It’s been another difficult year for Arsenal supporters, forced to dine on a potentially lethal cocktail of uncertainly and turmoil but tinged with a faint glimmer of hope. The wounds from Robin van Persie’s departure are still red raw while budding new talisman Theo Walcott is free to sign a pre-contract agreement with a foreign club, as negotiations with the Gunners continue to overshadow events on the pitch.
However, perhaps for the first time during his tenure at the club, manager Arsene Wenger has bolstered his ranks with three established, recognisable faces. Santi Cazorla’s descent upon North London sparked mass hysteria among fans resembling teenage girls and Olivier Giroud arrived in the wake of guiding minnows Montpellier to domestic glory as the league’s top goalscorer. But it was the capture of Lukas Podolski that first turned heads with Wenger swooping swiftly to secure his signature after boyhood club Cologne suffered relegation.
In Podolski, Arsenal are blessed with experience and an understanding of the pinnacle of both domestic and international competition. His 18 goals last season is an impressive tally, especially from within a side languishing at the wrong end of the table and his knowledge of both title races and relegation scraps will undoubtedly help him cope with the highs and lows of life as a Gunner.
The Emirates appears to be a perfect fit for Podolski. Having initially outgrown Cologne back in 2006, he deteriorated under the bright lights at Bayern Munich and returned home to resurrect his career. Somewhat surprisingly, there doesn’t seem to be the same degree of expectation for the 27-year-old this time round. The burden of consistently decorating the scoresheet has fallen upon Giroud and perhaps eventually Walcott, which will suit Podolski just fine. In England he will resemble the sizeable fish in a spacious pond.
In truth, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to define Podolski’s role as well as his position in the starting line-up. The term ‘inside left forward’ seems most appropriate, with the player existing between the traditional format of a winger and central striker. He thrives in the space amidst the full-back and the centre-half, frequently dropping out wide to link up with the rapidly improving Kieran Gibbs.
Despite his promising link-up play, it has been Podolski’s unforeseen defensive capabilities that have induced the most plaudits. In a division where full-backs have acquired a creative licence to roam forward, the disciplined nature of attacking players is now a very desirable trait. One day he could become as influential as Dirk Kuyt during his time on Merseyside and while that may strike some as a derogatory insult, it’s probably the highest order of merit a Liverpool fan would bestow upon an opposing player.
The statistics this season flicker between ‘impressive’ and ‘uninspiring’. Six goals in the Premier League is a relatively tame figure but 6 assists on the other hand is bettered only by the outstanding Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney. Podolski’s passing accuracy percentage lurks around the mid-eighties, again hardly ground-breaking but it’s still respectable for a player that operates predominantly in the final third of the pitch.
One criticism I would hurl in Podolski’s direction is his uncanny ability to go missing during big games. He has only truly excelled when Arsenal have dominated proceedings, most notably in the recent encounters with Newcastle and Reading. Podolski has all the attributes to take the bull by the horns or rather the match by the scruff of the neck, but his refusal to do so this season has evoked murmurs of discontent from supporters.
At a cost of a reported £11m, only time will tell whether Arsenal have engineered a transfer that will be used to promote their meticulous financial policy. The upcoming reunion with Bayern Munich will prove both the club and the player’s biggest challenge to date, in a competition that could – if Wenger’s ambition to emulate Chelsea rings true – arguably be Arsenal’s best chance of silverware this season.