Are Giroud and Ozil really the problem with Arsenal’s attack?

Ozil Giroud

With a modern fan base allured by the swift and ruthless counter attacking skills of Henry, Pires, Ljungberg and Vieira, Arsenal fans continue to struggle to adjust their palate to Arsenal 2.0. This is a version of Arsenal whose attacking play is diametrically opposed to its predecessor. It’s a version of Arsenal focused on monopolising possession of the football in the opposition’s half through countless short passes in and around the opposition’s penalty box and patiently probing for a presentable goal scoring opportunity.

With this change in attacking approach key players’ roles have also fundamentally changed from that of their predecessors. Despite this, players in Arsenal’s current squad continue to be judged against past player which operated in a vastly different setup.

Oliver Giroud and Mesuit Ozil are fine examples of this.

During the early 2000s Arsenal strike duo of Henry and Bergkamp played very distinct roles in a predominantly counter attacking team. In that counter attacking system Bergkamp would often start in close proximity to one of the opposition’s central defender but drop closer to the midfield as an Arsenal counter attack progressed up field. From this position Bergkamp would regularly receive the ball, turn and look to play the ball beyond the opposition’s defensive line to Ljungberg, Pires or Henry in order to create a goal scoring opportunity.

Similar to Bergkamp, Henry would also frequently take up a starting position in close proximity to one of the opposition’s central defender (though he also had a tendency to position himself in the space between the right full back and right sided central defender). Subsequently when Arsenal counter attacks progressed up field he would regularly look to make an off the ball run beyond the opposition’s defensive line or exchange positions with Pires on the left wing to create confusion for the opposition.

In Arsenal’s current tactical set up the roles of Giroud and Ozil are fundamental different to Henry and Bergkamp.

First and foremost Arsenal rarely counter attack. The team’s slow and patient build up play and the tendency of opposition teams to defend with up to 10 men in their penalty box rarely allows for any space in behind the opposition’s defensive line for the likes of Ozil or Giroud to exploit with a through ball or off the ball run in behind.

In light of Arsenal’s slower build up play and the increased congestion in and around the oppostion’s penalty box, Ozil’s frequently drifts, outside of the opposition’s penalty box, from one side of the pitch to the other, continually passing and moving with the dual aim of enabling Arsenal to retain possession of the ball and trying to disrupt the opposition’s defensive organisation. Once a disruption has been created, Ozil tends to either target his passing to those Arsenal players in the disrupted space to enable them to subsequently target Giroud inside the box or directly pass to Giroud if the disruption has itself created space for Giroud inside the box.

This role which Ozil plays in Arsenal’s current attacking approach is vastly different to that which Bergkamp used to play in. Whilst I believe it’s a role which Bergkamp could have been equally adept at playing, given Bergkamp’s vision and passing range, greater recognition needs to be given to the withdrawn nature of Ozil’s role and heavily congested playing environment Ozil is required to operate in when critiquing his goal scoring record. The fact that he has amassed 6 goals and 18 assists in 34 starts this seasons highlights his effectiveness despite his comparative withdrawn position.

Whilst Ozil’s role is heavily focused on creating goal scoring opportunities from his ball retention and passing skills outside of the opposition’s penalty box, Giroud’s role in Arsenal’s team is to act as a target inside the opponent’s penalty box for Arsenal’s number 10, wide forwards, central midfielders and full backs to pass and/or cross the ball to. Once in possession of the ball, Giroud’s has two primary objectives.

Alexis Sanchez

One objective is to create goal scoring opportunities, in an often overcrowded penalty box, for Arsenal’s wide forwards (Sanchez, Welbeck, Walcott, Campbell, Ox, Iwobi) number 10 (Ozil or Wilshere) and their box to box central midfielder (Ramsey or Elneny). It’s the role of those midfielders and forward players who are not involved in creating the opportunity to pass or cross to Giroud, to make themselves available in and around the opposition’s penalty box, for Giroud to create for. Unfortunately this season its a critical role that Arsenal’s wide forward options – Walcott (5 goals in 15 starts and 13 substitute appearances), Campbell (3 goals in 11 starts and 7 substitute appearances), Ox (1 goal in 9 starts and 13 substitute appearances),
Iwobi (2 goals in 8 starts and 5 substitute appearances), Welbeck (4 goals in 7 starts and 4 substitute appearances) – and box to box central midfielder options – Ramsey (5 goals in 29 starts and 2 substitute appearances), Elneny (0 goals in 9 starts and 1 substitute appearances), Flamini (0 goals in 12 starts and 4 substitute appearances) struggled to fulfil.

