Tension mounts for Arsenal, Wenger
Exiting the Emirates Stadium into the north London night, an unfeasibly tall Arsenal fan loped up the road, apparently lost in his thoughts. He had a red and white wooly hat on, and his jersey of choice was "Giroud 12." He paused for a moment by a bin to lob something in.
He missed. The symbolism was striking.
It had been a tough night for Olivier Giroud, who gives the impression that his performances for Arsenal at the moment are some kind of endurance test. For a start, he looks tired out. He is having to keep going, keep toiling, keep trying, for 90 minutes game after game, even when chances go begging, the crowd cannot help howling, and his face crumples in despair.
Giroud might have felt the burden of responsibility at the end of an intense, deadlocked game in which the best chances fell his way. Watching him toil against a tough and terrifically organized Everton defense it was hard not to feel a little sympathy for the big man. Sometimes, when things are not going your way, when the pressure is loading up, and when you are running on empty, you need a break.
But Arsene Wenger does not seem minded to give him one. Why? Because he doesn’t really have an alternative he is happy to use as his main center-forward.
Giroud may have struggled to convince everybody that he is the answer to Arsenal’s attacking prayers – even though a return of 18 goals and a further 8 assists for a first season in a new league is a decent return.
But the critical question is not so much how useful the Frenchman is, but how come a club of Arsenal’s wealth doesn’t really have an option? For a whole season?
It is a curious gamble of Wenger’s, and one he indulged in last season too, when Robin van Persie was the toast of Arsenal throughout a campaign of goals and leadership that helped to ensure a third place Premier League finish. The fact the Dutchman managed to complete the season with barely an injury niggle was vital. The understudies simply would not have fitted the bill.
When van Persie was sold to Manchester United last summer, the idea was for the load he carried so brilliantly to be shared by the incoming attacking options. Giroud was one of three new signings, with Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla, who all brought different qualities.
But ultimately, Wenger only introduced one player he envisaged as the main front man. Podolski has a more unerring eye for goal and range of finishing, but Wenger prefers to use him on the left. The mercurial Cazorla is more of a playmaker. So what is the alternative to Giroud? Theo Walcott had a few turns, and there was an experiment with Gervinho, but neither look truly comfortable as a lone forward.
Giroud has played eight games in just over a month for club and country. He keeps plugging away. It would be a surprise if he were to be omitted from the line-up on the weekend when Arsenal travel to Fulham for a game that carries heavy weight in terms of their top four aspirations.
Is it time to give Podolski a try? As a solo striker who will need to win the ball with his back to goal against robust Premier League defenders? Wenger says he has been working on the German international in a central role, but remains unconvinced that Pololski possesses the strength to do the dirty work knitting Arsenal’s attacking play together against a pair of hulking center-halves. Might be time to find out, though. Maybe Wenger could spring an even bigger shock by changing his tactics to play two strikers in tandem. Maybe there also will be pigs flying through the air over Craven Cottage.
This is crunch time, and although a point against a highly motivated and determined Everton side is not a calamity, the margin for error is wafer slim. In the race for a top four position, Arsenal have two point advantage, but Tottenham and Chelsea both have games in hand. Everton are not out of it, even though David Moyes was happy enough to play the role of the outsider after his team put in a vigorous display with eye catching performances from youngsters like Ross Barkley and Seamus Colman.
All the teams vying for Champions League qualification still look capable of planting their flag in the top four. And all look likely to drop some more points along the way.
The tension continues.