Jamie Carragher examines why Olivier Giroud would have made the difference for Everton this season.
Ronald Koeman finds himself under pressure as Everton host Arsenal at Goodison Park on Nissan Super Sunday and the Dutchman could be forgiven for casting envious glances over to the opposition bench. It is there that he is likely to find Olivier Giroud, the striker who he might well feel could have transformed his side's fortunes.
Giroud is yet to start a Premier League game this season but was reportedly top of Koeman's list of summer targets, as the player himself recently told French TV station Canal Plus. "I had the opportunity to leave," he said. "I was very close to another English club, Everton. But I think I made the best choice."
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A look at the table would suggest he is right. Everton are just above the relegation zone having failed to replace Romelu Lukaku. There was enough time for Koeman to come up with a clear plan for life without his star striker, but so far that plan has not been obvious.
They bought a lot of players but I do not think they actually improved because Lukaku was so important for them.
Koeman has changed his striker on a game-by-game basis in search of the right blend, but none of the new arrivals are a like-for-like replacement for Lukaku and that's a problem. "I felt that at the time, it's not just me being clever after the event," Jamie Carragher tells Monday Night Football Extra.
"They bought a lot of players but I do not think they actually improved because Lukaku was so important for them. Any team without a real, recognised, quality centre forward, no matter what you do between the boxes, is going to struggle because you have not got that man in there to finish it off."
Giroud could have been that player for Everton. The Frenchman is a proven Premier League goalscorer. Indeed, Harry Kane and Gabriel Jesus are the only strikers with better minutes-per-goal records since Koeman joined Everton, and the Arsenal striker's return is far superior to the other options at the club.
"I think he is one of the most underrated players in the Premier League," says Carragher. "He scores goals and he gives you that presence. He was France's number one striker at Euro 2016 and, given the quality that they have, that shows he is a really good player. He would have been a great signing for Everton."
It is not just Giroud's strike rate that is significant, it is the type of goals that he scores that make him a far better stylistic fit for Everton than the current players at Koeman's disposal. Crosses are a vital part of the former Southampton manager's system and Giroud would have relished that service.
In Koeman's final season at St Mary's, his team attempted the most crosses from open play of any team in the league. In his first season at Everton, he increased their numbers too. It is an approach that suits a player who has scored more headers than any other Premier League player over the past three season.
As many as 38 per cent of Giroud's efforts on goal in that time have been headers. This is remarkable given that Arsenal have sent in the second-fewest crosses from open play by ever-present sides. In a more crossing-oriented attack such as Koeman's, these numbers would be expected to rise further.
All of which shows why Giroud could have brought the very best out of Everton's record signing, Gylfi Sigurdsson. On the surface, the former Swansea man was involved in a lot of goals last season but the vast majority of the chances he created came from set-piece situations. His creativity from open play was less impressive.
Only 25 of the 80 chances that he created last season came from open play with a whopping 65 per cent of the opportunities he created being headed chances. That was far more than any other Premier League player. Without the presence in the box to make use of his quality delivery, Sigurdsson is not so effective.
"A lot of the time he was being judged on his assists at Swansea," says Carragher, "but you always need someone to finish it off. If Everton have not got that out-and-out goalscorer they have very few players to get on the end of crosses so Sigurdsson's numbers will be badly affected by the lack of a striker."
None of the four strikers who Sigurdsson has played with so far at Everton have anywhere near the aerial prowess of Giroud, nullifying the Iceland international's greatest asset. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he has found the head of a team-mate just once from an open-play cross all season.
Only seven of Sandro Ramirez's 92 attempts on goal last season were headers, while Oumar Niasse has one headed attempt in his entire Premier League career. Dominic Calvert-Lewin has spent much of his time out wide, while Wayne Rooney has been deep and has scored only two headed goals in the past three seasons.
"It's going to be a really testing time for Ronald Koeman over these next few months trying to get the best out of this forward line," adds Carragher. "It is something that is proving more difficult than first thought as they are now having to play to the strengths of players who they felt would not be playing very much.
"Not getting Giroud or someone like him is proving a massive problem for them and looks like it will continue to be a massive problem until January at the very earliest. It's a long way away next summer. This is going to really hurt them."