Secondly, Giroud’s role in the team and Arsenal’s current attacking system also requires him to attempt to score himself when the opportunity presents itself. With 13 goals in 25 starts and 12 substitute appearances, it’s a facet of the role that many argue that he under performs in. Whilst there is undoubtedly room for Giroud to improve his conversion rate, his goal scoring output this season has virtually mirrored his career to date (i.e. a goal every second start).

For me, much of the vitriol directed at Giroud for his lack of effectiveness, fails to acknowledge: his dual creative and goal scoring role; the congested penalty box environment in which he is required to operate in; the fact that he is often marked by up to four opposition players in that same congested environment (two centre backs and two defensive midfielders); and the lack of support in the opposition’s penalty box (particular from Arsenal’s wide forwards and box to box central midfielders) once a cross or pass is directed at him.

Despite his phenomenal skills, speed and goal scoring efficiency I think that Henry would have struggled to outperform Giroud if Henry was required to perform the same function as Giroud in the congested environment the big Frenchman regular operates in.

This fundamental change in Arsenal’s attacking approach since the days of Henry, Bergkamp and co and the consequential impact on the role of Arsenal’s primary striker and number 10 is something which a lot of Arsenal fans seem to struggle to understand and/or accept.

The result of which has seen Giroud and Ozil unfairly castigated and subjected to unnecessary and unjustified abuse from Arsenal supporters.

That said, with only 61 goals scored this season and Arsenal registering 70+ goals in past championship seasons, Arsenal undoubtedly need to score a greater number of goals next season if they are to put themselves in a position to genuinely challenge for the premier league title. Based on the individual attacking responsibilities of Arsenal’s central striker, wide forwards, number 10 and box to box central midfielder though, it appears as it’s the goal scoring contribution (or lack thereof) of Arsenal’s wide forward options (Welbeck, Walcott, Campbell, Ox, Iwobi) excluding Sanchez, and box to box central midfielders (Ramsey and Elneny) that need to be closely scrutinised in any post-mortems of the season rather than Giroud and Ozil.

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4 years ago

Well analysed. And I completely agree that the failure of the wide forwards and midfielders to play with or to Giroud’s strength was our undoing this season. Maybe if they played closer to him, anticipated his flick ons better, better first time crosses for Giroud to use his head and scored their chances we would be champions?

Grant Wallace
Grant Wallace
4 years ago
Reply to  Kinfe

I completely agree Kinfe! Arsenal’s wide forwards number 10 and box to box midfielders who are not involved in creating the opportunity to pass or cross to Giroud, need to make themselves available in and around the opposition’s penalty box, for Giroud to create for. This means those players need to make off the ball runs when the pass or cross is targeted at Giroud to get physically closer to Giroud and be ready to take advantage of his flick ons.

Welbeck’s goal versus Norwich is a great example.

4 years ago

Excellent analysis of our current style of play and it’s consequential effect on the two players Ozil and Giroud. Starting with Ozil, I am not sure that this is his preferred style (possession, possession, possession) but imposed style by Wenger’s philosophy. Ozil is fully capable of mixing possession with fast counter-attacking style and would find and exploit spaces to behind the opposing defences to result in more goals and assists. The latter being Ozil’s preferred style, and not to try to find the inch perfect pass for the cleverest off-the-ball move made in a very crowded area by one of… Read more »

Grant Wallace
Grant Wallace
4 years ago
Reply to  Peter12

Really fair and reasoned points Peter12. Arsenal’s current attacking system has without a doubt been crafted and implemented by Wenger and while it is not everyone’s preferred system, I don’t anticipate it changing anytime soon. As I’ve previously written about, I would personally prefer to see Arsenal adopt a 4312 setup with an aggressive pressing strategy defensively as I think it better suits the skill set of a vast number of Arsenal’s current first team squad and would address some of Arsenal’s key defensive weaknesses (defending against long shots, avoiding individual errors (particularly in central midfield) and stopping opponents from… Read more »

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