Arsenal: Is Lukas Podolski Really the Man to Lead Arsenal into the New Era?

H Andel@Gol Iath @gol_iathAnalyst IIIAugust 23, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 18:  Lukas Podolski of Arsenal in action during the Barclays Premier League match between  Arsenal and Sunderland at Emirates Stadium on August 18, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

Every player comes to Arsenal as a simple player and Arsenal make them into a big player. But they can't keep everyone together to fight for titles. Every year it's similar - they lose players, buy players, make them class players and the next year they sell again. They are always in the same place.

I begin with a quote because I intend it to be epigraphic.

Readers who have followed my writing for about a year now know that one theme engages my focus.

It is battling misinformation about Arsenal and trying to shed light in areas of the club that are obscure: Areas that engender criticism from the fans and the media, where in the case of the former group, genuine lack of knowledge is responsible, and in the case of the latter, the need to appeal to popular sentiment is the culprit.

Arsenal fans who desire to be measured in their reaction to Arsenal's current situation, the lack of silverware for a complete season, the figurative seven, and thereby appeal to patience during the inevitable bad patches that must overshadow the team's effort from time to time, have tended to draw the ire of their fellow fans, who have mischievously coined the term AKB, meant to be derogatory.

It is that clever ploy of turning an otherwise positive word or phrase into a weapon of mockery with the aim of vilifying the targeted group.

A good example of this is the word "fundamentalist," which, at one time, was a positive reference to those who wanted to go back to the fundamental tenets of their beliefs, much like at the renascence of the classical spirit, scholars wanted to go back to the fundamentals of classical texts. This word has, of course, become a stigma of sort.

In my recent series of articles, I have examined the activities around the building of the Emirates Stadium: how that developed and how Stan Kroenke and Alisher Usmanov came to be on the Arsenal board.

Stan Kroenke. Getty Images.

Readers' reaction was positive.

Next, in the "New Era" series, I sought to examine how Arsenal can transit from the building years to a new era which I term "consolidation." To this end, I have said six things are required, the first of which I recall in the following.

It is the need for Arsenal to be able to retain her players.

The addition of Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla is a good step in the right direction because all three are at an age where, unless Arsenal decides to sell them, they'll retire at the club.

Retirement at the club is important because of the necessity for continuity in the squad.

You don't want to be building a new team every season. In any case, at 27, 25, 27, respectively, and at four years to a contract, the players are at an age where the most realistic option for them is Arsenal.

This principle of retention is the reason I was disappointed by Alex Song's sale. Because this fits directly into the Eduardo da Silva's quote at the head of this article.

When I wrote an article about this, a few readers misread my intention, mistaking it for wholesale criticism of the club, as though I was disregarding whatever circumstance that must have forced the sale.

Some even supposed that I was changing my tune after writing a "brilliant" series defending the very principle that I was now despising.

They couldn't have been more mistaken. The sad thing about this is that some of this criticism was the result of a total misreading of the article in question. (Not that my attempt to clarify this availed anything.)

I refer to this because there's a point I want to draw from it.

Someone has written an "AKB Guide" which basically describes those of us who support Arsene Wenger; a support borne out of appreciation for the remarkable work the man has done at Arsenal.

Somehow, if you enjoin patience and ask fellow fans to realize that the building of the stadium has been a major factor in our inability to compete in the transfer market, that the stadium itself is a good thing and will help Arsenal become dominant in the coming years, that the Arsenal board, contrary to popular sentiment, has done an appreciable job in leading the club to where it is now, you're dismissed as an AKB.

The only yardstick for those who throw this word around is trophies. Zero trophies means zero effort, and thus zero appreciation. But while this may be so in the world of football, the bubble that it is, this principle is pathetic and cannot stand sustained scrutiny in the real world.

However, although I suspect that the AKB-mongers and I cannot see face to face, there's a danger highlighted in what must be said to be a sorry attempt at mockery.

The danger lies in the penchant to be rather touchy on the part of those who do support Arsene Wenger and believe that, in the current atmosphere, patience should rule.

Here, the pendulum swings to the opposite end. Support for Arsenal means you never examine the club with a critical eye. You never wonder why it was necessary to sell Song. Somehow everything is always the player's fault and the club or the board is immaculate.

This is an exaggerated portrait, but it helps draw the picture.

When I said that I'd rather that Arsenal had stood their ground in the Robin van Persie situation, it wasn't in lieu of appreciating the fact that Arsenal could then lose him for nothing a year from now. My assertion (call it recommendation) was based on a principle. 

