Why Arsenal Must Stop Persevering With Passenger Podolski
After two juxtaposed performances this week, Lukas Podolski showed why he is the cause of so much frustration among Arsenal fans. Two fantastic finishes against West Ham, after the most abject hour Wembley is likely to witness this season on Saturday against Wigan.
Last month against Swansea he produced two moments of magic within 60 seconds after a completely anonymous, lacklustre 70 minutes.
Undeniably talented, and both the best crosser and finisher in the squad, his calmness in the final third and in front of goal is something which is not mimicked by enough of his teammates.
But unfortunately, this is where Podolski’s contribution usually ends. He is a perennially lazy player who drifts in and out of games and is no more likely to bomb forward late on than he is to track back.
With our unwavering tendency to push full backs on; he does not offer enough defensive support to play against the big teams. Against the lesser teams who will almost always defend deep and flood the midfield, he is not nearly creative or composed enough on the ball to be a force from deep, or quick enough to force an opening in behind.
As a central striker, he is even worse. Some fans are convinced that his scoring record alone is enough to warrant a place up top ahead of Olivier Giroud, completely ignoring his lack of strength & aerial ability, and complete inability to hold up the ball, link up play, or run in behind or into channels effectively. He cannot bully or worry defenders and his fitness levels are also oft questioned, as he almost never completes 90 minutes regardless of the game situation.
Even with the inexperience of Yaya Sanago or Chuba Akpom, you are at least guaranteed effort, aggression, aerial threat and a desire to run in behind again and again.
It is an unfortunate reality for himself and Arsenal, as when play is stretched; there are few more effective wide forwards in European football.
Wenger has experimented with the German as our central striker, albeit fleetingly, but to unsatisfactory outcomes. Twice at home last season to Southampton & West Ham, and away at QPR, Podolski started up front and was a total passenger in all three games, substituted before the 70th minute. His inability to impact the game with his back to goal renders him completely ineffective in our system, which thrives on hold up play, allowing our creative midfielders to feed runners in behind the opposition full backs.
Podolski was arguably at his most effective when deployed in a two striker system – first for Cologne and later for Germany alongside Miroslav Klose. He was runner up in the Golden Boy, awarded to the best young footballer in Europe, in 2005 and looked set to take the world by storm until his unsuccessful spell at Bayern Munich.
A strike partnership of Giroud and Podolski would have its strengths. Giroud would continue to contest headers, play with his back to goal and lay the ball off, while Podolski could feed off the Frenchman and look to receive from our midfielders. Unfortunately, the archetypal 4-4-2 is almost non-existent at the highest level of European football nowadays, and it certainly couldn't function effectively in the Premier League.
Teams today, are built to both exploit space in between opposition lines and in turn limit the opponent’s threat of doing the same. You only have to look at the inefficiencies of the systems employed by Tim Sherwood at Spurs and David Moyes early in the season and United - you get found out. Especially where the duo would be as physically limited as Messrs. Podolski and Giroud are.
Ultimately, if Wenger sees Podolski’s future away from the Emirates then I would not be at all surprised. I am happy with him as a rotation option whom gets the odd start away from home – but if he starts up front again this season, I will be far less forgiving of Arsene’s very dubious decision not to strengthen in the January transfer window.