Lukas Podolski: An Analysis of the Player as Metaphor for Arsenal Football Club
Podolski was just under 100 caps for the Mannschaft at that moment in time, a landmark he would breach during the summer's European Championships. At that moment in time—particularly as the 2011-12 Bundesliga season approached its end—things were looking far rosier for the then 26-year-old at the international level.
At Cologne, the club of his youth which he'd rejoined after an unsuccessful three-season stint at Bayern Munich (2006-09), Podolski had cut an increasingly frustrated figure on the pitch as he watched the side drift from final finishes of 13th (2009-10), 10th (2010-11) to last season's deplorable 17th-place finish, which relegated the side known as the Billy Goats.
It was not for lack of trying from Podolski, or "Prince Poldi" as he's come to be known in that northwestern pocket of Germany. The forward contributed 31 league goals over his final two seasons at Cologne, or Köln, as club is known locally, including 18 last term, but was forced to watch his team's performances grow incrementally more futile until their eventual finish.
Last spring, as I watched a match between Borussia Monchengladbach—eventual fourth-place finishers in the league standings—and Cologne, it seemed we saw Podolski at his most frustrated.
Cologne had barely a shout of possession throughout the game, so unconvincing were they in every department, so thoroughly outplayed were they by a rampant Monchengladbach side that would emerge 3-0 victors.
Marco Reus, the 2011-12 German Player of the Year, stole the show with his usual allotment of wending crosses, whirling dribbling and wonderful vision. That performance provided a stark contrast to Podolski, whose body language grew increasingly despairing with each goal let in to the back of the net.
By the time the game had entered its final minutes, he was throwing up his arms in dismay at every ball lost by his teammates, every failure to make a convincing run in support.
So it shouldn't have come as too great a surprise that Podolski oozed genuine thrill at the opportunity to join Arsenal this past summer. Here was a club that matches his ambition, and gave him the added plus of proving to his critics that he could flourish at the top level of football after his ill-fated stint with Bayern half a decade ago.
There were many reasons why this new venture in London seemed a safer bet than the journey to Munich. Podolski was six years older than he'd been then, when he had just finished his teens and was riding an unfathomable wave of popularity after an excellent World Cup campaign in his home country that had put him on every list of future stars in world football.
Frank Schaefer, his former coach at Cologne, told The Sun that he believed the move to Arsenal would end in success for Podolski.
"First of all, he has the right coach in Arsene Wenger. It will be excellent for Lukas to have a quiet, experienced coach with good psychological abilities. It is also good for Lukas because Arsene speaks such good German.
"Secondly, I think Arsenal play the type of football which suit Lukas. They pay good, offensive football. Physically, Lukas is very strong so he will have no problems in this area.
"Thirdly, Per Mertesacker being at the club is extremely helpful. He is a great person, an intelligent man, and he will be good for Lukas to have around at Arsenal. Per is a good influence."
Schaefer noted that while Podolski is a confident footballer, he needs—like so many of us do—to be in an environment in which he feels comfortable.
Almost five months into his time on the Arsenal books, and four games into his maiden Premier League season, it seems safe to say that Podolski has flourished.
He has acclimated to the Arsenal style of play with aplomb, banishing fears that he would be a burnout after some critics expressed disappointment at his play during the European Championships.
Podolski as a Microcosm of the Purported Arsenal Predicament
Never mind that those who know Podolski best, and those who were actually involved in the games (Per Mertesacker made a habit of leaping to his compatriot's defense), countered that in games when Podolski failed to fire offensively (the Holland group stage match, for one), he was actually doing exceptional defensive work.
Against the Netherlands, it had been a consignment of checking rampant winger Arjen Robben's progress down the right flank—or left corridor, from Podolski's positioning—for Germany. Podolski stuck to the plan, and Germany emerged 2-1 winners.
Perhaps it was most fitting that he joined Arsenal, given that the club—Arsene Wenger in particular—have attracted a rash of critics in recent years over the inability to add silverware to the Emirates stable, whose stock is gathering dust since the '05 FA Cup was placed in it, the last of the warm memories from the Highbury era.
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Despite the addition of Podolski, and later Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla, many fans bayed that it wasn't enough; that a defensive midfielder was an absolute necessity should Arsenal hold any desire for a league title, or trophies of any matter.
I decided to track most of the clamoring, which ebbed and flowed before coursing most vehemently at the end of the summer transfer window. Given that the Gunners had failed to score a goal in their first two league games, against Sunderland at home and away to Stoke, fans believed that nothing could spark the season like a new signing.
Wenger held fast, though, and stuck to his guns—one of whom, Podolski, had earned tepid reviews for his first two performances, especially in light of the gloss over Cazorla's debut.
No matter; Podolski simply continued to do what he does best—exert a stupendous work rate on the wing while providing some absolute gems of finishes. It took him until the trip to Anfield, in the third league game of the season, to open his account—and like so many things, that was perfectly fitting.
Because the Liverpool game, as thorough a 2-0 victory as you're likely to see this season, caused many fans to suddenly pronounce that Wenger had been right not to dip into the transfer market at its summer close. They cited the brilliant play of Abou Diaby in midfield, the stolid maintenance work of Mikel Arteta, and the goal and assist-contribution-palindrome from Cazorla and Podolski, who were involved in both strikes on the afternoon.
Suddenly, the naysayers disapparated, to engage one of my favorite Harry Potter terms, and they have been forced further into the nether regions of the webisphere by Arsenal's resounding 6-1 victory over Southampton this past Saturday.
A Southampton side that had, mind you, driven both Manchester teams to the brink during the first three weeks of the season. This was a Saints team that had looked infinitely more dangerous on the road than at home, and yet against Arsenal at the Emirates they produced a performance that was strangely pedestrian.
Perhaps Wenger could be applauded somewhat for the game. This was the Arsenal of "old," that rosy retrospection-fueled pining for the ruthless attacking play of the Invincibles era, when the likes of Pires, Henry, Vieira and Ljungberg used to thrash sides like Southampton with what appeared to be impeccable ease.
Some of that industry was seen against the Saints, who were making their first-ever trip to the Emirates after being demoted from the Premier League at the end of the 2004-05 season.
With Francis Coquelin manning the holding midfield role, allowing Arteta to get forward far more frequently than he had in the first three games, Arsenal were spectacular in the opening half—one that was punctuated by four goals, and one absolute screamer of a Podolski free kick.
It was the German's second goal in as many games, and it seemed verification and validation of his true arrival as a force to be reckoned with in this EPL season. His body language was once again steeped in positive reinforcement—a far cry from those foundering days last spring at Cologne.
It's perfect, really. In Arsenal Podolski has found a club befitting of his ambition. He has joined the club at the perfect time; when it is emerging from the relative youth-induced hibernation of recent seasons, adamant to reclaim its place with Europe's elite.
At Arsenal, the "funny nature" Schaefer spoke of, in regards to Poldi, has come out. He has been captured beaming in photographs with miniature models of the Arsenal mascot, and has never wavered from his claim that this is the perfect club for him.
Given his start, and the way his play has exacted a withering dismissal of his critics, it's hard to fault him that smile.
It looks like it's well on its way to enjoying a more consistent featuring on his face, given how this season has begun.
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