If Olivier Giroud is to join Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott in leaving Arsenal before the close of the transfer window, it would surely represent one of the biggest strategic overhauls of Arsene Wenger’s reign. Not only would Arsenal have lost their best attacker — best player, in fact — they would also have discarded two players with over 100 goals in club colours, all in the space of about two weeks.
Upon entering February, Arsenal’s attack would have a radically different complexion to that with which it saw in 2018. Years of planning ripped up in four weeks. Big personalities, or big profiles, removed from the dressing room — plus 293 Arsenal goals.
It would arguably exceed the midfield transformation of 2011 when twin playmakers Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas left the club, or the summer of 2006 when half the back four was calved off with the departures of Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole. Not forgetting Pascal Cygan.
The essential task of any transfer window is surely to come out a stronger proposition the other side. Even if Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is to join Henrikh Mkhitaryan at the club — and the latest reports state a deal in the region of £60m for the Dortmund attacker is achingly close — Arsenal would not be enhanced, numerically at least.
The reality is slightly different: Walcott had not started a Premier League game this season before being carted off to Everton while Giroud has started only one. Nevertheless, unlike the perfectly understandable decision to dispose of Walcott, selling the Frenchman now would be a miscalculation on two levels.
The first is obviously the fact that Arsenal are said to be considering selling him to Chelsea, of all places. Chelsea’s increasingly desperate pursuit of a tall striker, any remotely tall striker, has been one of the consistent comedic highlights of the transfer window, taking them to targets as left-field as Andy Carroll, Peter Crouch and Ashley Barnes. Giving them an out by allowing them to sign exactly the kind of player they need would make no sense. Why alleviate the pressure felt by a rival for the top four?
It was very generous of Roman Abramovich to gift wrap Petr Cech for Arsenal back in 2015 but Wenger should feel no compulsion to return the favour. For Arsenal to make the Champions League next season, they need to overtake two of Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester United. Why lengthen those odds unnecessarily?
The second reason is simply that while Giroud may not have featured prominently yet this season, he gives Arsenal something they otherwise lack. It is not always pretty when Giroud’s presence encourages Arsenal to play long, but when chasing a goal, it can be a highly effective weapon. Losing Walcott was of little consequence as he had been made obsolete by the way Arsenal played; Giroud still possesses a valuable skill set, when it is required.
Take away Giroud and you lose your Plan B. Aubameyang might be a fantastic player who, if he does sign, will inject pace and urgency to the Arsenal attack, but he will not radically transform anything. It will be a souped-up Plan A on offer. Which will be fantastic, but what about when something else is needed?
With Aubameyang on the brink of signing for a club-record fee, Arsenal have actually handled the January transfer window rather well, so far at least. They extracted a fee of £20m for Walcott, a player they didn’t need. Instead of potentially losing Sanchez for free in the summer, they managed to get an exciting player in return. Admittedly, the signing of Mkhitaryan only helped Arsenal to extricate themselves from a hole of their own digging having let Sanchez’s contract run down, but it made the best of a bad situation.
Losing Giroud, though, would be an unnecessary body blow at a time when the club have a Europa League knockout campaign to negotiate and fourth place to recapture.
Manchester United have already been strengthened, it is hard to see how also giving Chelsea a leg-up would be anything other than counter-productive results. Especially by giving them a player who still has something to offer.