Leading up to Arsenal’s first game of the 2013/2014 campaign, I will do a series of posts profiling certain players. In these posts, I will assess their place in the squad and outline my expectations for them in the upcoming season. I might also have a few suggestions about how they should be utilized tactically. The first of these posts is about recent World Cup winner Lukas Podolski.
Everybody loves Lukas Podolski. It’s impossible not to. Few players in the game are as affectionate and openly passionate on and off the field as the German forward is. For many casual Arsenal fans, he is the first name they think of on the team. And not only is he personable, he is also lethal with the ball on his left foot. His shooting ability led to him becoming the youngest European player to ever reach 100 caps for an international team in 2012. Yet despite all that, many seem to think having Podolski on the field is a liability.
Having been at Arsenal two full seasons now, you would have thought Podolski would have earned a clear-cut role in the squad given his ability and goal-scoring prowess. However, Wenger has not found a spot he feels comfortable playing him in. Given Podolski’s strike rate (28 goals in the last two years in limited playing time) and obvious talent, it’s downright strange that Wenger hasn’t figured out how to utilize him. He’s not a center forward capable of holding up play like Oliver Giroud. He’s not a speedy winger that will offer support for the fullbacks behind him. And he’s not a number 10. But he’s someone who can score from anywhere, even against the run of play, and I think that’s pretty valuable.
There has been talk in recent days about Podolski looking to move elsewhere in the coming weeks. And frankly, I wouldn’t blame him for wanting to leave. His club has not loved him as much as he has loved the club. But I think it would be a huge mistake to sell the German forward this summer for a couple of reasons.
The first reason not to sell Podolski now is that I think the signing of Alexis Sanchez will help Podolski find his best form. Sanchez is the type of player that Podolski could thrive next to, and here’s why. In December of 2012, Arsenal played two of their best offensive games in recent years against Reading (a 5-2 win) and Newcastle (a 7-3 win). In those games, Theo Walcott played as a center forward, with Podolski on the left, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right and Santi Cazorla behind Walcott. As evidenced by those scorelines, this quartet played some amazing soccer together. The pace of Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain created spaces for Podolski and Cazorla on late runs into the box that Giroud never could create. Those four put on a show that December, but unfortunately, that lineup didn’t last long.
Last season, when Podolski got his run in the team in the final two months or so, he was playing alongside a rather static Arsenal side. Instead of the pacey Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain, Podolski was playing with Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky and Giroud. None of them were opening up areas for Podolski at the top of the box by going in behind, and he couldn’t find any space to shoot in the crowded middle of the park. Only when Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Özil returned did Podolski start finding his form.
Players like Walcott bring out the best in Podolski, as defenders can’t hang so tightly on his left foot when the threat of Walcott running in behind is in their heads. The German only needs an inch of space to get his shot off, and when he does, it usually goes in. His shot to goal ratio is off the charts. But Walcott as a center forward had its faults against more physical teams. However, Sanchez might not have such problems. He would be able to make the same runs Walcott could, which would help Podolski out. Coupling Sanchez and Walcott with Podolski could also be an intriguing option. A front-four of Podolski, Sanchez, Walcott and Mesut Özil would be incredible offensively.
If a new defensive midfielder is signed that possesses a little more range and athleticism than Mikel Arteta does at this stage in his career, playing such an attacking minded lineup up front might be a possibility. I wouldn’t suggest using that lineup against every team, but when at The Emirates, most opponents wouldn’t stand a chance. And against the bigger teams, this could be the lineup used at the end of games when defenses are tiring. Put Podolski on in the final twenty-five minutes to run at defenders, with Sanchez and Walcott making those runs in behind, and good things will happen.
The other reason to keep Podolski around at least another year is that he is a proven winner, coming back with the confidence of a World Cup winner. Not only will that confidence manifest itself on the field, but it can also be a massive boost in the dressing room. Especially given his popularity among his teammates, another player that has tasted success could be key to this team believing they can actually win the league this year.
Yes, his defensive cover is rather troubling at times, but he does track back. He’s usually willing to run back when he loses the ball, and he does well in the air when Arsenal is defending corners. So I don’t think he’s as harmful to the team as he is sometimes made out to be. But there are a lot of players that are probably ahead of him in the squad right now. Especially considering that he’s arriving at preseason late due to his post-World Cup break, he’ll have his work cut out to earn a starting spot.
I implore Arsene Wenger to give Podolski a chance to play alongside Sanchez and Walcott this year. Think of all the goals he has scored over the last two years, and then think about him potentially having more space and time to shoot. It’s a mouth-watering prospect, one that could spark a twenty goal season should he be given a run in the team. Even if he’s not starting every game, he’s an incredibly valuable player in the squad. I would hate to see everybody’s favorite player sold before he’s given a proper chance to thrive.
I will leave you with a video of Podolski’s top 10 career goals, and you tell me if his finishing ability deserves a spot in the team.