Giroud - based on form he should be out
You could tell I wasn't at Arsenal Sunday when we were 3-0 up inside twenty minutes. I watched the entire game on an internet stream from Brazil instead and, despite being unable to be there in person, it made for an enjoyable afternoon to finish off the Premier League season. Having sat through some dross in recent games it was about time Wenger made a few changes and those different players certainly made an impact ahead of the FA Cup Final. As a result the Manager now has some decisions to make regarding selection, especially up front.
I wrote not too long ago how Olivier Giroud had not exactly been stung in to action by Thierry Henry's criticism of him. Far from showing a desire to prove his credentials to Henry he has gone totally in to his shell and done nothing. In the absence of Danny Welbeck he seemed to feel that his place was assured in the starting line-up and was playing like a man deep in the comfort zone. Well Sunday he was finally dropped in favour of Theo Walcott and now is under serious pressure for his place at Wembley. They said on Match Of The Day that Giroud hadn't scored in eight games - I haven't bothered to check but, if that's right, then it is simply not good enough from a centre-forward. Theo, on the other hand, had impressed from the bench in the two previous Arsenal matches and has certainly taken his chance to impress after Sunday. You can't argue with a man coming in and scoring a hat-trick.
Of course Theo Walcott is not a like-for-like replacement for Giroud. We have to play a slightly different kind of game with the pace of Theo up top instead of the bulk of Giroud. Both methods have their advantages, and both have their negatives. There is no doubt that Theo's pace threatens lumbering centre-halves, and a seemingly new found ability to beat a defender in tight areas adds a new dimension to his play. On the other hand he can be easily out-muscled by big defenders which can leave us with nothing to aim for up front. Giroud is exceptional at holding up the ball and bringing his midfield in to play, particularly benefiting Aaron Ramsey's style. Often though this leads to Giroud not getting in to proper goal scoring positions often enough as he constantly moves to link play rather than be on the end of it. So Arsene Wenger has now been presented with a headache before we play Aston Villa, and it affects the make-up of the midfield too.
As I said above, Giroud is very important to Aaron Ramsey, as long as Ramsey himself is playing through the centre. When Giroud is missing it is noticeable how little influence Ramsey can have on the play as his running from deep becomes ineffective without a battering ram to hold the ball up and occupy defenders, thus creating the space for him to exploit around the penalty area. Leaving aside the fact that we don't want or need Ramsey on the right wing, he absolutely needs Giroud in this Arsenal team. Jack Wilshere, on the other hand, is more of a ball player than Ramsey. He could play with either Giroud or Walcott, but is less likely to support Giroud inside the penalty area. As with Ramsey he shouldn't be playing off the right-wing either and is far more effective from the centre of the field. His direct approach, however, sees him commit defenders and create space for others and Walcott is ideal to exploit that with his pace - Tomas Rosicky is exactly the same but Wenger seemingly refuses to use the little Czech these days unless it's an emergency. For me it seems obvious that, whichever man we play up front, either Wilshere or Ramsey needs to be in the side playing through the centre. That being the case it would be Ozil that would miss out every time as far as I'm concerned as he has been totally ineffective. Obviously that isn't going to happen though.
Of course Giroud and Walcott could play in the same team at Wembley with Ramsey and Wilshere both sitting on the bench. It seems unlikely that Santi Cazorla would miss out in favour of either of them alongside Coquelin, and he played much better himself on Sunday following some poor displays. Walcott from the wing would be favourable to me ahead of either Ramsey or Wilshere, but often he doesn't have enough effect when starting games in that position. That said, his pace could be crucial against Villa's defence, regardless of the position he's played in. Even better, they could play as a central pair of strikers with Walcott ensuring that Giroud has someone to help him. I've always considered them to be a decent match if only they were paired together - Giroud wouldn't have up to three men marking him and opponents would have to drop off slightly to try and nullify the threat of Theo's speed in behind.
Having scored a hat-trick Theo might rightly expect to start at Wembley on Saturday. It seems hard to believe that any side could leave out a man who has scored three goals in a game so close to the Cup Final. It all comes down to how Wenger wants to play - stick with the tried and tested, but often fruitless, way with Giroud, or go with pace and look to blitz Villa as we did West Brom. Wenger has form for ignoring a special individual display and Theo would do well to take note of the case of Jermaine Pennant. You might remember Pennant scoring a hat-trick against Southampton in 2003, but then not even making the bench for a depleted Arsenal side at Cardiff less than two weeks later - in fact he was only a substitute for the dead rubber at Sunderland the weekend before Cardiff. I really don't know what the right answer is for Arsenal at the moment, but it's nice to have a choice to make and some competition among the strikers.
The plan for the week ahead is different from last year. Ahead of Wembley last May I wrote some personal accounts of the winning Cup Final's I've attended. Obviously there's no point in writing those pieces again. I'll attempt to write some kind of post every day between now and Wembley, though tomorrow will be tight for time. I'll link to last year's pieces from each post this week to whet the appetite, starting with this one from 1993 - not long to go now until we descend on Wembley Way!