven performer at Premier League level. From the player’s perspective too, this deal is beneficial, particularly ahead of a World Cup where Giroud is desperate to win a place on France’s plane to.

Look at the bigger picture of the transfer, though, and Giroud’s move to Chelsea could prove a watershed in the rivalry between Arsenal and Chelsea in much the same way Cole’s move between the two clubs 12 years ago did. The Blues might still be sitting above the Gunners in the Premier League table, they might still be a better team, but the dynamic is changing.