Lukas Podolski: How Arsenal Can Keep the German Striker Scoring
Many Arsenal fans are dissatisfied with the progress of Olivier Giroud since he first put a red-and-white shirt over his head, but at least another summer signing is working out.
The Gunners signed Lukas Podolski before anyone else during the summer transfer window—indeed, he was signed before the transfer window even opened, or the season even ended.
It has not been hard to see why Arsene Wenger was eager to get this piece of business done so early.
We generally knew what we were getting when Podolski came over from Cologne: a versatile, strong, determined, and yet very technical player who had done great work for the German national team in his 100 caps at the age of 27.
Yet, despite this foreknowledge, Podolski has still impressed us with some extremely slick play in whatever position Wenger has deployed him in during the first few games of the season.
At striker in the first game, he looked a bit like a boxer punching above his weight class, but he was nevertheless effective in the limited role he could play. We got a taste of his fantastic work ethic, too, as he held up and distributed the ball to his teammates when he was on the pitch.
It took Podolski two more games, but he inevitably found the net with some equally fantastic play on the left wing, which he is quickly locking down.
That opening goal against Liverpool was reflective of his display on that day. He refused to give up in a scuffle in midfield, tidily passed the ball to Santi Cazorla, continued his storming run into Liverpool's penalty box and neatly finished past Pepe Reina when fed the ball.
It wasn't very surprising, then, that the German got on the mark against Southampton at the weekend. This time, though, an entirely different part of his game was on display.
His free-kick from about 25 yards out was well out of Kelvin Davis' reach, a wonderfully curled effort that was smacked home with all the power of a forward with a cannon in his leg.
Clearly, Arsenal have something rather valuable and unique in Lukas Podolski—that much is obvious from his first few games in a Gunners shirt. Already, he is, while perhaps not indispensable quite yet, one of the most important members of the team.
Thus, Arsene Wenger faces the best kinds of tactical quandaries that a manager can have. First of all, where should his forward play?
Well, the Southampton game might have provided an answer to that question. With Olivier Giroud struggling to get on the mark, there will be increasing pressure for Podolski to fill his gap in the center.
And if it weren't for Gervinho, he might have to. But the Ivorian put in one of his best displays for Arsenal at the unfamiliar position of striker, contributing two goals and numerous slick plays, and allowing Podolski to remain on his native left wing.
Indeed, that seems like his best position, at least in England, where big, physical central defenders necessitate a bigger player like Giroud.
Europe, of course, is a different story, but that involves squad rotation, which is an entire mess of possibilities that I do not have the time to get into.
While he is not an out-and-out striker, Podolski does seem to play best when he is given the liberty to drift into the center of the pitch and create chances for himself and others.
Thus, having cover on the wing is essential for maintaining the team's tactical balance. That responsibility lies on the shoulders of Kieran Gibbs, who must certainly be the most fit player in the squad due to his many attacking runs and the tremendous amount of space he covers during a game.
Into that equation also comes Santi Cazorla, who can easily operate on the wing, but must know when to drift wide from his crucial position at the tip of the midfield in order to maintain the integrity of the starting XI that Wenger initially names.
These are all, of course, very good problems for the manager to have, and ones that he has probably worked out for himself by watching the first few games of the new campaign and through hours of careful observation on the training ground.
Yet they are critical to Arsenal's success this season. Keeping Lukas Podolski in top form and maintaining his presence as a goalscoring threat in whatever position he operates in is really the catalyst for most of what the Gunners do in attack.
If and when Olivier Giroud gets going and most everyone is fit and in form at the same time, we could very well see some extremely surprising attacking football from Arsenal.
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