Since arrival from former French champions Montpellier, French striker Olivier Giroud has been a first team regular at Arsenal. Wenger favours a 4-3-3 / 4-5-1 formation ( and their variations ) and in both tactical systems, the Frenchman seems the only man that can hold his own in the lone central forward position. Last season, there were cries from fans and pundits for Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger to add a new central striker to the club’s ranks. Wenger failed with an attempt for then Liverpool striker Luis Suarez but failed to make another attempt for a striker in the winter window.
In the just concluded summer, Arsenal signed Sanchez but the Chilean was expected to play more as a winger despite Wenger’s argument that he signed him to play as a striker. Height is key to succeeding as a lone striker in the Premier League and the struggle he had against Everton coupled with the impact Giroud had on coming him for the 2nd half drove home this point.
Long term injury to the Frenchman forced Wenger into having a re-think as he signed English striker Danny Welbeck. With the weight of expectation resting firmly on the shoulders of the former Manchester United man, Welbeck hasn’t really disappointed as he had returned 4 goals from just 5 games in all competitions. Giroud is expected to be out till next year but in his absence, Arsenal’s attack seems in good hands with Welbeck holding the forte. It might not be the ideal situation as most Arsenal fans would relish having a big name striker at Arsenal but having an experienced and matured striker like Welbeck is still better than reposing faith in an untested and injury prone rookie like Sanogo.
Playing Welbeck in the central striking position is a no-brainer at least pending Giroud’s absence. The big question is what happens when the towering French man returns to full fitness. Who drops off for the other?
The fact that Wenger rates Giroud high still remains intact. If he didn’t, he won’t have offered the Frenchman a new contract with increased wages. According to reports, Giroud has already agreed a new deal worth 80k Pounds per week. That’s significant pay rise.
The likely case scenario when Giroud returns is for Wenger to push Welbeck to the wings. The centre might be his preferred position but that doesn’t stop him from operating from the wings. Wenger has always maintained that he wants to have goalscorers on the wings and that could be an argument in favour of switching Welbeck there. There could be an argument that the switch could affect Welbeck’s confidence but I don’t think so. The next 4 months when he gets to lead Arsenal’s front line provides him with ample opportunity to get his confidence sky high and getting on the wings to accommodate Giroud won’t send it cascading down.
I also believe that Giroud’s return would create a health rivalry in Arsenal’s attack. Giroud got complacent when he saw there was no one jostling for his place but when Sanogo showed a little fight, he upped his game. Welbeck is trying all he can to win over Arsenal fans that doubted his abilities but once he wins them over and there is no competition for his place in sight, he too might grow complacent. For Arsenal’s attack to keep ticking, Arsenal need both Welbeck and Giroud to keep breathing down eachother’s neck.
Giroud and Welbeck might be natural centre forwards but their strengths vary. Giroud’s strength is in his sheer physical strength, aerial strength and link-up play while Welbeck’s strength lies in his pace and dribbling skills. With this, it is clear Giroud would be a better fit for teams that defend deeply with Arsenal needing dead balls to beat them while Welbeck with his pace would be ideal for teams that play high line or three-man defence.
Finally, having Giroud and Welbeck in the first team means Arsenal can re-enact the era of Bergkamp and Henry / Henry and Adebayor. Should Wenger opt to return Arsenal to the 4-4-2 formation of old, Giroud and Welbeck would make a perfect central striking partnership.