Time is an extremely valuable yet ill-afforded commodity in football. There was once a time when all foreign signings were given a complimentary, season-long cushion to help them bed into the unforgiving nature of the English game. But when you constitute one half of a striking duo that’s been brought into replace the 37 goals that a certain Robin van Persie put away last season, that cushion becomes non-negotiable.
Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud are both extremely talented footballers in their own right. But they’re both now stuck underneath the uncomfortable spotlights have been left by Van Persie’s departure. His legacy leaves the pair bearing the weight of the Gunners goal scoring expectation and an uneasy amount of pressure for their debut seasons.
Arsene Wenger has developed something of a siege mentality over recent times and he’ll be hoping that the majority of his Emirates support have developed a similar resolve. The Frenchman is now wearily used to batting away cynical questions over both his and his team’s future and this summer’s transfer dealings have hardly changed the status quo.
A line now needs to be drawn underneath Robin van Persie’s departure. The reasoning’s and circumstance behind his exit to Old Trafford have been painfully documented and the club are trying their best to move on. They’ve come out of the deal as good as they possibly can and their summer business has been conducted very prudently indeed.
Wenger still had change left after acquiring both Podolski and Giroud and snapping up Santi Cazorla from Malaga already looks like an inspired bit of business. The departure of Alex Song is contentious but should Jack Wilshere slot back into the first XI and show no ill effects from his ankle injury, all will be forgotten. Although as seamless as the incoming transfers have been for the Gunners and as good as things look on paper, putting it all into practice is very different indeed.
One of the football’s burning clichés dictates how hard it is to replace a goal scorer. And whilst some have ridiculed Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to invest so much in an asset with a relatively volatile injury record, the statistics speak up for themselves. In this day and age, 30-goal-a-season strikers are rarer than a Giant Panda wearing a shellsuit. Only another five men have notched up that total in this country since the Premier League began in 1992. Bar the almost superlative performances of the two best players in the world in Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Van Persie was arguably the best out-and-out frontman in European football. Arsenal fans do not need to be patronized about his importance to the team last year. Loosing their talisman, their captain and 37 goals is more than just a star striker.
No one should ever be surprised be the reactive nature of the press, but even after one game, the bear traps were out for Arsene Wenger’s new strike force. It’s become almost of a grinding observation in itself, but the opening game of the fixture has proven time and time again to be an ineffective barometer for the coming season. As Manchester United went down at Everton and Manchester City shipped in two to Premier League newbies Southampton, any possible hysteria had been put on ice. You didn’t read too many obituaries for United’s season after failing to grab even a point at Goodison Park. But as Olivier Giroud sponged an 82nd minute sitter, Arsenal’s season and particularly their goal scoring prospects, had been doomed to failure.
Van Persie’s name adorned the Arsenal match-reports as prominently as they would have done last season, except this time he wasn’t even playing for them. Giroud would have knocked the sort of chance Cazorla laid onto him nine times out of ten, had it been during the peak of his powers at Montpellier last term. This is a man who scored 21 goals in 36 Ligue One games during the previous season; he’s no mug. The Premier League is a whole new step up, but let’s not condescend a man who missed his first chance on his home debut.
But however many goals Giroud or Podolski have in them, the backdrop as to which they have to produce them, is set to be a fiery one should Sunday’s headlines be anything to go by. Wenger is as good as any at protecting his players but he will have to ensure he is well on point to shield his new striking duo this season. The pressure is always on at the Emirates, but the departure of Van Persie has ratcheted up the pressure one step further. Supporters have to back the new men to the absolute hilt; the column inches in the coming months aren’t going to relent with the Van Persie comparisons.
And the onus will be on the pair to rise to the challenge. Podolski has produced the goods internationally, but breaking through the sort of no-nonsense defenses that he encountered against Sunderland are a whole world away from scoring bags against the likes of San Marino and Lichtenstein.
There are similarities between the Premier League and the Bundesliga, but as important as the physical attributes will be to adjust to, mentally, Podolski has to step-up to playing for a bigger club. His best performances have come playing for a struggling Cologne side as the biggest fish in a relegation threatened pond. He cannot baulk at the expectation as he did during his time with Bayern Munich.
All of these elements must be taken into account and more patience will have to be afforded to the pair than what Per Mertesacker received at times. The majority of Gunners got behind the central defender who was unfairly maligned in some quarters. But he offers a reality of what can await foreign players in a brand new league. Adaptation takes time. Fans have their right to kick off if they feel the manager’s judgment should be questioned. But circumstances have dictated they had to go out and buy two new strikers. Wenger took some pelters for the Gunners’ start to the season last term- they ultimately finished third. The small minority must be careful not to afford the manager or their new strike force a similar treatment.
It will be a difficult process and the fight for Champions League football will be a long, bitter battle this term. But Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud are a pair of really quite talented footballers. If those at the Emirates can develop that siege mentality and banish the flaunting of their past hero, then they can deliver one hell of a slap round the face to their critics. They just need to learn to ignore them, first.
What are your expectations for Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud’s debut season? Can they expect a season of support or is there simply no time for a bedding-in period anymore? Let me know what you think on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and tell me how you see it.