Lukas Podolski’s return to the Arsenal squad has come at the right time, coming back into the fold only a few games after Theo Walcott, and in turn sharpening Arsenal’s attack.
It’s the Arsenal way: you get one or two back from injury and one goes out again. Mesut Ozil has picked up a “shoulder injury,” though I’m sceptical about the legitimacy of it. Arsene Wenger seems to be playing a smart move by giving the German international a mini winter break after non-stop ninety-minute outings since his arrival in the Premier League.
But that isn’t so much of an issue. Jack Wilshere came back from his suspension, and the Arsenal midfield was never something to really worry about this season. The issue, rather, has been in attack, where Olivier Giroud has looked tired, ineffective in front of goal and subsequently lacking in confidence to grab a game by the scruff of the neck.
Podolski, upon his return at West Ham on Boxing Day, did far more than the Frenchman had for what seemed like a frustratingly long barren spell. The German added invention to Arsenal’s play at West Ham, incision and directness. There’s a matter of freshness too, but Podolski is the far more clinical of the two. He’s the forward who came to Arsenal in the summer of 2012 with the reputation as a goal scorer, and he certainly gave evidence of his qualities with a stunning left-footed effort, which, coincidentally, was supplied by Olivier Giroud and the other returning forward Theo Walcott.
It eases the pressure on Wenger going into the January window. Everyone knows this Arsenal team is not yet complete, though it’s also not to say it’s too far off. Can they win a trophy without a prolific centre-forward? It’s not impossible. Chelsea won the Europa League last season, as well as the Champions League and FA Cup the season before. And before any mention of Didier Drogba comes up, his numbers were clearly declining, as he tallied his lowest record of goals in a Chelsea shirt in his final season with the club. There’s also evidence in Europe of Juventus going through a season unbeaten without a prolific goal scorer. So yes, it can be done.
The problem Wenger faces is a matter of availability, in that none of the club’s likely top targets will be on the market in January. It would be unwise to buy for the sake of buying to simply appease the masses.
Loic Remy is a name that has been thrown out as a suggestion, but will the Frenchman fire a top Premier League side to the league title? According to reports on his loan spell from QPR, it is possible to pick him up from Newcastle this January, and he may well help to take Arsenal over the line this season. But what about the long term? If Remy was good enough to be a striker for one of those challenging for the title, one of the big teams would have picked him up while he was at Marseille. There will be a clamour again for Arsenal to go out and sign an elite forward in the summer, which could complicate the matter of having already signed a Remy-esque striker in January.
Arsenal do need reinforcements in the upcoming transfer window. A defender, either a centre-back or right-back, is a must. As well as that, and in spite of the team’s strength in midfield, another option, namely a direct player with pace and who can stretch the play, would be a welcome addition. Though Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s return shouldn’t be overlooked.
As for Arsenal’s current attack, which does feature four full internationals, there isn’t such an overwhelming need to spend (unnecessarily) if all four are fit and capable. Over Arsenal’s last four league games, Podolski, Giroud and Walcott have either scored or supplied for another; Nicklas Bendtner, too, would have had a goal had his effort at Manchester City not been wrongly ruled offside.
The issue is quality, not quantity. Arsenal are currently top of the Premier League and have a favourable home tie against Cardiff this midweek. Think of how effective the team’s attack would have been if Podolski and Walcott were not out injured for such lengthy spells. Podolski has been out since August.
Both his and Walcott’s immediate impact upon their return has gifted Wenger some time to continue to work with what he has. For taking Arsenal to the summit of the Premier League on New Year’s Eve without two vital players, he deserves as much.