After scoring a hat trick at Olympiacos, Arsene Wenger was adamant that Olivier Giroud has cemented his place among the very best in Europe, saying,
He is at one of the best clubs in Europe and scores goals. If you look at the number of goals he has scored you have to give him credit. And he is not only a goalscorer, he works a lot for the team. He is among the best strikers in Europe.
Giroud has been in and out of the Arsenal first team this season but has still managed to score an impressive 13 goals in just 1179 minutes of Premier League and Champions League play. If we look at his total goals scored in the context of a Per90 measurement, he has essentially scored 13 goals in 13 full 90 minute games. This puts him on par with strikers like Lewandowski, Aguero, Aubameyang, Higuain, Suarez, and Vardy.
Lewandowski and Aubameyang’s p90 numbers are high but both are having peak seasons at their respective clubs. Aubameyang has already surpassed his total goals haul for any time in his career (counting domestic and Europe) and Lewandowski is 2 goals shy of his total from last season (again, only counting domestic league and Champions/Europa league).
Lewandowski is currently at double his output for last year with 1.2 goals per90: last year he averaged 0.6 goals per90. Aubameyang is even better, he averaged 0.5 goals per90 last season. To give some context to these numbers: if you have a striker who averages 0.5 goals per90 and he plays 38 games, he’s going to be a 19 goal per season striker. Anything above that is indicative of a top quality forward.
Where we have to be careful with Giroud is that he’s taken about half as many shots as Lewandowski, 56 to 106 (again, we are counting both domestic and European league play) and he has just scored a hat trick. Those three goals are 23% of his total haul on the season and right now his numbers are going to be at their peak because of that bump. Of course, Lewandowski, and Higuain both just scored a brace in their last matches, Aguero scored five goals 4 matches ago, Vardy went on a record-breaking consecutive goal scoring run, and Aubameyang had back to back hat tricks a few weeks ago. All of those players are also getting a bump.
What Arsenal fans are seeing is that Giroud had become significantly more efficient this season. Wenger also mentioned that,
This has been a typical Olivier Giroud year,” said Wenger. “That means that when it’s not working for him, he puts effort in. Recently he has come back with an improved game in his finishing (emphasis mine) and link play. Wednesday night was one of his best performances on all fronts.
All of the forwards in the comparison above have low passing percentages (below 70%) except Aguero and Lewandowski who pass above 80%. As an aside, Aguero is like a false 9 in that he passes above 88%, but he’s also like a 9 in that he scores goals. He’s truly a special player, when he plays. All this is to say that most forwards have a low percentage passing because they are usually passing in the most marked areas of the pitch.
But link up play aside, where Giroud has most impressed is an improved finishing each season with Arsenal:
Again, this chart compiles Giroud’s league and Champions League goals and shots since 2011/12. 2011/12 was his last season at Montpellier and his career high in terms of goals. Since that season, Giroud took a year to get acclimated to the League and has since consistently improved his finishing. Look at the bottom three numbers and you can see the trend is upward in terms of getting shots on target and converting those shots.
Comparing Giroud’s numbers this season to those players previously mentioned and once again we see that Giroud, despite a small number of chances, is looking a lot like a top striker:
Wenger, as usual, knows: Giroud is currently among the best in Europe in terms of finishing. What remains to be seen is if he can keep his level this high. We have seen this trend with Giroud before, for him to go on a scoring streak and then quickly revert to the mean, and when he’s on the streak or on the down is typically when we see a spate of articles (like this one) either praising or bashing the player.
This article seeks to do neither but rather simply illuminate Wenger’s words. The debate over Giroud, much like the debate over everything to do with Arsenal and Arsene Wenger, will never truly be over until Arsenal win the League, the Champions League, the FA Cup, the League Cup, the Charity Shield, and six Arsenal players score goals to win the World Cup for England. Even then I suspect people will complain that Arsenal should have done it the year before.