The last time Olivier Giroud was injured playing football for the Arsenal was on August 23rd, 2014, and it happened after the Frenchman had scored a goal in the 89th minute to help the club cancel out two first half strikes by Everton. He made a seemingly routine challenge for a ball in the Everton box and went down in a heap after landing awkwardly. Initial thoughts that this was a minor injury were rudely corrected by reports in the media of a leg-break and at least 3-months absence. The club promptly pulled the trigger on a deadline day signing of Danny Welbeck who had been belatedly put on the market by Manchester United. Welbeck took time to settle and it was an out-of-body start to his Arsenal career by Alexis that provided the Gunners with another consistent goal-scorer.
By the time Giroud returned to the team in round 12, coming off the bench to score a screamer in a losing effort vs Manchester United, Arsenal was already 11 points behind Chelsea with 4 wins, 5 draws and 3 losses and lying 5th in the league. Twenty games later, with Olivier gradually eased back into the first team, Arsenal went on a domineering run of games winning 16, losing three (3) and drawing once (1). His personal tally on April 4th was 11 goals, scoring seven in a six-game stretch between February and that date, leading the club to 2nd place after 31 games, only three points behind Chelsea, the eventual champions. But at that point the mob from Fulham had three games in hand; the damage had long been done in Giroud’s absence. April 4th has a major significance as it marked the date of the last goal for the season by our French hitman. In the next eight (8) games, without his goals, Arsenal’s already improbable title challenge fell away; winning 3, drawing 3 and losing 1.
Thus when Giroud went down injured at 43 min: 30 second in the game with Swansea on Saturday I had a total reprise of Everton, August 2014.
Two Minutes of Hell
The first half of the Swansea v Arsenal game was niggly and tentative. Both teams were having anxious moments. As the half drew to a close our battling Frenchman received a ball under considerable pressure from the opposition and in the process of successfully maneuvering the ball to a team-mate there was a clash of knees with Montero, their nippy left back. He went to ground writhing in pain with his left leg propped close to his body, unmoving.
Initially his teammates ignored his somewhat somnolent state. I suspect they must have thought he was feigning injury to win a free kick. They were trying to pass their way into the Swansea box and as Ozil received the final pass, I said to myself he will be confused because he doesn’t know Giroud is injured and there is no big man in the box for him to locate his pass. Just as I thought, he dithered because of the paucity of options allowing the onrushing defenders to smother him and eventually the ball aimlessly rebounded from his legs, out of play. This triggered the ref’s whistle, stopping play and signaling Colin Lewin to come onto the field to attend to the stricken player. From the tv broadcast the commentators heightened the tension by emphasizing Giroud is “seemingly in agony”, he is “waving at the bench”, his “knees buckled”, he may have damaged his “medial or lateral ligament” and on and on.
Lewin’s initial attempt to put his hand on Giroud’s knee did not seem promising. His wailing and finger-waving seemed as intense as ever while the physio tries to extend the stricken knee. After the initial handling the physio reaches into his collar for his earphone and apparently communicates to the bench. As is now standard for football coverage, this covert chat is the signal for the cameras to pan to the sidelines and focus on AW’s face which is emotionless and inscrutable. Usually when an injury is serious there is immediate movement on the bench but I regard the lack of action as meaningless. There is no substitute for Giroud on or off the bench. I am now resigned to the stretchers.
But ever so quickly the cameras refocus to the main action. It is apparent that while Lewin has succeeded in getting Olivier to extend the leg, the Frenchman is still pointing to his knee as if they have been crushed inside. But Lewin is insistent and for the first time I am swept by some optimism. From my own experience, I know we men are such babies when it comes to pain. So I am now beginning to hope Giroud is at least half-the-man I am and is at least slightly embarrassed to be crying like a baby in front of thousands in the stadium and millions on tv, even if it really hurts. Luckily he is like us and in due course the wailing ceases and he is gradually helped to his knee. Optimism is transformed to joy as he limps to the sideline without assistance ending the most stressful two minutes of Arsenal football I have experienced this season.
Giroud eventually re-entered the field of play at the end of the first half and scampered around showing no ill-effect from the injury. In the 48th minute he scored that decisive first goal by using Mertsacker as a shield to perfectly position himself for a smart header from a corner.
You dear reader may be wondering why I am dramatizing those two minutes. Because it seems to me not many are fully aware of how significant this potential injury could have been. From my reading of a few blogs not many comprehend that our chances of winning the title drop to slim or zero should there be a long-term injury to our bearded Frenchman. At least it was not lost on the end-of-an-eraists who, in their continued belittling of Wenger, excoriated the manger and the board for only having two central strikers, conveniently ignoring the fact that Welbeck was expected to recover from his pre-season injury or the fact that City only have Aguero and Bony as central strikers despite having all the money in the world.
I am seriously curious as to why our own supposedly knowledgeable fans seem to underestimate the importance of Giroud to this squad despite having scored 65 goals and contributed 28 assists in 150 appearances for Arsenal since he joined in 2013. Over this period only Sergio Aguero has scored more goals in the Premier League.
I can only conclude that they have drunk the kool-ade served up by the pundits and pressitutes in the mainstream media who have poisoned the public into believing that Giroud is not a top-quality striker. This is best exemplified by infamous proclamation on April 26th by Thierry Henry that “I think they need to buy four players – they need that spine. They need a goalkeeper, they still need a centre back, they still need a holding midfielder and, I’m afraid, they need a top, top quality striker to win this league again.” Note he made this statement in direct contradiction to the facts; Arsenal season 2014-15 went south when Giroud was totally exhausted after going flat-out between January and April 4th.
After yesterday, and the impact of his absence due to injury in 2014 and 2013, the more relevant question is whether Arsenal can win the title without Giroud.