Olivier Giroud in fantasy land
Background image: Vespa125125CFC, CC BY-SA 3.0
It just keeps getting better for Olivier Giroud. After becoming a World Cup winner with France despite failing to score a goal in Russia last summer, the former Arsenal striker proved he hasn't lost his scoring touch in the Europa League. He produced one of his best games in a blue shirt against his former side scoring and assisting against Arsenal to emerge the competition’s top scorer and lift the Europa League trophy with his Chelsea teammates on Wednesday night in far away Azerbaijan. That will go a long way to soothe the disappointment of failing to shine in the Premier League.
Chelsea wobbled to a fourth-place finish with Eden Hazard's goals proving instrumental to the Blues' success. Unfortunately, the Belgian intimated post-match that he played his final game in a Chelsea shirt.
Giroud's exit was also subject to speculation towards the campaign's end until Chelsea handed him a one-year extension. Chalk that up to needs must with a transfer ban on new signings looming rather than satisfaction with the Frenchman's output.
The Frenchman knows as much himself. All the same, as he celebrates another major trophy win and denied his former side the opportunity to play in the Champions League next term. You can't have it all your way but Giroud can't say there hasn't been personal satisfaction during his time at Stamford Bridge.
Arsenal thought they were clearing deadwood by offloading him to make room for Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Yet, he frequently made a difference coming off the bench and in big moments for Arsenal under Arsene Wenger. What might Unai Emery have given to have the Frenchman in a red shirt and available to turn things around against Chelsea in the second half?
Obviously, Auba and Lacazette did well for themselves and were solely responsible for the Gunners reaching the Europa League final. The duo scored 13 goals between them in the competition. Aubameyang grabbed a historic hat-trick against Valencia in the second leg of the semifinal. Unfortunately, as was the case with securing a top-four finish in the Premier League, the duo failed to perform in the Europa League final. The whole team fell apart when it mattered most.
In that regard, Chelsea deserve credit for their resilience and excellence both in defence and attack.
Giroud put in a superb performance, helping out in defence and combining effectively with Hazard in the final third. If his low header in front of compatriot Laurent Koscielny's boot was brave, his dinky lob over Sokratis Papastathopoulis to the Belgian was sublime. Unlike the World Cup, his work rate and output throughout the competition made him well-deserving of his gold medal. With 11 goals scored in 14 matches his contributions were instrumental to the team's success.
Former striker Olivier Giroud scored against them in the @EuropaLeague final on Wednesday and then on the team bus, he had a special message for his former team! 👀 https://t.co/aLPEZ95mgX
However, with so much uncertainty surrounding the club, it remains to be seen if he will find as much joy next season. Manager Maurizio Sarri won the first trophy of his managerial career in Baku. Yet, Stamford Bridge is the one place where silverware doesn't offer job security. While the Blues may want the Italian to remain, unlike predecessors Antonio Conte, Roberto di Matteo or Rafa Benitez, he appears destined for Juventus. Unlike Pep Guardiola who made it clear he was committed to Manchester City when the Old lady made overtures, Sarri has not dismissed the speculation surrounding him when given the opportunity. Instead, he called for an end-of-season meeting with the club's hierarchy to discuss his future and other matters. Again, Chelsea is not a club where such meetings are entertained.
How would Sarri's stay or departure effect Giroud? In truth, very little. The former Montpellier man holds his destiny in hand. Only performances akin to the one he put forth on Wednesday night can keep him as a regular starter in the team. With Chelsea potentially unable to conduct business, however, his worst-case scenario is the bench rather than a forced move.
The best Chelsea can do under the present circumstances is recall some of the many players out on loan. Gonzalo Higuain's loan deal was not turned into a purchase. Nor was it extended. The Argentine is available to carry Sarri's luggage to Turin. With little or no serious competition for his position, Giroud finds himself as the main man by default.
The Blues will be back in the hunt for trophies next term and going by the club's new-found habit of winning at least a trophy every season, Giroud can expect another medal. Whether it'll be in the Champions League, the Premier League or one of the Cup competitions, the Frenchman won't mind. In fact, he must be relishing the prospect of another successful campaign to come.