Lukas Podolski is a difficult one to assess, and it’s clear Arsene Wenger feels this way too. He has completed only two of his 16 Premier League games this season, and has finished 90 minutes just four times in his 49 Premier League appearances for Arsenal. But his goal record and his conversion statistics are noteworthy achievements.
Podolski boasts an impressive 46 goals in 112 appearances for Germany, and 26 in 64 for the Gunners. This season Podolski has converted 29.4 per cent of his shots in the Premier League and has a shot accuracy of 68 per cent, scoring at a rate of 0.66 goals per 90 minutes. All this, despite having played the vast majority of these matches as a left-sided attacker.
The German attacker has recently vented his frustration over the bit-part role he’s had to perform since he joined from FC Koln in the summer of 2012. Despite Podolski’s lethality in front of goal he often finds himself being the first player to be pulled off around the hour mark. When Wenger needs something different, Poldi is often the one to make way.
It’s not hard to understand why when you look at his tendencies. Podolski isn’t the type of winger who will naturally track back and protect his full-back. Kieran Gibbs was left exposed on numerous occasions in Arsenal’s recent game against Manchester City as Podolski didn’t do a job in following Pablo Zabaleta or Jesus Navas.
Equally, he isn’t the type of player who will make darting runs down the wing or many diagonal runs inside to support Olivier Giroud. Podolski tends to exist deeper in the channels, looking to pick the ball up and play with the likes of Santi Cazorla or Mesut Ozil. The fact that he doesn’t commit so much energy going forwards makes it slightly more difficult to accept his neglect of his defensive duties. And it is this that is the most frustrating.
Podolski’s sledgehammer of a left foot and his natural goalscoring abilities make him far more effective the closer he is to goal. Against West Ham, his equaliser came about as he found himself in an inside-left position in between defenders. Cazorla played him in and he powered the ball into the bottom corner, demonstrating the very best of his abilities. These abilities which, sadly, just emerge in fits and starts.
He lacks the creative intuition to be able to fashion out chances for himself, or the lightning speed to threaten full-backs. But he also doesn’t possess the physicality, or willingness to make regular runs in behind to mix it with stronger defenders in a central role. Arsene Wenger said of his attempts at playing Podolski as a striker that he tended to come to the ball – much like he does as a wide player – and played more like a second striker than a target man.
It’s questionable as to whether Lukas Podolski would have even got the chance to be the hero for Arsenal against West Ham had Arsene Wenger had more of his unfit players to choose from. He finds himself down the pecking order when all options are available, and it’s both frustrating yet understandable when you look at his performances as a collective.
He finds himself stuck in limbo right now. He hasn’t proven himself ready to be the main man up top, yet he doesn’t convince on a consistent enough basis to prove that he is right for a starting berth on the wide left when everybody is fit. And all the while, he impresses in flashes. More often than not, these flashes are goals.
You feel if Podolski is going to carve out a niche at Arsenal, that both he and the manager are content with, it has to be closer to goal. He needs to play to his strengths, and maybe adapting his game would help this.
There was a lot of speculation surrounding Podolski’s Arsenal future in January, and it is unlikely to go away this summer. His overall team contribution is questionable, but his goal record certainly isn’t. Whether Arsenal will continue to entertain such a luxury player next season remains unknown, but for the rest of this season, this enigmatic figure’s elusive presence could be vital in securing a top four finish.