Why Thierry Henry Was Right To Question Olivier Giroud As A Title Winning Striker


As Olivier Giroud went a third game without a goal, Thierry Henry suddenly went a second game lifting his punditry above the banal.

The former Arsenal striker had made a curious criticism of Javier Hernandez’s celebration on the Wednesday, and followed it up with a much more pointed criticism about the fact Giroud and Arsenal were not celebrating after the 0-0 against Chelsea.

"I think they need to buy four players - they need that spine. They need a goalkeeper, they still need a centre back, they still need a holding midfielder and, I'm afraid, they need a top, top quality striker to win this league again.”

Arsenal's Thierry Henry (R) reacts after : News Photo

Henry has received criticism for his own work as a pundit, and so much of this ostentatious show smacked of someone responding to that, but his opinion on Arsenal strikers carries real weight given he is probably the best Arsenal striker ever.

This opinion certainly had force.

It was not necessarily completely correct, though. If Arsenal sorted three of those four positions, they could maybe carry the other. The exact dynamics of how collectives like teams work are more complicated than he made out.

That’s not quite the point, though. The point, really, is that a club with Arsenal’s aspirations shouldn’t be starting a good-but-limited player like Giroud as their primary centre-forward.

Go through the title-winning teams in the Premier League era - or, perhaps more relevantly, in the time since one up front became so regular. Every single one of the champions has had a main striker at least one level - usually far more levels - better than Giroud.

The Frenchman simply doesn’t compare to Sergio Aguero, Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka, Carlos Tevez, Thierry Henry, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole, Eric Cantona or Alan Shearer.

Over the past few weeks, comparisons have been between Giroud and Diego Costa, with many pointing to their goal ratios. The Spaniard has struck once every 102 minutes, Giroud once every 107 minutes.

FBL-ENG-PR-CHELSEA-ARSENAL : News Photo

There’s not that much between them, then… if you rather naively put so much stock into minimal info.

Consider 1999-2000. Kevin Phillips had much better stats than Dwight Yorke, but would anyone really make the argument he was better? There was a reason one was the main striker in a title-winning team and one wasn’t.

This isn’t to deride Phillips, who was clearly a fine finisher, but the reality is that anyone can have a single season or spell of form that temporarily alters how good they look. Look at Charlie Austin this year, for one.

By the same token, as regards the “big-game” debate, anyone can finish a big chance in such a fixture if the circumstances suddenly align for them. Look at Christopher Wreh for Arsenal themselves in 1997-98.

The more significant issue is about regularity and reliability in such moments, how often you take chances where the circumstances don’t completely align for you.

It’s simply delusional to think Giroud is as good as Costa in that regard, and there’s one big reason: sharpness.

Look at the speed of the Spaniard’s footwork in, say, his goals against Everton at the start of the season. Or the amount of times he suddenly cuts in from wide to slide a finish past a goalkeeper. That's what really separates the the elite from the rest, that swiftness, that speed.

These are not things you see Giroud doing to anywhere near the same level. He doesn’t have that sharpness. It’s his biggest flaw. The 92kg that Wenger mentioned on the eve of the Chelsea game become all too apparent in such situations. He’s that bit too lumbering.

None of this is to suggest Giroud is not a fundamentally good player, or even that Arsenal should sell him. He has many fine qualities that complement their style, not least those delightful one-touch lay-offs that bring on-running midfielders into attack.

It’s just none of that is quite enough to suggest he shouldn’t be more than a complimentary back-up to a better main striker.

Wenger seems to think the same given the attempts to sign the likes of Luis Suarez and Gonzalo Higuain.

This is the nub of Henry's point, even if it is not the nub of why Arsenal were not proper title challengers this season.