Tag Archives: Giroud

Lick it up

Naveen’s tactical preview: Stoke v. Arsenal, freshen the Giroud

By Naveen Maliakkal

While Mark Hughes’ Stoke tend not to play like Tony Pulis’ Stoke, this Saturday, Arsenal will probably see Stoke return to their deep-defending, possession-shunning, and counter-attacking way that defined the Pulis era.

Hughes’ sides have not done anything special when they play Arsenal. When they do have the ball, they may look to play the ball long, especially if Peter Crouch starts up front. Such long balls will probably go into wide areas, looking to match up the tall center forward against a full back rather than a center back. Such reliance on aerial ability could lead to Stoke finding some joy on set-pieces, even though they have only scored one goal from set pieces this season.

(Looking at the 7amkickoff Index, I see that 4 of Arsenal’s last 9 goals conceded were from headers, off crosses, from open play. The other five were an O.G., a penalty, a fast break, a cross to feet, and a direct free kick as the result of a fast break. Arsenal also had 5 clean sheets in that time. Tim) 

However, with the dribbling ability of Bojan and the potential for Johnathan Walters to miss the match with a knee injury, Stoke could look to play more passes into the space between the defensive line and last midfield line, instead of going over the top. If they look to play Mame Biram Diouf instead of a target man up front, then it could lead to Stoke playing Charlie Adam and/or Steven Ireland to provide more players with the ability to provide the diagonal ball or incisive pass to set the quicker center forward on his way to goal. However, playing with the likes of Charlie Adam or Steven Ireland does impose a cost defensively, and could lead to Hughes keeping those two on the bench.

They will probably look to keep their defensive shape compact, limiting the amount of space between the lines. Stoke will probably set up in a compact 4-4-1-1 shape, as having four men in a defensive line seems the best way to control a particular vertical level of the pitch. Hopefully, Arsenal will do a better job breaking down their opposition than they did in last season’s defeat to The Potters.

In last season’s 1-0 defeat¹, Arsenal played Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky, and Lukas Podolski behind Olivier Giroud. With Cazorla and Rosicky, Arsenal had two players who wanted to stay in more central areas, while Podolski offered little down the left. This made it easy for Stoke to mark Arsenal’s fullbacks, when they went ahead. Combine that with the fact that Arsenal had an attacking liability in Bacary Sagna at right-back (why Manchester City signed him as a back-up right back is beyond me), and Arsenal struggled to create enough in that match.

Looking at this season’s team, the fact that Arsenal will probably have a front trio including the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck/Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain, along with a superior attacking option at right back in Calum Chambers, means that Arsenal will have a greater potential to stretch Stoke City’s lines. While having too much positional width in attack makes a team rather susceptible to counter attacks because the team has too much space to put pressure on the ball or to cover passing lanes if they lose possession, it could prove beneficial in attack.

However, it would be preferable to stretch Stoke’s defense with a more compact and intelligent positional set-up, along with better ball movement. A team that sits deep and compact has to work quite hard to control the spaces they want to control if they go up against a side that has control of the ball and an ability to control spaces in possession. Without control of the ball, the defending team can be at the mercy of the side with the ball. Even if they do not score in the first 70 minutes, much like a boxer spending the early rounds landing body shots, the side dominating the ball and space has done quite a bit of damage. With lowered energy levels, a team’s ability to make tackles and interceptions decreases, while their ability to control space becomes compromised.  Football is a game of 90 minutes. Keeping a clean sheet for 80 minutes does not matter, if it comes at too great of a cost for a team to close out the match.

To that point, Arsenal cannot get frustrated and needlessly force the issue. That is exactly the kind of play Stoke want. They want Arsenal to try to force the issue and attack gaps that do not exist, rather than create and exploit holes that appear in The Potters defense. That is part of the reason they will look to foul Arsenal quite a bit. In addition to winning the ball and the physical attrition it can impose on Arsenal, they hope that such a rough style of play will cause mental attrition². At some point, Arsenal need to show more faith in their superiority over the opponent, stay with the playing style, and not throw resources forward or try to force the ball through Stoke.

In this sense, not having Jack Wilshere in the side may help Arsenal in this respect. For all of Wilshere’s ability on the ball, his poor decision-making between when to pass and when to dribble can lead to him dribbling into a wall of defenders. Combine this with his worrying lack of composure/poise when things do not go his way, either arguing or throwing himself in a retaliatory action/poor tackle (It is sometimes hard to tell whether a particular tackle of his is just terrible, just retaliatory, or both), and Arsenal seem better off without him in this match.

