After just two years in the French top flight, Olivier Giroud packed his bags for London to sign for Arsenal from Montpellier over the summer. Although the top scorer in Ligue 1 last season has not yet found the net for his new employers, he intends to establish himself in the English Premier League and in the French national side.
FIFA.com met up with the left-footed striker to discuss the numerous challenges that await him during this coming campaign.
FIFA.com: Olivier, was it a dream come true for you to pull on an Arsenal top, and if so, why?
Olivier Giroud: Even as a young boy, I dreamed of playing in the Premier League. Remember, there were several big-name French players doing well at Arsenal at the time, guys like Patrick Vieira, Sylvain Wiltord, Robert Pires, Thierry Henry, among others, and that made an impression on me. I’m very proud to follow in the footsteps of all those ‘Frenchies’, and I hope to make my mark at the club as well. I really am pleased with my decision to come here.
Was Arsene Wenger a key factor in your decision?
Yes, because he knows me and has confidence in me. Generally speaking, the French guys here help you to settle in pretty quickly – there are actually quite a lot of French-speaking players overall. There are lots of people you can count on if you need help with something. But you can't let that hold you back in terms of mixing with the others, and that suits me fine as I really want to improve my English and speak fluently, without having to think about what I’m about to say. Being at Arsenal will help me with my development, and with a manager like Arsene Wenger in charge, I’m definitely in good hands.
The reputation and style of the Premier League are widely recognised, but have you been surprised by your initial experiences on English pitches?
The atmosphere in the stadiums is pretty much what I was expecting; the support from the fans is amazing! They chant non-stop, and I felt very honoured that they even sang a little song about me when I arrived. On top of that, the fans are very knowledgeable. They applaud when you block a clearance, when you drop back to help in defence, or when you put in a strong tackle. It’s actually a tremendous way of looking at the game. In terms of the quality of play, the Premier League is, in my eyes, the best league in the world. It’s very intense and demanding, and requires much more focus. I’ve not been too surprised by that, to be fair, as I used to watch English matches on TV quite often, but you just have to put all that out of your mind and go out and play.
And now all you need is a goal to break your duck.
Yes, that’s true. I’ve been freezing up a little bit just when I’ve been about to pull the trigger, and that’s exactly what happened in my first few matches for France. I’m not too worried about it, because I’ve been scoring in training and I feel pretty comfortable being a part of this team. I just need to not think about things too much, so that I feel as relaxed as possible when the time comes to stick the ball in the net.
Have you known any periods in your career where you ever doubted yourself? A goal drought, for example?
I’ve always scored goals – it’s simply a question of confidence, of ‘tenacity and dedication,’ as Marc Libbra, the ex-Marseille striker, used to say. Those two words have always stuck in my mind, as for me they sum up quite well the qualities that a forward needs to have. You can’t ever give up, and even if I sometimes show my disappointment when I miss a chance, I try to keep my head up and get on with it. You can never let doubt, which I think is a very strong word, get the better of you. When I arrived at Tours, it took me seven or eight matches to score my first goal, while at Montpellier it was four matches. I’ve only started two games for Arsenal so far. It’s definitely a step up, but I just have to remain patient and confident.
Does the early-season success enjoyed by Robin van Persie – your predecessor at Arsenal – at Manchester United, or by Eden Hazard, who came directly from Ligue 1 like you, prey on your mind at all?
I’m not at all surprised at how well Eden Hazard has settled in this league, because he’s very comfortable everywhere he goes. He’s a very good player who’s going to give Chelsea quite a boost. As for Van Persie, people seem to think it’s something that weighs on me, but I know that the manager has confidence in me. He could easily have brought in another forward when Robin left, but he didn’t. The fact that people have put their trust in me creates the best possible conditions for me to develop and score goals. I’ve even set myself a little target in terms of the number of goals I’m going to get, but I’ll keep that to myself. I’m coming in after someone who scored 30 goals last season, but who took eight years to reach that level, albeit while dealing with various injuries along the way. I feel that I have less time to establish myself and that there are more immediate expectations of me. I imagine it’ll be the same thing for Emmanuel Herrera at Montpellier. That’s how it works, that’s what the demands of top-level football are all about – you have to accept it and remain strong.
What are your thoughts on the way in which Abou Diaby, your team-mate at Arsenal and in the French national team, has started the season?
Abou is absolutely essential to how we approach games tactically at Arsenal. He’s an athletic, complete player, extremely effective at winning the ball back, but also at distributing it and driving into opposition territory. He’s a very important player for the club, but also for France, and he’s doing everything he can to leave his injury problems behind him. He’s a great professional, and it’s reassuring to play alongside him.
Speaking of Les Bleus, how have things changed for you since the arrival of Didier Deschamps at the helm?
I was brought into the French set-up a few months before EURO 2012, and Laurent Blanc never really had the time to try Karim Benzema and me together in a 4-4-2, as he’d talked about doing. Didier Deschamps tested out that option right from the outset, against Uruguay, but they play in a very compact style with five at the back, and I’d only seen 45 minutes of play with Arsenal the previous weekend. That’s why I want to quickly regain my form with France so that we can give that formation another shot.
Given that Karim Benzema is one of the first names on the team sheet, the 4-4-2 that you refer to would seem like a good solution for you personally, although it would require more defensive work.
The modern attacker has to know how to defend, to get into a position where he can try to block or delay balls being fired back down the pitch. That’s not a problem for me at all; I’m used to playing like that. My goal is to earn a regular place in the side, so if Karim is playing, the 4-4-2 obviously suits me better.
How did you find your experience at UEFA EURO 2012, where you mostly watched from the bench?
‘Frustrating’ is the word I would use. I didn’t play very much – I was a virtual spectator. Even though I pretty much expected that’s how things would be before the tournament began, it was still difficult, because I was accustomed to playing all the time at Montpellier. It’s tricky to go from that to getting just ten to 15 minutes and touching the ball a handful of times. But you need experiences like that to learn and mature as a person.
Aside from Spain, the strong favourites to win France’s qualifying section (Group I) for Brazil 2014, which team do you fear the most?
Belarus, because they beat us at home a couple of years ago in a qualifying match for EURO 2012, and they’re a team that’s constantly improving. These days, the gap between countries is not as wide as in the past. Lots of players from so-called smaller teams play in major leagues, and if you don’t take the match seriously and aren’t completely mentally prepared, you can quite easily leave yourself exposed. The Belarusians are well aware that they’ve already got the better of us quite recently, which definitely makes them the biggest threat.
You came up against Spain in the quarter-final of Poland/Ukraine 2012. How would you describe the gap that separates France and the current world and European champions?
Spain are benefitting from an incredible generation of players who’ve been performing together for a very long time. I don’t know if any team will ever be able to do better than they have. That said, from what I could see from the sidelines, I don’t think we were that far away from them during that quarter-final. They were able to exploit our rare mistakes amazingly quickly, but we could have beaten them. That’s what we all felt, and we certainly have some regrets about that game. But they remain a very tough side to play against, one that holds on to the ball and forces you to come and get it, only to then catch you out on the counter-attack.
Do you think France are capable of finishing top of Group I?
Spain are the best team in the world, so it’s going to be difficult, but not impossible. We have to show some ambition. If we can win every one of our other matches, anything can happen in the two games we play against them. We’re going to try our utmost to qualify automatically and avoid the play-offs, because those are always dangerous to be involved in. The fact that Brazil are hosting the next World Cup obviously gives everyone a little bit of extra motivation. It’s an event that nobody wants to miss.