As Olivier Giroud has been locked into the center forward role for a run of matches, the question has arisen among Arsenal faithful: should the in-form Frenchman retain is starting berth or should Alexis Sánchez regain his role from earlier in the season. TSF’s staff is split between a large Giroudin faction and a small, but vocal, group of Alexistentialists that oppose them (shoutout to Martin aka @Heisenbergkamp for “Alexistentialist.” He’s the best. Give him a follow.).
So, without further adieu, today’s roundtable question (plus a Twitter poll at the end for you to vote in!):
Should Olivier Giroud or Alexis Sánchez be Arsenal’s starting center forward?
pdb: The question of "stick with Giroud at CF since he can't stop scoring, or switch back to Alexis at CF" is like asking "would you rather have $100,000 or $100,005?" I mean, one is objectively more than the other, but they're both pretty great things to have, and the choice of Alexis, who creates amazing goals and gives Arsenal a different look than the traditional bigger-guy-up-top striker model, or Giroud, who is that more traditional yet still very effective player, is a really nice problem. I also don't think it's a black and white, binary choice; one of the hammers that has always been used to beat Giroud is that he's a streaky scorer, after all. So, let's ride the current Giroud hot streak until it cools, then swap in the amazing Alexis at CF to pick up the slack. From a results-based analysis alone, this isn't a bad approach - Arsenal play well with either one up there, so while Giroud is Girouding, play him; once his streak cools, Alexis picks up the slack and Arsenal keep winning.
beardyblue: There's no doubting that Arsenal's attack feels more dynamic with Alexis up front; at the same time, Giroud offers some things that Alexis doesn't - and we can still hit back with pace even with Giroud up front. See, e.g., that holy crap scorpion kick goal. You've gotta stick with the hot hand until the streak wears off, and Giroud is currently red hot. This doesn't mean he has to start up front forever, but I think we should ride this wave as long as we can. It's down to the manager to identify when it isn't working and tinker with the lineup in real time, which presents a real challenge because he's often reluctant to do so. That's the only thing that gives me any hesitance about sticking with Giroud for the time being, but I still think it's the right way to go.
Aidan Gibson: Arsenal's attack has looked more fluid with Alexis at centre forward, and one imagines that he'll be restored to the position for when Arsenal go away to Chelsea. Yet calls for Giroud to be dropped instantaneously feel harsh. Giroud did not start in the league until Boxing Day, has scored in every start since. Sure, many of the goals came late and could've been provided as Giroud as a substitute, but if you're going to not start anyone for months and then drop them after they do their job when starting, you take away all incentive for squad players to work hard in training. Giroud's streak won't last forever, and injury perhaps gives Wenger the chance to return to Alexis at centre forward, but Giroud's play alone isn't drop worthy. He wasn't culpable for poor performances around the new year, and bailed Arsenal out against Bournemouth and Preston; had he been dropped following two starts where he scored, he might not have given that extra 5-percent to get Arsenal back in those games. Tactics and player personality don't always mesh, but against most of the Premier League it shouldn't matter, as long as Wenger has tactics that suit both. The restoration of Aaron Ramsey to central midfield shows that Wenger still has the 13-14 system hanging around, and Arsenal often played good football with Giroud at centre forward that season; it was only when there were no runners that Arsenal became static and predictable. Keeping players happy is often needed for the players to fulfill tactical instruction, and until Giroud has a poor game where he doesn't score, I would keep him starting. And Chelsea is two league games away, anyway.
AlsoNamedPhil: By Wenger Law, if results are good, one does not rotate save for the League Cup or injury. So, until Giroud breaks his leg in two places, pretty sure they'll run with him. Seriously, isn't it just nice to have a Plan B that actually works? Giroud up front is a perfectly cromulent formation, particularly against lower table teams. The real issue isn't whether giving a stretch to Giroud is a good thing but that they can't seem to use this rotation to give Alexis rest. The team still relies on his work, either up front or on the wing, and if the team wants to utilize the likes of Lucas or Walcott, it'll be at the expense of Giroud with Alexis moving back up front. Thankfully, both should work well with the burgeoning central midfield triangle of Özil-Ramsey-Xhaka, improving the overall attack no matter who is up front. I do expect and would support moving back to Alexis at CF soon, likely before @ Chelsea, but at the very least, Giroud has impressed with his time and will get the starts and the subs to add a new dimension to the attack when necessary.
bozz: Giroud since he didn't put a hood over his head when subbed off.
fbj0: I love Olivier Giroud, but Alexis should be our starting center forward in most matches. It's got nothing to do with Giroud's performances or his attitude. As you well know, the Frenchman is in quite the purple patch at the moment. However, his mere presence on the pitch inhibits Arsenal's best form much like another, more controversial, Frenchman in the squad. Arsenal played its best football in years earlier this season with a fluid front 4 comprised of Mesut Özil, Alex Iwobi, and Theo Walcott supporting Alexis at center forward. It's two most impressive facets, more variability in attack and improved counterpressing, are largely incompatible with Big Sexy's game. He simply isn't as mobile and gives opposing centerbacks something to focus on, as opposed to the havoc being caused earlier in the season by Alexis, Özil, and Theo taking their turns popping up in a central striker position. The static positioning of Giroud has trickle-down effects on how these teams press us. If one portion of the defensive equation is known, it is easier to defend against the other variables. With the addition of a healthy Aaron Ramsey into the XI, the potential attacking threat and variability is even greater now than it was, without the detrimental lack of passing ability that hurts that front 4 when Francis Coquelin is in the lineup. Giroud is good and Arsenal are good with him leading the line. The fluid front 4 teased greatness, something that has eluded the Gunners for far too long. Giroud, as he was deployed earlier in the season, is the perfect spot starter, supersub, and Plan B. It won’t be easy to bench Giroud at this moment, but Arsène Wenger must count himself lucky to have this selection dilemma.
Ted Harwood: I think one has to stick with the hot hand. I'm pessimistic enough to feel that sooner or later Giroud will fall out of form a bit and make the decision easy, and I'm optimistic enough to feel that, hey, it's not like Alexis ISN'T on the field when Giroud is out there. Then again, I still want to see Alexis on the right, so I might just be deranged.
Travis King: Alexis at CF, please. In Arsenal's 3-0 destruction of Chelsea last September, much was (rightfully) made of Theo Walcott's shift on the right and how he, Alexis, and Héctor Bellerín combined to effectively shut down, and exploit, an entire side of the pitch. All three players are excellent at finding open space within the confines of a defense and utilizing it to the best of their abilities, and there are fewer examples better where this was on display than that lovely day at the Emirates, where all three players had crucial hands in the victory. But getting back to the argument at hand, Giroud's a fine distributor of the ball under heavy pressure but generally this occurs with his back to the goal. The difference between Giroud and Alexis, in this regard, is Alexis' passes generally come from a direct attack, facing the goal, which forces his defenders into decisions: either play him tighter thus opening up space, or playing off of him in order to shut down lanes but potentially giving him the chance to unload long-distance shots on goal, the assist to Mesut Özil for Arsenal's third goal in September being one example. Further, Alexis up front offers more speed to close down on mistakes that Giroud - while good at pressuring the high line - does not provide. This was on display with Arsenal's first goal versus Chelsea earlier this season. While there are completely rational reasons to start Giroud over Alexis at CF, there's a match two and a half weeks away that could actually, legitimately, put Arsenal back into a title race discussion: March 4th, away at Chelsea. As long as Theo Walcott is healthy and available for selection, please Arsène, don't break what isn't broken.