Alex Song. Getty Images.

Alex Song

When I have questioned Song's sale, it isn't because I like the player per se, it is based on a principle. Matters of principles are never in lieu of other factors, such as, perhaps, there must have been something tangible that forced the Song sale, or that it might be best to cash in on van Persie right now.

Matters of principle are often painful choices, such as retaining van Persie to score an ethical point even though that may come with a painful financial cost, or requiring Arsene Wenger to employ his highly praised ability to work with difficult players in the case of Song, if, indeed, his exit was forced by disciplinary issues.

In these two scenarios, the principle isn't unaware of the difficulties it engenders. But just because there are difficulties does not means that one cannot even state the ideal, even if in the final analysis it proves impractical. 

I'd consider myself an AKB indeed if my support of Arsenal and Wenger means that I never examine any issue concerning these two critically, but always feel constrained to say something "positive" about them, however silly and insincere.

Readers that have followed me should expect that if I pursue an angle that seems uncharacteristic of me, there must be a reason why. If they find that they disagree with me, they should, at least, seek to understand what I'm saying, or what it is that is informing my supposed change of heart.

I take severe exception to people who would praise me to high heaven today then turn around and attack me severely, even try to undercut my effort the next day, simply because they fancy that they've read something with which they disagree.

I find that highly childish.

I don't always agree with my favorite writers, but having known what they stand for, I give them the benefit of the doubt, nor does this mean that I can't respectfully disagree with them.

The point of all this is that my aim as a writer is to criticize dispassionately, try to examine uncomfortable subjects. I'm not there simply to flow with the latest popular sentiment:

For example, that Song must have been lazy, that must be the reason he was sold, that I must accept this because everyone is saying it; that the louder the popular voice, the more it is that what they are saying is true, or that if somebody lives in the Emirates Stadium itself and says something, I must accept it as gospel.

Everyone with a shard of sense knows that this is nonsense.

Arsenal have been blighted by high-profile departures in recent years, such as their recent captain, Robin van Persie. Getty Images.


Let me return to Da Silva's quote. Arsenal cannot transit to a new era without finding a way to retain their players. Sometime this might require biting the bullet. 

Someone has called this taking a little financial risk.

Those who fall into the same camp as myself (the AKB's, that is!) know that this isn't saying that Arsenal should go on a spending spree. I have fought against this notion for an entire year. Anyone who thinks I'm saying so must not know me.

Arsenal cannot continue allowing their best players to leave. No matter how much I love the club, or no matter how much I love Wenger, or no matter how much I understand what the board is trying to do, I cannot but say this.

There's no guarantee that the Financial Fair Play will work. People seem to always find ways to circumvent rules. For example, the Branislav Ivanovic Community Shield red card was rescinded based on a spurious logic.

Arsenal cannot just depend on the Financial Fair Play to right things. If indeed the remaining Stadium debt cannot be paid off, but has to be spread across 21 years, then it doesn't make sense to continue functioning as though we are still building.

Of course, since we lack a rich patron, we can't compete with Chelsea or Manchester City in wages, or, for that matter, Manchester United, who generate more commercial revenue than we do.

But what we can do is anticipate situations that could cause players to leave, for example improved form. When this happens, Arsenal should quickly reward such players by offering them improved contracts, not wait for the player to feel underappreciated and then force a move.

What we can do is stand our ground in situations where we are not really constrained to sell. If a player misbehaves as a result, then make an example of him. 

For example , while I was very critical of the way the Carlos Tevez incident was handled, few can argue with the fact that the player seemed to have learned his lesson.

All this has an element of naivety to it, but matters of principle often seem so. Isn't it the reason why Wenger is often considered a fool for thinking that he can operate sensibly in an insensible world?

Old versus New Era. Getty Image.


Podolski features in the title of the article because this is a continuation of my New Era series, although this has turned out to be a polemic.

Will Podolski lead us into the new era? Only to the extent that this is another rebuilding effort, and that there is a guarantee it will not be undercut, but will be sustained.

As Eduardo says, Wenger will turn more players into world-class materials, but with better wages elsewhere, and owing to the fact that Arsenal are constrained to undercut their chances at winning titles through the sale of such players, these players are bound to leave, ensuring the continuation of the cycle of departures.

Tell me, unless some kind of change is made, how is the situation to end?


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