That right there is the quintessential pose of Olivier Giroud. His head tilted skyward, his face tightened into a pained grimace, his hands slowly making their way upward to his eyes or hair as he attempts to rub away the memory of whatever near-chance he was just unable to put away.
On good days, when he or a teammate have already managed to find the back of the net thanks to his often critical contributions, the look features a hint of a wry smile, as he thinks to himself Damn, if I'd have gotten to that one too, we'd really be rocking now. On bad days, when his knack for getting so close to scoring yet not quite making it count has doomed his team to defeat, as was the case in both legs of Arsenal's Champions League defeat to Monaco, the look is more purely distraught. In either case, it's Giroud's consistent ability to do so much right in the buildup to dangerous chances yet fail to regularly finish them off with a goal that typifies his game.
Giroud is one of the rare players whose highlight compilation videos feature as many missed chances as successful ones. In that sense, this video showing the Frenchman's best moments of the current season is the perfect encapsulation of the kind of player he is:
Giroud is either pretty or really good at multiple traits you look for in a striker. He's 6'4", about 200 pounds, and great at leveraging every inch and ounce of it while wrestling for the ball with burly Premier League defenders. This makes him one of the best strikers in England at holding up play. With the ball coming off his head, chest, or left foot at the perfect angle thanks to his top-quality first touch, he knows how to shimmy his way around to make quick, clean turns to buy himself space to find his onrushing teammates.
After laying off the ball and shuttling up to the penalty area where he does most of his damage, Giroud can hurt defenses a number of ways. Most impressively is how he can slice apart back lines with his combination play. Either while on the move or with a defender trying to fuse his knee into Giroud's spine, the forward's ability to send the little first-time flicks that are the hallmark of Arsenal's most exquisite team goals rivals anyone else on his team—which is saying something for a club like Arsenal, whose roster is more crammed with feather-booted attacking mids than a new down pillow. When watching on a fuzzy online stream or from afar, you sometimes mistake Giroud for Mesut Özil the way they both can nudge on a two-yard pass with the perfect trajectory and timing to find one of the weaving runs around them.
When the ball makes its way back to Giroud in the box looking for the last touch before crossing the goal line, he's blessed with the typical poacher's gift of drifting exactly where the incoming ball will end up. If it's in the air, the previously mentioned combination of size and athleticism enables him to reach the ball with his forehead before an opponent can. His accuracy with his head is also probably his most lethal finishing technique. When the ball comes at him skipping across the grass, Giroud's positioning skills and telescoping legs allow him to at least get a piece of his preferred left foot on the ball. However, it's at that final step between getting to the ball inside the box and actually putting it into the net where Giroud's one major shortcoming is exposed. He's just not that good of a finisher.
This is why Giroud's face is so often knotted up in the expression you see in the picture above. He can do almost everything exactly right—and exceptionally well, even—on his way towards just the right spot he needs to be in to score, but at the moment of truth will send his shot just wide. It's that feeling of always being so close yet so far that is a fundamental attribute of Giroud's play that both enables him to get into great scoring positions yet so often come up short that makes him such a pitiable figure.
What's maybe most frustrating for Gunners fans is that so many of his goals come after sublime touches that he makes look almost automatic that you wonder why he doesn't finish like that more often. Here's another longer highlight video from last season:
In that video, you'll see Giroud sprint onto a through ball and roof it into the net from an oblique angle to evade the body of an onrushing keeper, backpedal a couple steps before drilling in a cutback into the top corner, delicately chip a ball over a keeper seemingly before he even has a chance to see where he's at, and, while running from the left side of the box towards the touchline to the right of the goal, kind of flip the ball behind him with the outside toes of his left foot at an angle he has no business scoring from. The way he easily dispatches those difficult shots, then runs off towards the corner flag, chest out, finger wagging, you think he has the confidence and ability to make things like that happen all the time. But then you wait a few minutes, and he's back to his regular self, missing chances much easier than the one he'd earlier made look so routine.
Both legs of Arsenal's Champions League defeat to Monaco exemplified this tendency. The Gunners didn't go through mainly because of multiple instances of braindead defending in the first leg at home, but their task would've been much easier had Giroud finished any of his numerous chances in that same match:
Giroud was was better yesterday, scoring his team's opening goal with a typically impressive shot from a dumb angle, but he probably should've gotten at least one more. Via Four Four Two, here's a look at the striker's shots over both legs, which illustrates just how good Giroud is at getting into great scoring areas as well as how his inability to find the net:
As WhoScored put it on Twitter, Giroud's wasting of six clear-cut chances in both Monaco games was more than any other player has missed in the tournament's entirety. For another visualization of Arsenal's and Giroud's profligacy, here's soccer analytics writer Michael Caley's shot map of the combined legs, taking into account his expected goals stat (expected goals takes into account where a shot was taken and a variety of other situational factors to arrive at a rough probability of how likely any given shot is to go in):
That's not all on Giroud, but at the same time only scoring once from 13 shots inside the penalty area is not a good return under any circumstances.
Giroud's particular array of talents and flaws puts him in a strange predicament. He thinks like a top-quality striker, moves, combines, and reacts like a top-quality striker, but ultimately lacks the most critical trait of top-quality strikers. This would make him a very good starter on a pretty good team, but is not enough to regularly lead the line for a true Premier League title contender.
That Giroud plays for Arsenal is sort of fitting, in that way. For the Gunners to be the club they once were and promise to again become, they would either need superstars at every other position in the squad or else a better number one striker than Giroud. Barcelona never minded Pedro fluffing a couple shots per game, not when the likes of Lionel Messi, David Villa, Xavi, and Andrés Iniesta were there to create and finish a dozen more chances on goal every match. Bayern Munich won everything relying on limited strikers like Mario Gómez and Mario Mandžukić because Arjen Robben, Franck Ribéry, Bastian Schweinsteiger, and Toni Kroos could more than make up for their lead man's deficits. Outside of the presence of a large number of transcendent talents, those squad players' shortcomings would prove more debilitating.
Like their French forward, Arsenal have for so long struggled to breach that threshold between goodness and greatness. Acquiring players like Özil and Alexis Sánchez, players who are legitimately world class, signals how serious they are about finally clawing up those last few feet of the mountain that separates the world's elite clubs from the rest. Try as those players might to drag their teammates to the summit, there aren't enough of them in the squad to drag teammates like Giroud onto a mountain top they don't belong on.
So there Giroud stands, perfectly capable at so many things, yet fatally limited in the ones he most needs. He has to know he's not good enough to bring this team to where they want to be. Maybe alongside the memory of the short-term failure he tries to wipe away from his eyes those handful of times he makes his trademark grimace, he's also trying to keep out thoughts of his inadequacy. That he can continue to successfully do so—that he can continue putting himself and his abilities into position to fail or succeed—is his most impressive skill of all.