Olivier Giroud: A Legacy in Backheels

We list the qualities that defined Olivier Giroud and his time at the club, and show why this consummate professional will always be welcomed back.

The outrageous finish that won him the 2017 Puskas Award

The score was 2-2. The occasion, the FA Cup final. Arsenal had come from two goals down to Hull City, and deep into extra time, needed something special if they were to win their first trophy in nine years.

A fluid move forward saw the ball fall to Olivier Giroud who ran towards the goal line and flicked a delicious backheel for Aaron Ramsey. As Wembley erupted around the celebrating Arsenal players, Giroud hugged the Welshman, then tapped the badge on his chest. For me, then and now, this contribution epitomises the player better than the outrageous Puskas-Award-winning, scorpion kick goal he would go on to score in 2017. It epitomises Giroud the team-man.

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“Oli is a guy who gave great service to the club, he never let us down on the commitment front and he saved us many times.” – Arsene Wenger (Arsenal.com, January 2018)

When the 26-year-old arrived in North London, he, like Theo Walcott, was expected to fill the vacant boots of a former star. Robin van Persie had left for Manchester United, and Giroud was his replacement. Not that he didn’t have the quality, mind. Golden-Boot-winner Olivier Giroud had just helped Montpellier win the first Ligue 1 title in their history. He was strong in the air, a good presence in the box, and, as we were all about to find out, he was selfless, quite unlike a striker.

Despite 105 goals in 253 appearances, Olivier Giroud’s appeal lies equally in how many chances he can create for others as the goals he scores. One of the things he’s been so good at is creating space for the Arsenal midfield to exploit. Those deft touches, beautiful flicks and elegant lay-offs that defied his height and strength, as much as the bullet headers and the timely finishes. He relies on the team performing well to be able to contribute. One of the best examples being that Norwich goal. He passed the ball to the incoming Wilshere, who flicked it back to him. Giroud flicked it back through two defenders so that Jack only needed to have his foot in the right place to score.

Olivier Giroud the team-man
A trademark flick from the Frenchman made it easy for Jack Wilshere to score

It was, therefore, to be his misfortune that he was the top target man at a club desperately needing a player up front who could produce those moments of individual brilliance out of nothing. In short, an elite striker in the mould of an Henry or a Wright. Giroud’s detractors pointed to his lack of speed, his goal/shots ratio, his lack of mobility, and said he wasn’t world class. He had to work hard to earn a sliver of their grudging respect before it was gone again. But how can we blame him because he wasn’t who we wanted him to be? Whatever his weaknesses, and, of course, he had his share of them, it’s not his fault that he didn’t always fit into the kind of football Arsenal played or that he was expected to be something he wasn’t. If we celebrated only the very elite players, what’s the point of sport?

In the opinion of someone who’s always been in his corner, all Olivier Giroud is guilty of is fulfilling his promise. He was neither a disappointment or unfulfilled potential like Theo Walcott or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, nor a “what if” like Rosicky, Diaby or to a large extent Santi Cazorla. He scored more than one sixth of his goals against the big teams at important moments and assisted crucial goals. I have rested easy, especially in the last few seasons, knowing that we have him on that bench, and he’s responded whenever we’ve turned to him. Last season, he scored 6 and assisted 2 as the most effective super-sub in the league.

Olivier Giroud cannot be faulted for wanting more game time, especially in a World Cup year. Keeping him just because we don’t want him to go is unfair and selfish. The mind understands this, but the heart…oh the heart. It hurts like it hasn’t hurt in a long, long time. It hurts because it was so sudden. It hurts because of the nature of his final game for the club. It hurts because of the Frenchman’s exemplary professionalism, and the situation that now has him at a rival club. It hurts because he is our handsome French bastard with the perfect hair and the best song in the league – and we will miss him.

The reaction from a majority of the Arsenal fanbase shows that commitment, hard work and personality is as important, if not more in this case, as prodigious skill. It tells you all you need to know about Olivier the man that he leaves for a rival club with only the best of wishes, from fans as well as teammates. A genuine mutual love and respect that guarantees a warm welcome, always, unlike many of the Arsenal players to leave the club during the Emirates era. And precisely because this departure isn’t tainted with the acrimony or apathy that characterised so many of the others’, it is simultaneously easier and harder to deal with, and far more emotional.

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I was still at university in England when we signed Olivier Giroud. I remember being at a seminar and getting a notification from Twitter, blissfully unaware that in five years, I would be an emotional wreck writing his farewell. Funny, charismatic, ridiculously cool even with that beard, and the kind of guy that likes Elvis Presley as well as rap, who models for Hugo Boss, and who thanks his mum when asked about his good looks – what’s not to love?  

But life, as they say, inevitably goes on and we must move on with it. There are new stories to write and legacies to build. Even as Giroud bids goodbye, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang takes up the number 14 mantle left vacant by Walcott and a new chapter begins.

So, it is with a full heart that I write, a year on from that glorious scorpion kick – Merci, au revoir and good luck, Oli. You will always have a place in the heart and memory of this Gooner.

Olivier Giroud
Farewell, Oli.
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Anushree Nande

Published writer and editor. Hope is her superpower (unsurprisingly she's a Gooner), but sport, art, music and words are good substitutes.