Olivier Giroud’s homecoming last night couldn’t have gone much better. His new side Arsenal won, and he was afforded a hero’s reception by Montpellier fans when he was substituted with 15 minutes to go, followed off the pitch by the monotonic chant of his name that French crowds habitually reserve for only their most cherished sons.
Having said that, a goal would have been nice. “We scored…I mean we won,” he corrected himself while talking to local reporters after the match. “Obviously I didn’t score,” he smiled with good-natured ruefulness. Giroud might not be the biggest or the most expensive signing that Arsenal have ever made but as he tacitly acknowledged, the lack of a goal will be a monkey on his back until he gets off the mark.
The pressure resting on the France international’s shoulders feels a little strange. In a Premier League context, Arsenal are sometimes seen as the nursery in which the children are encouraged to express themselves in a pressure-free environment. In reality, it’s a million miles away from what Giroud experienced at Montpellier.
A return to the old stomping ground must have brought that change in expectation sharply into focus for Giroud. This season’s difficult start to the Ligue 1 campaign has further convinced the locals of what they already knew to be true; in short, that last season’s title triumph was little short of a miracle. Nobody there is expecting to win the Champions League. They just want to enjoy the moment.
That patience simply doesn’t exist at Arsenal, stoked by the hunger of going without a trophy since 2005 but also by consistent excellence in the Champions League in recent years, even if they’ve never managed to snare the cup with the big ears. Time is of course exactly what Giroud needs, having gone into the league season having played just an hour’s worth of pre-season friendly with his new colleagues.
“I’m still lacking a little bit of rhythm,” he told the media last night. There is no doubt that Giroud knows he’s made the right move, but it wouldn’t have been abnormal if he’d felt the odd pang of nostalgia when his old teammates Younes Belhanda and Rémy Cabella were in full flow during the second half. That sort of intuition takes time.
There are signs that it’s in the post. Giroud’s deft pass to play in Lukas Podolski for the equaliser was no surprise to the home crowd – familiar with his creative talents as much as his goalscoring instincts – but it was indicative of how he’s assimilating into Arsenal’s passing and movement. He was also involved in the move that ended with Gervinho striking the winner on his own return to France.
As for the goals – they’ll come. Giroud may have attracted criticism for some of his Premier League misses, but it doesn’t appear as if his confidence has been eroded. The two chances that came and went on his full debut at Stoke, a scissors kick and a chip from long-range, were hit with the swagger of a man used to scoring, when something a little less flashy would have done. It’s nothing to be too pre-occupied with at such an early stage, particularly while Arsenal are going so well.
Moving from the sticks to the city is a leap, but Giroud is adapting. “I saw him speaking English (on the pitch),” Montpellier goalkeeper Geoffrey Joudren told reporters after the game, behind barely-concealed mirth. Giroud’s return home showed how far he’s come already, and that he’s gradually moving to the point where Arsenal need him to be.
Click here to read more from European football expert Andy Brassell.