When Thierry Henry made his controversial statement that Arsenal couldn’t win the League with Giroud he was saying something that a lot of Arsenal fans don’t want to hear. But whether you want to hear it or not, Arsenal will struggle to win the League with Giroud as the focal point of the Arsenal attack.
The problem is that Giroud is a terrible finisher. If we combine his Premier League and Champions League appearances, Giroud was presented with 20 big chances this season and he scored just 7. Arsenal scored 45% of the big chances they created, Giroud scored just 35%.
Worse, Giroud struggles to get big chances on target. Only 65% of his shots from big chance opportunities hit the target. And he’s been like this for years. Giroud has been the worst big chance converter in the Premier League for three years running. In 12/13 he converted just 17%, in 13/14 he converted just 35%. And if you only count the Premier League games, he converted 46% of his big chances this season.
Big chances are so important that they typically mean the difference between winning a game and losing. 40 of Arsenal’s 69 League goals this season (minus 2 own goals) were scored from big chances. Arsenal averaged 80% of their big chances on target and converted on average 45% of their total volume into goals.
I would go so far as to say that Giroud’s terrible finishing cost Arsenal the series against Monaco. He was given 7 clear cut chances in that series and he scored just 1. In the first leg, he had 4 chances and got zero on target. And you can’t say that he was out of form. He went into that first match against Monaco having converted 3/3 big chances in his previous 5 matches. Arsenal were getting Giroud the ball in dangerous positions and Giroud was bottling the service.
So how does Giroud compare to other players in terms of clear-cut-chance-conversion?
I combed through every League match for Gonzalo Higuain, Karim Benzema, Antoine Griezmann, and Alexandre Lacazette using the 442 Stats Zone app and compared how many big chances those players had, how many they converted, and how many they missed.The results can be put simply: in terms of converting big chances, any one of them would be better than Giroud.
Giroud has the lowest conversion rate but Higuain has the second lowest conversion rate, basically the same as Arsenal’s season average and Giroud’s average if we remove his two terrible matches against Monaco. Higuain also had more big chances than any of the group but only scored 13 goals from those big chances. Higuain’s conversion rate is lowered because he’s terrible from the penalty spot this season. But even if you remove the 3/7 penalties from his big chances, his big chance conversion rate is still 45%.
Lacazette is the only other player on that list to score from the penalty spot and he was 8/9 last season. If we remove those stats from his big chances numbers he was still 10/16 or a 62% conversion rate with 69% on target.
Benzema had the fewest big chances of the players I looked at but to his credit he still put those chances away. His stats were unusual as well because unlike the other four players his big chances were spread out evenly over the season. Most of the other players had “clumps” of big chances in their seasons, followed by fallow periods. Giroud, for example, had just 2 big chances in his last 9 games and they both came in the match against Man U (he missed one and de Gea saved one).
Griezmann had the most unusual pattern to his big chances. He was just 1/5 in the first 15 games of the season and after that he just blew up, scoring 14 big chances in his last 23 games of the season. Griezmann is also unique among these players in that he scored more goals from the 6 yard box than any other player in the top five leagues. Yes, more than C. Ronaldo and even more than Messi. And he also had more headed goals than Olivier Giroud this season, despite the fact that he’s only 176cm tall.
Griezmann’s unusual stats had me reaching for the YouTube. More than any other player Griezmann reminds me of Robert Pires. He seems to have an uncanny knack for getting into goal scoring positions and putting away scrappy chances. Is this good or bad? Is there a bit of luck to those goal-scoring opportunities and will he be able to repeat those performances?
Griezmann’s amazing season with Atletico Madrid
But what else do these players offer? For example, Giroud is not very good at converting chances but he is excellent at holding the ball up and winning aerial duels. What, if anything, do these other players contribute to their team?
As you can see, Giroud played the fewest minutes of the group but won the most aerial duels. And before you claim foul on his exceptionally low dribble numbers, he is a terrible dribbler. I mean “Charles Barkley swinging a golf-club” terrible. In 194 games over the last 5 years, counting his time at Montpellier and in the French National team along with all his games in the Premier League and Champions League, Giroud has only made 90 successful dribbles. Alexis Sanchez made 144 successful dribbles this season for Arsenal.
This leads me to the thrust of the article, which player would be an upgrade on Giroud. Well, they are all better finishers, all of them are better dribblers, and none of them are as good in the air as Giroud.
Higuain is a terrible dribbler and combined with his poor finishing he would have Arsenal fans baying for his blood after just a few games. In fact, of all the players I looked at he would be the least upgrade on Giroud. He’s a turnover machine who demands the ball and gives you sparse end product. I would rule Higuain out.
Benzema is a strange player in that for some reason I’m always expecting more stats from him. But that’s just silly talk, his numbers are all spot on for a good player, he finishes the chances he’s given, and I have no doubt he would fit right into the Arsenal system. He’s also two-footed and could play on the left side of the attack, something Arsenal need in order to give some depth. But, he’s very happy at Real Madrid and his agent recently mocked rumors of a transfer to Manchester United. I can only see this happening if Real Madrid push him out the door.
Griezmann is the outside player. His finishing numbers are scary good, almost too good. He’s also left-footed which is a bonus but a bonus that is mitigated by the fact that he doesn’t create for himself or really for others. The question is whether he can repeat those great finishing numbers from this season and whether he can improve his overall team play. The question is also whether Atletico Madrid will sell him. Their president called him “un-transferable” amid rumors that Chelsea were after him to be a back up to Hazard. But the fact is that Griezmann is only on £50k a week and if Arsenal made the player a substantial personal offer (combined with huge increases in his sponsorship money), the player could bring Atletico to the table.
That leaves Lacazette. He’s the best of the bunch, a great finisher, and a player who can take on a defender one-v-one. He also creates for his teammates and himself. The only problem is that he’s yet another right-footed player and Arsenal are already well stocked with those. Lyon could be convinced to let him go because they have Fekir waiting in the wings to take his place.
Who would you pick? Or would you just be happy with the strikers Arsenal have and hope that Walcott finally has the breakout season he’s been threatening to have for a decade? Personally? Arsenal need a finisher. If I was pushed to pick one of these players I’d probably go with Lacazette.