Lukas Podolski Finds His Feet out on the Wing for Arsenal
Arsenal forward Lukas Podolski had cut a frustrated figure against Sunderland last Saturday. Starting at the center forward position, the German international (he's got more than 100 caps) struggled to get involved in the play
“It was tough for him [on Saturday] because it was his first game up front,” Mertesacker told the club's official website. “I think he will get used to the game, switch on quickly and score a lot for us."
That sentiment was shared by Arsene Wenger, who told the official site that he had full confidence in his new No. 9 to thrive in the environs of the Premier League.
"I see him as a centre forward but he has some work to do, to change his game a little bit, make runs in behind to protect the ball and move around the box," Wenger said following the match against the Black Cats.
"When you come from a wide position, it is not easy to do (play as a center forward). But he will get there. He is a fantastic finisher, but had no real opportunity [against Sunderland]."
Eight days later, with Arsenal facing a supremely difficult away fixture to Stoke City—recent history aside, the Potters have been notoriously stingy at the Britannia in recent seasons, most notably earning draws against both Manchester sides (1-1 in each encounter), Chelsea and Tottenham, not to mention Arsenal.
Given the physical nature of the Stoke attack and the resoluteness of their defense, Wenger tinkered with his starting lineup from the Sunderland match, playing 6'3" Olivier Giroud at center forward and shifting Podolski out to the left.
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Back playing at the position he's occupied with Germany since the 2006 World Cup—it should be noted that he played as a central forward for FC Cologne last season, and scored 18 league goals)—Podolski looked like a man set free from shackles.
He was superb in the game's opening stages, moving about the attacking half of the pitch with abandon.
It was the sort of play seen so frequently from Samir Nasri during his excellent start to the 2010-11 season with the Gunners.
The Frenchman had proved a constant thorn in opposing teams' sides with his penchant for cutting inside from his initial post on the left, almost giving Arsenal four central-based midfielders at times.
The license to roam provided a palpable change in Podolski: he looked like a fish taken to water after far too much time in the sun.
When he wasn't pushing past opposing defenders and launching upon scintillating runs in the middle of the field—one of which drew a foul on Robert Huth in a very dangerous position in the 16th minute—he was getting into dangerous areas in the penalty area.
Podolski might have felt chagrined that he didn't open his league scoring account with the Gunners in the eighth minute.
A chance had come to him on the left edge of the goalmouth area, but Podolski's shot—which for all intents and purposes looked dead-set for the corner of Asmir Begovic's net—ricocheted off the elbow of flailing defender Andy Wilkinson and away from danger.
But what brought the biggest smile for me on a day where I came away very impressed with Arsenal's performance—aside from that Jonathan Walters goal that was called back for offside, the Gunners gave Stoke next to no clear-cut chances on goal—was Podolski's 50-50 challenge with Wilkinson in the 41st minute.
Racing toward a loose ball in midfield, Podolski brushed aside the physical Wilkinson—who went flying—and keeping his wits about him pushed on for a counter attack.
There is a definite shift in Arsenal's play this season, one that augurs very well for what is certain to be a frenzied season.
"You have seen that (Podolski) has a good technique and he is good in possession," Mertesacker had told the official site. "We have the players who can pass him the ball. He is a good finisher too and we will see that in a couple of weeks."
That finishing quality was seen in a big way in Arsenal's final preseason friendly against Cologne, when Podolski had scored by way of a penalty and a terrific finish off an incisive counter.
The goals will most certainly come; they always do. It seems likely that Podolski will feature at center forward for Arsenal this season—Wenger seems to like the mobile and technical approach he brings to the position—but it will only serve to Arsenal's benefit that he can fill in so brilliantly on the wing as well.
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