Olivier Giroud, Marseille, and the power of homecomings

Blog by: Woolwich 1886

Olivier Giroud has started the season in fine form for Arsenal (Getty Images)

The last time that Olivier Giroud travelled to the State Vélodrome to face Marseille was in April 2012, when he still led the line for Montpellier, and he tallied a goal and an assist in a 3-1 victory. This was the season that saw him score 26 goals in 51 matches across all competitions, good enough to encourage Arsenal to pony up for him by June 2012. Without making too much of something that occurred almost 18 months ago, I’m picking Giroud to deliver one goal, if not two, in what should be one of the easier matches in a tricky Group of Death.

Wielding a significant height advantage over Marseille’s first-choice keeper and defenders, and on a fine run of form that has seen him score in four of five matches to start the season, Giroud looks well-positioned to seize the initiative in his first return to France since joining Arsenal in June 2012.

He has looked bright, confident, and, may I say, clinical. His touch has seemed sharp, and we are yet to see any of his wasteful ways. Of his 22 shots so far, seven have hit the frame, and four have found their way home. If we look at conversion-rate as a ratio of shots on target and goals, Giroud has an unheard-of conversion-rate of 57%. Taken as a ratio of shots to goals, he still manages a sparkly 18.2%.

By any metric, then, Giroud has found a rather comfortable rhythm to start the season, the kind of run that bodes well for Wednesday as well as for the season as a whole. I’ve tabbed him to go for twenty goals in the Premiership (and did so before Özil joined the squad). Özil’s first touches saw him collect a Kieran Gibbs lob and thread a cross into the box for Giroud to send home, an exquisite display that certainly bodes well for their partnership.

For as much as we might bemoan Theo Walcott’s profligacy this past Saturday, Giroud made good on his chance, and it’s here that we should focus. Walcott’s finishing will improve in time. If anything, he might be suffering from an embarrassment of riches, hardly believing the service he’s getting. There’s hope in that, myopic though it may be. With Giroud, there seems less need for such hope as he’s currently the Premier league’s leading scorer (tied with Christian Benteke and Daniel Sturridge for those interested in full disclosure) and looks to build on that through a growing relationship with Özil.

As for Marseille, they’ve started well enough, but have done so against a fair number of minnows, beating Evian, Valenciennes and newly-promoted Guingamp, winners of four of fifteen matches between them; and losing to winless Toulouse and newly-promoted Monaco.

This is an uneven start, to say the least, and not one that should inspire fear. It should certainly not, on the other hand, inspire complacency. Arsène Wenger has targeted ten points (from 18 available) as the threshold for qualification. Taking all three from Marseille on Wednesday and again in November would put them in fine shape for advancement.

Even with a couple of tricky fixtures coming up—home vs. Stoke, at West Brom, at Swansea—on the horizon, here’s hoping that Wenger fields something close to a full-strength squad. Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen are both available, the latter returning from long-term injury. Some rotation in the back-line might be appropriate as a result.

The midfield looks stable, if only because of a dearth of options, with Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini in the pivot with Özil, Walcott, and Wilshere patrolling the midfield behind Giroud up-top. Truth be told, Marseille is a team Arsenal really should be able to manage, if not dominate, if they expect to make any progress. I don’t mean to underestimate Marseille, of course, but taking all three points is vital. Taking all three points against an inferior opponent (no disrespect) is key—and I think Wenger’s boys know this and will go out berserk to do just that.

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