For most Arsenal fans, the sight of Olivier Giroud leaving the Emirates Stadium is painful.
The Frenchman has been an impeccable servant since joining from Montpellier in 2012, improving with every campaign to become one of the most effective target men in the country.
When he joined, he was exactly what Arsenal needed. The club had gone almost a decade without winning a trophy and Arsene Wenger’s experiment on youth had failed.
The Gunners were pretty but they were brittle too; Giroud, with his six-foot frame and broad shoulders, was a supposed antidote to a team of gurning schoolboys.
It is that difference, that ability to stand out in a team of languid playmakers, that proved to be both his strength and his downfall.
Decent but not spectacular
Giroud was decent in his first few seasons, but not spectacular.
He wasn’t as mobile as the archetypal Gunners forward but he was strong in the air and adept at linking play. Forming a decent understanding with Theo Walcott, he snaffled the latter’s low crosses producing finishes at the near post.
On the other hand, he also needed two touches when most of his teammates needed one. Getting the ball to Giroud was effective, but it slowed the whole team down.
Still, two FA Cups in his first three years meant that, whatever sea change was occurring at the Emirates, he was part of it.
Giroud was viewed as a good forward option until an infamous encounter with Monaco in the 2014/15 Champions League. It was on that night that the narrative surrounding his Arsenal career calcified.
After 90 minutes in which he had missed a series of clear-cut chances, the schema had changed; Giroud was mildly talented, but he was a less than lethal finisher who could not be relied upon on the grandest stage.
The performance against Monaco was bad enough, but it also came on the back of some stinging criticism from Thierry Henry, with the Gunners legend criticising his compatriot for being less than “top, top quality” a few weeks earlier.
From that moment, the dye had been cast. Giroud has always been a willing contributor for this Arsenal side, maintaining his scruples as his manager made very public pursuits of Luis Suarez and Gonzalo Higuain.
When those moves fell through, he was always expected to pick up the pieces. Invariably, he did.
That’s why, when his move to Chelsea was confirmed on Thursday, Arsene Wenger admitted that “we owe him a lot”. Giroud, his manager said, was “massively popular” in the dressing room.
That is due at least in part to the unselfish nature of Giroud’s stay in North London. No striker in the Premier League is more talented at bringing others into play or holding up the ball.
If you need evidence, consult Jack Wilshere’s famous goal against Norwich in 2013. Notice how involved Giroud is with the build-up, with two separate and wonderful touches to create a moment of footballing art.
Arsenal fans can’t be angry over Giroud’s decision to leave because, in truth, it’s a transfer that suits all parties. He and his wife have just had their third child, and they are happily settled in London.
A move to Chelsea also means he’ll get the football he needs to be a starter at the World Cup in five months, but it also means he won’t have to uproot his family. Dortmund, for all the glamour of its football team, is decidedly less metropolitan.
Chelsea is an ideal destination for Giroud, who admitted as much in his first interview since making his move to West London.
“The most important thing was talking to the coach Antonio Conte,” he told Chelsea’s official website. “I felt like he really wanted me.”
Of course he did. The Italian has already conceded any hopes of the title and a large part of their faltering defence can be attributed to the lack of consistent attacking options.
With Alvaro Morata and Michy Bathsuayi failing to impress, Chelsea has been reliant on the individual magic on Eden Hazard.
That’s fine when the Belgian is on form but, when he isn’t – like at Bournemouth last weekend – the results impact severely on the Blues’ ability to win.
Giroud won’t start ahead of Alvaro Morata but he won’t expect to either. He knows he’ll get opportunities under Conte, particularly in a squad labouring under a more intense fixture list than last season.
His attitude at Arsenal, even when sidelined, was always impeccable. Expect him to be fit and ready when called upon, and expect him to score.
Arsenal benefit from this move too, of course. The £55 million transfer of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has given Arsene Wenger a pleasant selection headache; even with Giroud’s departure, quite how the Arsenal coach will manage to include the former Dortmund man alongside Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette and Henrikh Mkhitaryan remains to be seen.
That won’t be the concern of Giroud, however. He can look back on his six years at Arsenal fondly, but now he embarks on a different chapter.
How do you think Giroud will fare at Chelsea? Let us know by commenting below.