Of all our signings this summer, Olivier Giroud has been the most elusive. Considered a late bloomer like his former Tours teammate Laurent Koscielny, the 25-year-old Giroud has experienced a meteoric rise in France in the last year, helping Montpellier win their first ever Ligue 1 title and scoring 25 goals in the process. The Frenchman said, ”With Montpellier, it wasn’t written that we were going to be champions, so that’s what made it more beautiful.” (Arsenal.com)
Giroud was first drawn to football as a youth watching Marco van Basten and Zinedine Zidane, joining his first professional club, Grenoble, at age 13. He spent 6 years in the Grenoble youth academy before signing his first official contract at 19. He then spent the next few years with limited playing time in the lower divisions of French football. He was eventually sold to Tours in 2008, where his playing time and exposure began to increase, paving the road for a move to Montpellier in 2010 after a season in which he was named the National Union of Professional Footballers (UNFP) Ligue 2 player of the year.
Koscielny looks back fondly on their time together at Tours. He said of the forward: “I played with him at Tours and he was a great player then. Now he is even more confident and scores lots of goals. I know his qualities and he will give a lot for us. I know he has the physical quality to play in this league. For a striker it is about confidence and I am sure he’s working hard to start well with Arsenal.” (Daily Star)
When Arsenal came a-knocking this past summer, Monpellier were powerless in stopping their leading forward from leaving for London after the Gunners met his release clause of just €12M. In this part of the blog series, I will be joined by Montpellier supporter and French Football Weekly contributor Phillipa Booth (@Philby1976) who will share some insight on how she thinks Giroud will adjust in England.
1. What was your initial reaction when you heard Giroud was going to join Arsenal next summer?
It seemed almost inevitable that Olive would leave at the end of the season – I thought that having CL experience as the established star player in the team would have been an easier choice, rather than having to move country, play CL for the first time, and have to compete for a place (wherever he went) but he seemed set on going, and you can understand his motives. As to his choice of club, he had mentioned his love of the Premiership several times, so a move to England was expected – even before the RVP brouhaha, Arsenal looked a good fit. All in all, he will be missed, but no hard feelings from the fans.
2. How much of an impact do you think his departure will have on Montpellier?
Losing your top goalscorer, particularly when he started every match he wasn’t suspended, was always going to be tough, but Montpellier have been very astute in handling that – two strikers (Herrera and Charbonnier) have been brought in, and the remainder of the money from Arsenal has also paid for a winger (Mounier) and a versatile defender (Congre), so overall the squad has been deepened. Herrera was good pre-season but the first game of Ligue 1 (1-1 at home with Toulouse) suggests that someone needs to tell the rest of the team that they aren’t aiming at Giroud any more! Once they’ve got used to having a different style of front-man, they should be OK. On this, I did a round-up of Montpellier’s usual selections, and transfer dealings here.
3. What are the strengths and weaknesses you have observed of Giroud? Both on the pitch and off it.
One strength is his strength! He’s a big guy, and good in the air; to quote one friend (name withheld to protect his reputation) – “I love Giroud’s chest” – he’s a good target man, who can chest down, cushion a header, flick on, etc. He’s also good on the ground, and seems a smart, unselfish player, providing assists as well as goals. He isn’t the fastest, but fortunately knows it, and adapts accordingly.
4. How did Giroud grow as a player while at Montpellier?
He arrived at Montpellier having been top scorer in Ligue 2 in the 2009/10 season with Tours, and his first season was solid (although the team was a bit shaky!). He really blossomed last season, however, taking on the responsibility to be the focal point for the team with playmaker Younes Belhanda. He has mentioned in interviews working on his aerial game to be a provider, not just a goalscorer, so his all-round skills have definitely improved.
5. How do you think Giroud will fit into the Arsenal team?
It sort of depends whether Arsenal hang onto RVP – if so, presumably there would be competition for that striker position, and you would assume Giroud would be the supersub / cup guy / injury cover rather than the starter; either way, you’ve got a strong target man to aim crosses at, but whose game is a bit more nuanced than a traditional ‘big man up front’. I think it’s a good fit, and with Podolski having come in as well, that should be an interesting combination – I’m also eager to see how things work out if Oxlade-Chamberlain plays with him.
6. How do you see Giroud coping in England and the Premier League?
Ligue 1 seems to me to be refereed much more strictly than the Premiership (so, there’s a view here that the Premier League is some kind of lawless wasteland where anything goes, which can cause transition issues – just look at Diakite’s first game for QPR), so it might take a while to adapt to more battering from defenders, but he’s a big bloke, so that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Off-field? He will get a lot of press attention, no doubt, which will also be different from France (there are very strict laws about privacy, press intrusion, etc). But I suspect he won’t mind that.
7. Giroud and Koscielny seem to be quite close from their time playing together for Tours. How do you think this relationship will help in Giroud’s adjustment to playing outside of France for the first time in his career?
They seem to be good mates and Giroud joked about them sharing a room again when with the French national team, after being ‘roomies’ at Tours – it has to help, one would imagine. I think he speaks English pretty well already, but the general Francophone nature of the Arsenal set-up should also help him to settle in.
Again, I would like to thank Phillipa for her contribution to this blog and look out for Part 3 on Santi Cazorla later today! Also if you haven’t already read part 1 with @GermanGunners on the Podolski signing, click HERE.
I’ll leave you with with this tender moment…
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