Continuing with this theme of not panicking in possession/getting frustrated, against Stoke, with the aerial advantage they have, crosses in the air do not look like a profitable way of creating chances, at least early on. Even though the wide areas may be where the easy space is, Arsenal should not look to exploit that space to play high crosses into the box. Maybe later in the game, if they have successfully worn down Stoke with good ball movement and positional play, such crosses could become useful, particularly if Olivier Giroud plays the role of supersub again.

Giroud: Starter…Supersub…Both?  

Against Everton and against Southampton, Olivier Giroud’s introduction helped to change the match. In both matches, a fresh Giroud had his way with tired defenders as Arsenal chased the points. As the opponent tires, concedes possession, and drops deeper, a player like Giroud has a greater ability to take advantage of his size and strength. He can bully defenders; he can occupy areas, in the on-side space, closer to goal; his lack of top end speed matters less because of the lack of off-side space to exploit; his ability to hold the ball up against tired defenders allows Arsenal to better exploit more advantageous spaces. He seems like a fantastic option off the bench to chase a match.

However, if he can provide this at the end of games, would you not want this ability throughout the match? I would argue that the differential in freshness/fitness matters heavily for a player like Giroud. If he starts the match against Stoke, he does not start with that physical advantage. Instead, like the rest of Arsenal’s starters, he will physically decline as the match goes on. Therefore, it seems unwise to linearly extrapolate the production of a substitute to come up with an estimate of production over 90 minutes³.

Looking at the bigger picture, Olivier Giroud also seems like a player who has a significant drop-off in performance, when comparing fully fit and fresh and any other fitness and energy combination. Watch the first North London Derby from the 2013-14 season, and then watch the one in March of that season. The difference between a fresh Giroud in the first match and a physically worn-down Giroud in the final NLD is striking. And it makes sense given how much more he played last season compared any other season of his career.

Last season, he started 43 matches, logging 3725 minutes on the pitch, between Champions League and English Premier League games. During 2012/13, he played 41 matches between the two competitions, with only 28 starts, logging a total of 2715 minutes. In his final two seasons at Montpelier, he played 36 matches in 2011/12 and 37 matches in 2010/11, logging 3205 minutes and 2920 minutes respectively. Given the increase in minutes and matches that Giroud had last season, combined with his need to be at his best physically to play to the level Arsenal need of him, it makes sense that his performance tailed off massively as the season went along.

Therefore, to get the most out of Olivier Giroud, to have him consistently perform at the level Arsenal need, the Frenchman probably should not start a large majority of Arsenal’s matches. Instead, he should probably start occasionally, maybe 25 times a season, and have a significant proportion of his minutes come as a supersub, particularly when Arsenal chase a match. Obviously, Giroud wants to start every match. Such a playing policy could cause some discontent for the center forward. However, with the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck capable of playing that role, Arsenal have a greater need for high quality performances rather than a high quantity of appearances from Giroud.


¹5 points dropped to United, 3 points dropped to Stoke, 2 points dropped to Swansea. For all the talk of Arsenal not winning the title because they did not perform in “big” games, those are 10 points of which Arsenal should have won at least 8. There is your title.
²To make an analogy to the NFL, last season, the Seattle Seahawks seemed to take a similar approach when it came to defending receivers. Guessing correctly that referees would not blow the whistle every time they held a receiver or contacted one illegally, Seattle took advantage of this to no end. Combine this with the talent they had and it made for one of the greatest secondaries in my lifetime. Maybe such a thought process exists in the minds of combative clubs. “They might call us for a foul or a yellow card every now and then, but no referee wants to continuous stop the game for fouls”. Therefore, the lax enforcement, in an effort to promote “flow”, provides an incentive for such tactics. This provides a different explanation to why Arsenal seem to not get calls like other teams. Opponents revealed that referees have a desire to not blow the whistle all the time, making such combative tactics more profitable. Combine this with a perceived and sometimes real tendency for Arsenal to lose their attacking discipline in the face of such adversity, forcing the play, leading to turnovers, and providing counter-attacking opportunities, and we have some significant positive reinforcement of this set of behaviors.
³The idea of sub-effects also comes up in the per90 numbers and was on full display in the 2014 World Cup, particularly with Belgium, who brought on an athletic CF, either Origi or Lukaku, to take advantage of tired defenders.


Would the non-divisive Arsenal player please stand up?

We often hear about how a certain player is divisive. His relative talents left in the trash heap of history and his relative faults brought out and polished for some blogger to earn a few bucks off clicks. But the truth is that I can’t think of a single player at Arsenal who doesn’t divide opinion right now. Even venerated players like Thierry Henry get put under the microscope and examined by Arsenal fans eager to find fault with the gods of the game.

