How Arsene Wenger Should Use Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud for Arsenal
Arsenal fans finally have what they have so desperately wanted for years: Early in the summer, before any sagas could unfold, the Gunners decisively sealed their top two transfer targets.
And, believe it or not, the two men headed to North London are not at all inexperienced or lightweight, as the cliches would have you believe.
Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud are two experienced, seasoned strikers who have tasted their shares of success and can become essential members of the team from virtually day one. In classic Arsenal fashion, they represent money well spent.
But this abundance of talent causes one problem: How do you play them?
It is quite a nice problem for a manager to have, and one that Arsene Wenger has not had for too long, especially with the dominance of Robin van Persie and the paucity of options on the bench.
Now, though, Wenger is spoiled for choice. And, assuming Van Persie stays, he will face quite a challenging managerial task to give every striker and winger the playing time they need and deserve.
Versatility, obviously, plays a large part in crafting a starting XI and can be used to Arsenal's advantage, if managed properly.
Podolski is more of a natural striker, but he has shown for years how effective he can be on the left flank for the German national team, and with the carousel of players who occupied that position for Arsenal (Gervinho, Yossi Benayoun, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and even Aaron Ramsey filled the role at different points), his presence will be welcome.
At times—and by "at times," I mean virtually every match—the Gunners lacked the sort of directness on the wings that a player like Podolski can provide as a striker who is constantly trying to put the ball in the back of the net.
With the German on the left, Theo Walcott would resume his role as the jet-heeled but eternally frustrating right-winger (although his future, along with Van Persie's, is in some doubt), and the Dutch maestro himself would be positioned as a lone striker.
In this scenario, Giroud would be relegated to the bench, which would not really be making the most of his unique talents. Wenger could throw him on late in matches for a more aerial presence, but I feel that Arsenal would do well to have a more physical striker for the whole 90 minutes.
So let's change the formation a bit.
In a 4-4-1-1 or some variation thereof, Podolski and Walcott would still be on the wings, but Alex Song and either Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta or Aaron Ramsey would be the only two midfielders.
This would allow Van Persie to drop into the hole between the midfield and the main striker, Giroud, and use his wonderful passing and creativity to create chances a la Dennis Bergkamp.
It's admittedly hard to argue with a 30-goal season, but seeing the Dutchman isolated up front at times was excruciating when it was obvious that he could contribute if he were able to drop a bit deeper in place of Aaron Ramsey.
Though it would be tough for Arsene Wenger to find the right pair of midfielders to place in the center, form and a little experimentation should help to work that out.
And besides, if recent history is any indication, injuries will probably make the choices easy.
There is one other option, as I see it, that would get the most out of Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud and manage to wedge them into the same team. However, it works only if Robin van Persie is rested, injured or—God forbid—transferred away. For the sake of my sanity, let's assume the former.
Using the aforementioned 4-4-1-1 formation as a basic template, with some room for variation, Podolski could act as the No. 10 or second striker, as Bergkamp did and Van Persie would ideally do.
Giroud would retain his place up front, while either Gervinho or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would start on the left wing due to form or fatigue. Assuming that Arsene Wenger will opt for experience and the opportunity to blood Oxlade-Chamberlain slowly, Gervinho will be his man.
This flexibility is what makes Podolski so great.
He can play as a lone center-forward or as a winger, and he can thrive in a deeper, more creative role. No one else was remotely capable of filling that void last season when Van Persie started every single game.
Using an intelligent combination of these formations based on matchups, form or, more likely, injuries, Arsenal can maximize the considerable amount of attacking talent at their disposal, keeping everyone fresh enough to last for an entire season.
Ultimately, how this rather nice problem is solved—and how quickly the solution is found—will go quite a long way toward determining how well the Gunners do next season.
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