Arsene Wenger was full of praise for Lukas Podolski following the German international’s two-goal performance in the FA Cup against Coventry. The Arsenal manager hailed the forward as a “natural finisher” and praised his shooting accuracy and technique in front of goal – traits not too common in Arsenal’s otherwise ornate midfield and attack.
His two goals in Arsenal‘s 4-0 win on Friday night was the perfect riposte from Podolski, who from those on the outside looking in appeared to be snubbed in the team’s 2-1 win against Aston Villa a week earlier.
It shouldn’t have sparked discussion but it did. Podolski was left on the bench and overlooked altogether in the match at Villa Park. For the conspiracy theorists, something was afoot; Arsene Wenger had possibly gone cold on the German international and didn’t fancy upsetting the balance of his team, even if it was to the sacrifice of the team’s most clinical forward.
There are parallels that can be found with Juan Mata. The Spaniard, Chelsea’s best player by some distance over the past two seasons, was cast aside by Jose Mourinho, who favoured players who would work for him at both ends of the pitch. What is curious is that Mourinho found ways to compensate for Cristiano Ronaldo but failed to replicate that with Mata. But that’s a well-trodden path and one without need of further exploration.
Podolski, similarly, has had his defensive efforts questioned. The former Bayern striker plays better from the left in Arsenal’s system than he does through the middle as a lone striker, and yet his perceived lack of defensive effort sees him overlooked; a difficult case to come to terms with due to the player’s record since arriving at Arsenal: 21 goals and 11 assists in 50 appearances. Think how those numbers would be swelled had Podolski not missed such large parts of this season due to injury (and assuming Wenger used him regularly).
But there have been rumours linking Podolski away from the club. Last summer, Schalke spoke of their interest in the 28-year-old, with that old snippet rising from the ashes amid talk of Julian Draxler’s proposed switch to north London.
Wenger may not fancy Podolski for one reason or another, but he has to find a way to come to terms with his flaws, if we’re calling it that, in certain areas of the pitch. That means strengthening the midfield with players like Mathieu Flamini or Mikel Arteta covering on that left side. It means changing Kieran Gibbs or Nacho Monreal’s instructions when Podolski is on the field.
Quite plainly, you don’t get rid of a forward, in his prime, who is the most capable in the Arsenal team of converting the myriad chances the midfield create. In light of the club’s search for further attacking options via the market, allowing Podolski to leave would be a careless mistake.
It’s not just that Podolski adds variance and directness to Arsenal’s game, he’s also incredibly well liked by the club’s supporters. Arsenal have already done a good job of wiping the slate clean with what have been five or six barren years; underestimating the contribution and value of Podolski would rightly raise questions as to the reasoning behind the holding onto of substandard players for years, as well as the perennially injured Abou Diaby, and allowing the matter of tactical inflexibility to force the discard of one of the team’s most dangerous in front of goal.
Arsenal need another centre-forward, that’s the way the story is being told. What is actually more accurate is that Arsenal need more goals. Though it is of course a risk, Nicklas Bendtner can stand in for Olivier Giroud when the Frenchman is in need of a rest. The gamble is whether Giroud stays injury-free from now until the end of the season – a risk every team faces.
If it means playing Bendtner through the middle to accommodate the absence of Giroud – or bringing in a veteran striker on loan till the end of the season – then so be it. Podolski is the source of goals Arsenal currently need to fuel their title push¸ whether playing through the middle or from the left
Losing Podolski now or in the near future will only weaken the team’s pursuit of silverware. Another prolific goal scorer may come in during the summer, but the German international adds depth. In the modern market, it is exceptionally difficult to find players of Podolski’s class in front of goal.