Why? There’s not really one reason. With 60,000 Arsenal bloggers and twice as many people on twitter who want to make you aware of their opinion there is a rush to be the first with some “insight”. This often leads to hyperbolic criticism of players after one or two poor matches, or even a poor first half. But there are also just some people who are always going to be harshly critical (and harshly optimistic!) of everything and call it “being realistic” or folks who just want Arsenal to buy all the players at every other team. Whatever the reason, we all know that they are there and what they have to say but let’s look a little closer at some recent criticisms.

Alexis Sanchez

Removed at half-time against Everton and already some folks are questioning whether he was worth the money Arsenal paid for him. Wenger linked his current fitness levels to his confidence but I’m not entirely convinced it was a fitness issue. Against Everton, Alexis made runs which had the local commentators gushing but Arsenal struggled to get him the ball: he only received 17 total passes in 45 minutes and only one pass in the 18 yard box, on the edge of the box, hardly a dangerous position.

Meanwhile, Giroud’s first touch was a big diagonal placed a yard away from goal and from there almost all of his passes received were in and around the box. He received just 18 passes himself, hardly setting the world on fire.

I suspect that more than lack of fitness was a lack of understanding. Arsenal and Alexis seem just a step off at the moment. When Ramsey expects Alexis to zig, he zags. While Giroud has two seasons at Arsenal and his movements are now predictable to his teammates. I’m not at all worried about Alexis Sanchez and his ability to fit in at Arsenal. He’s a fantastic footballer, with a great first touch, the ability to take on defenders, and who will shine once he learns his teammates.


It doesn’t get much more divisive than opinion on the big Frenchman. He’s wasteful. His first shot against Everton should have been a goal. Sometimes seems more comfortable trying a cutsey little flick pass than a basic 5 yard square ball. Unable to face up to an opponent and take him on.

But he’s also big and strong and willing to put in a shift against meaty defenders as Arsenal’s version of Kevin Cyril Davies and yet still score 16-20 goals in a season. Industrious player who can pluck a ball out of the sky with his foot like it’s cotton candy, who wins headers in the middle of the park, and who holds the ball up so well that he has to be credited at least partially for Ramsey’s scoring renaissance.


Before last season was completely written off by many Arsenal fans. The same fans who are writing off Wilshere now. Some of the criticism was warranted, he had an annoying tendency to hold on to the ball too much and that resulted in numerous turnovers.

But his workrate and the fact that he never shied away from the ball saved him. He’s Arsenal’s leading passer, leading tackler, and now he’s a goal scoring midfielder who wins games with his late runs in the box. Cited by Wenger as the main reason why Arsenal didn’t buy Cesc Fabregas.


This 22 year old central midfielder is Arsenal’s new enfant terrible and judging by the heap of articles in the British press this morning, his young career is over. Has an annoying habit of holding on to the ball too much and trying to dribble too much. Often caught in possession and targeted by opposition midfielders for tackles (leads Arsenal in fouls drawn, and those are just the ones the officials call). He was even tackled (harshly, I thought) by Thierry Henry in the friendly against the Red Bulls. Perhaps Henry was trying to say “son, you dribble too much, pass the ball.”

But he’s only 22 years old and he’s had a career plagued with injuries. Hasn’t started more than 20 League games for Arsenal since his breakout season, 2010/2011 — when he was just 19 years old. He has to learn to pass and move rather than trying to dribble the entire opposition team. And defensively he needs to learn better positioning and tackling. The talent is there, though, and like Ramsey before him I expect Wilshere to shine this season.

Podolski, Özil, Sanogo, Arteta… I could keep going

You already know the criticisms of these players. Podolski is lazy, Özil is nicking a living, Sanogo is not Mario Ballotelli, Arteta isn’t beast, etc. But rather than break down every player let’s end with some positives.

Per Mertesacker: who has anything bad to say about Per? A gentle giant, makes Arsenal’s set play defense better simply with his presence. Organizes the defense and a natural leader on the pitch.

Laurent Koscielny: (to the tune of Crazy by Willie Nelson) I’m crazy… I’m crazy for Laurent Koscielny… I’m crazy for Laurent’s kung fu. I knew, Koscielny won’t leave me like van Persie. Or Cashley, who left me for somebody blue. Worry? Why do I let myself worry? Wondering, what we would do without you? I’m crazy… for thinking that red card could hold you. I’m crazy… for crying. I’m crazy for buying. I’m crazy for loving you. (special thanks to Brian from 11 Cannons for collaborating on this).

Calum Chambers: I feel sad for Chambers. Koscielny and Mertesacker are both going to be healthy soon and he’s going to be put back on the bench and left to fight his way back into first team contention either as a center back, a right back, or in his eventual position as defensive midfielder. He’s made a few mistakes but the fact that he’s been universally praised by all across England, with many hoping for an England call-up, is as positive a review as possible for a 19 year old. Really, just perfect. The same way that everyone praised Jack Wilshere when he was 19 and begged him to be selected for the national team. Oh wait…

Have your say below. Are there players beyond reproach for you? Ones you feel you need to defend?



