Did Olivier Giroud actually cost Mesut Ozil the assist record and Arsenal the title in 2015/16?
By Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Chief Editor)
This a piece I’ve been meaning to do for a while now, and having just watched the season finale to this infamous Arsenal campaign in the club’s official Reloaded lockdown special series, I thought, am I ever going to get a better chance to do it? Is it ever going to be at all relevant again?
If you’ve forgotten, let me cast your mind back to May 2016. Leicester City famously produced the most remarkable sporting achievement of all time, having defied all odds to win the Premier League title. We were left miserably as runners-up, although we did get the glory of famously leapfrogging Tottenham on the final day after their Newcastle capitulation. It was a season we can almost certainly look back at and say we definitely should have won the title. With so many of the traditional top teams producing extremely below par seasons, it didn’t take a great side to walk away with a winners medal in 2016.
What exactly went wrong for us that season? Why were we not able to pip a side with significantly less quality to the title? Looking at it plain and simply, our finishing let us down, whilst we were unfortunately also faced with very clinical finishing throughout the campaign. We had comfortably the best xG difference in the League, meaning we were both the most creative side and the most defensively able to prevent high quality chances against us.
Our xGF of 73.53 was significantly greater than second best Leicester, who managed 68.42 xGF, whilst our xGA of 33.86 was a lot lower than the second best defence in the league, our North London neighbours, who managed 37.08 xGA. However, we scored just 65 goals, 8 fewer than we were expected based on the quality of our chances, and conceded 36, just over 2 more we were expected to have let in. Whilst this suggests an element of misfortune, in that we faced extremely clinical finishing, it also suggests a lack of efficiency in front of goal.
So the first area you’d point at in directing blame wouldn’t be the manager and his tactical system, rather the forwards, who failed to capitalise proficiently on the chances created for them. Olivier Giroud, our main striker for the campaign, scored 16 league goals, and featured in every single game, with 26 starts. 16 goals in 26 starts looks like a decent return on paper, but many will remember the barren spell he endured between January and May, where he failed to hit the back of the net in 15 appearances.
This period also coincided with the team’s poorest run of form in the season, losing 3 times and drawing 6 in these 15 games- hardly title winning form. So there is a premise to account blame on Giroud, and looking at it that simply, the claim that his finishing cost us the title looks reasonable.
However, when you dive deeper into the underlying metrics, this blame seems very unfair. The Frenchman outperformed his xG that season, scoring 16 times from 14.5 xG. This in itself suggests that Giroud was actually clinical throughout the entire season, and was not one in the squad who squandered a load of chances.
Yes, he went on a significant goal draught, but his early season metrics suggested this was inevitable. Rather like Jamie Vardy this season, Giroud was extremely clinical in the first half of the season, scoring 12 times from 10.48 xG up until the 13th January. He made substantially more of the chances that were created for him.
However, unless you are an absolutely elite finisher, this sort of form tends not to be sustainable. Inevitably, strikers tend not to massively outperform their xG, unless they are Sergio Aguero, Harry Kane or Luis Suarez. Even the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (barring this current campaign) tend to underperform their xG.
So, Giroud’s efficiency in front of goal in 2015/16 did inevitably level out in the second half of the campaign. In the final 17 games of the season, he netted just 4 times from 4.28 xG. So not only were fewer chances being created for him (and more low quality ones), he still managed to almost match the quality of chances by the number of goals he scored. As mentioned earlier, throughout the campaign Giroud outperformed his xG. So, whilst the fact that Giroud isn’t an elite level finisher may have contributed to us not lifting the title, he certainly wasn’t the player who wasted the opportunities that left us without the winner’s medals.
In fact, it was probably more of a widespread issue amongst the squad, with poor finishing from several players costing us. Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Danny Welbeck, Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott and Joel Campbell were all guilty of underperforming what was expected of them in front of goal, with Walcott, Ramsey and Welbeck in particular massively misfiring. Giroud was in fact our most clinical attacking player that season.
This also contradicts the other big believe about that season, that Giroud also prevented Mesut Ozil from breaking Thierry Henry’s assist record. The German sat on an extraordinary 16 assists by mid-January, just 4 off Henry’s record 20. Then came Giroud’s goal draught, which coincided with Ozil managing just 3 assists in his final 15 games. Of course, on paper this looks like Giroud’s inability to finish chances created for him by Ozil was the problem.
However, the simple matter is, Mesut Ozil just wasn’t able to maintain his unbelievably creative form from the first half of the season. By the time Arsenal went away to Stoke on the 17th January, Ozil had managed 12.67 xA from 20 appearances, averaging a staggering 0.66 xA/90. From that point onwards he managed 4.95 xA from the 15 remaining games, averaging 0.34 xA/90. Still a very respectable rate of chance creation, but obviously not at the brilliant level of earlier in the season.
This remains the best season of any playmaker in the Premier League since expected stats were created, but ultimately Giroud cannot be blamed for Ozil’s inability to edge Henry in the assist history charts. Whilst it could be argued that had Ozil had a more mobile striker in front of him to play to his strengths, the fall in his creativity actually coincided with the loss of Santi Cazorla to injury, who arguably orchestrated a lot of Arsenal’s offensive moves, and provided the platform for Ozil to excel.
So there is it. I’ve dispelled the myth, and one that was pretty reasonable to believe without looking at the underlying stats. Whilst Giroud no longer holds popularity amongst Arsenal fans due to certain actions he took after last year’s Europa League final, if you look at this rationally, it’d be unfair to hold a grudge against him for the 2015/16 campaign’s failures.
I know some people will find a way to disagree with this, and that’s ok. For those of you smart enough to comprehend the factual information presented in this article, I hope this helped.