Arsenal: French international battles will aid domestic front

PARIS, FRANCE - MARCH 28: Olivier Giroud of France looks on during the International Friendly match between France and Spain at the Stade de France on March 28, 2017 in Paris, France. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - MARCH 28: Olivier Giroud of France looks on during the International Friendly match between France and Spain at the Stade de France on March 28, 2017 in Paris, France. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images) /

While Olivier Giroud has made way for Alexandre Lacazette at Arsenal, for France, he is still the starting centre-forward. Their international battles, although a little odd, will only aid the Gunners.

When Arsenal signed Alexandre Lacazette in the summer, after the furore had settled, and the shock at Arsene Wenger breaking the club’s transfer record for the second time in four years, as well as topping the £30 million mark for the fifth time in four years, the most prominent question to rise was that of the battle for the starting role.

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In Wenger’s system — this is equally true for the 3-4-3 that has more recently been implemented and the more traditional 4-2-3-1 that fans have come accustomed to over several seasons — there is room for just one centre-forward. Wenger has always wanted to control the midfield, and he is willing to sacrifice a striker in order to do so.

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So Lacazette’s arrival spelled trouble for Olivier Giroud. Since his replacing Robin van Persie in the summer of 2012, it had been Giroud that had dominated the playing time as the central striker. Wenger liked the focal point that he provided at the top of the Arsenal attack, looking to use his ability to bring others into play as a backboard, off of which the neat, intricate midfield passing can be played.

However, last season, Wenger began experimenting with a pacier, more mobile strikeforce. Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck all started in the lone striker role, much to the dismay of Giroud, who slumped to the bench for much of the year. The greater dynamism that they brought, especially when out of possession as they pressed the opposition defence, winning the ball back high up the pitch, paid dividends, and Arsenal consistently looked more potent with Giroud on the sidelines than they did with him on the pitch.

And Lacazette is a player who suits the high-intensity, high-pressing style that Wenger has begun to demand of his players. I believe, as well as his ruthless scoring rate, his sharp movement, and his quick feet, neat interplay, and positional intelligence, that is the reason why Wenger bought him. Wenger wanted to press his opposition into submission. Lacazette can do that; Giroud cannot.

For France, however, that is not the case. Didier Deschamps continues to start Giroud as the lone centre-forward, with Antoine Griezmann played off him, and a myriad of wingers rotating in and out of the team, from Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele to Thomas Lemar and Kingsley Coman.

On Tuesday, France secured their World Cup place for next summer’s tournament with a win over Belarus, thanks to goals from Griezmann and Giroud. While a comfortable victory against a lesser opponent, it served to show that, despite being dropped domestically, Deschamps will continue to start Giroud over the man who he has been dropped for at his club.

That is an extremely interesting wrinkle to the battle between Giroud and Lacazette at Arsenal, and serves to show the difference in tactics, and the difference in player personnel as a result of those strategical variations, that managers hold to. Wenger has altered his approach, wanting a more mobile centre-forward; Deschamps prefers a powerful, strong, back-to-goal centre-forward who allows the likes of Griezmann, Mbappe et al. to play off of.

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Neither is right. They are just different. But the continual battle between Giroud and Lacazette will help both France and Arsenal. Competition breeds improvements which, in turn, breeds success. If, for any reason, either player does not play at the level expected of them, then there will be a baying replacement ready in waiting. There is no room for slack. And while a pressurised situation, it will bring out the best in both players. And, after all, that is all that any manager, international or domestic, wants. The best, and Arsenal and France will be getting that.