Arsenal serves first feast of the season on a platter at Chez Wembley

Arsenal served up their first full meal of the season. Starting with small plates of delicious looking gems from the Cazorla menu, which was followed by perfectly prepared mains by Sanogo and Ramsey, and after you thought there was no room left the night was topped off with a light and airy Giroud dessert. At the end, Arsenal fans could sit back, loosen their belts and have a smoke with Jack Wilshere as the team lifted their platter high above Chez Wembley.

Arsenal looked the more interesting team from the start, beating the frenetic City press with perfectly executed triangle passes and breathtaking movement. You could see a preview of what was to come shortly as Arsenal’s new signing, Alexis Sanchez collected the ball time and again in midfield and looked to play in Yaya Sanogo. Sanogo was always on the move and a few weeks worth of practice and playing two-a-days has vastly improved his touch. He looked dangerous throughout the match but nearly served up the first meal when he was played in on a great run off Boyata’s shoulder, took a perfect touch to escape his marker and fired a shot just wide of the post.

No surprise then when chef Sanogo helped serve up the amuse-bouche of the day. Sanchez offered him the ball, and a bit of a heavy touch from Sanogo left it to Wilshere, who was fouled but managed to back heel to Cazorla. Cazorla jinked left, then went right, and fired back across goal, between Clichy’s legs, and into the net. A four piece amuse with a hint of fresh nutmeg sprinkled on top.

Between Alexis and Cazorla the two were feeding Sanogo a series of appetizing passes and the big man did well nearly every time the ball was at feet. Only once was he shoved off the ball and that was by the man many Arsenal fans are begging Wenger to buy, Matija Nastasic. Other than that one play, Sanogo was excellent in almost all aspects of his game, holding the ball up, breaking on the counter, making runs behind the defenders, and even once providing the splitting pass to Alexis Sanchez to run onto.

That was a brilliant bit by Sanogo, I must say. He had been caught offside on the previous play and City countered. But Arsenal won the defensive battle and this time Sanogo stopped in midfield rather than making one of the runs as he had been making all game. Alexis passed him the ball and Sanogo waited for the Chilean to make his own run and then played a near perfect 20 yard splitting pass for Arsenal’s newest signing. Unfortunately, the ball was a little long and City’s ‘keeper Willy came out and collected the ball off Alexis’ feet. Unlucky Alexis.

Sanogo had a big hand in the second goal as well — the main course. Sanchez collected the ball off the counter, played in Sanogo who, this time, fended off Nastasic and then rolled a little pass to Ramsey. Rambo still had some work too do, but he peppered his marker and shot across goal for Arsenal’s second. A deliciously served main course which sated the Arsenal’s fans appetites.

But there would be more. Like the French waiter who brings you the dessert menu after you think you couldn’t possibly eat another bite, Olivier Giroud picked up a Ramsey pass, used his strength to hold off his marker, and looped in a wonder goal from 25 yards. Whether it took a deflection o not is up for debate but the ‘keeper had no chance as the shot had wicked top spin.

Throughout the match Debuchy looked great going forward and in defense, Arsenal’s constant runner — moving easily between offense and defense and serving up platters to the attackers or collecting City’s used dishes at the back. Meanwhile, Calum Chambers put in yet another assured performance as our dish dog — doing all the dirty work cleaning up the messes behind the scenes. Time and again Chambers threw himself into blocks and tackles in order to save Arsenal blushes and assure the clean sheet. I can’t wait to see what he can do brought forward into the prep cook role as Arsenal’s defensive midfielder of the future.

To do that, however, I think Arsenal needs to make one or two more buys. There are currently only 6 men covering 4 positions and you would normally want 8. A number of names have been mooted but I suspect the player will need to be left footed and play as cover for Koz/Nacho/Gibbs rather than right footed and cover for Per/Calum/Debuchy. I mentioned Micah Richards’ name on twitter and I’m changing my mind here, I think the player needs to be lefty. A left footed player who can play center back, left back, and defensive midfield? Would that be the perfect way to end this summer of gluttony or would it be the wafer thin mint at the end of the meal?

That I’ll leave to the boss but for now Arsenal fans have two trophies to celebrate, bookending the summer. I’ve seen it asked if the Charity Shield counts as a trophy? If you’re a sportsman you always want to win. To continue the meal analogy, you always want to get that last drop of delicious wine in the bottom of the glass. And so to Arsenal’s players, fans, and manager I’m sure winning today, and winning in convincing fashion, even if it is a friendly, is as welcome as discovering a new dish at your favorite restaurant.