Lukas Podolski: Should Arsenal Fight to Keep Their German Winger?
Amid all the reverie following Arsenal's monumental achievement of winning two consecutive away matches by scores of 2-0, you may have forgotten about someone.
Letting him slip your mind is certainly forgivable; an Arsenal supporter's duty is to focus on and support the team, rather than following the comparatively insignificant, week-to-week issues of a particular player who is employed by the club.
Yet this is a man far too often overlooked.
In 25 Premier League appearances this season (the vast majority of which are not full matches), he has provided the joint-most assists of any player on the team, and is among its top goalscorers.
Deployed as a winger, or, rarely, a striker, this person makes lung-busting runs down the left flank, always looks to run at a defense rather than pass around it, puts in a shift defensively and can simply hit the cover off the ball.
The man of whom I speak is, of course, none other than Lukas Podolski.
Despite all of these aforementioned qualities, he is not given the credit he deserves for adding to the team what no one else can.
Earlier in the season, Podolski's frequent substitutions were grounds for some concern, and some fans jumped on his back for supposedly lacking the fitness to get through an entire football match.
However, despite his strenuous exertions in every game, there can be little doubt that a man who has earned more than 100 caps for Germany and has consistently played in some of the most pressure-filled environments in the world is capable of playing a game of football.
With several completed matches in the books, that criticism has been thoroughly discredited.
In reality, Podolski works his tail off during every game he plays, both offensively and defensively.
When one watches Bacary Sagna or Carl Jenkinson suffer from the lack of protection given by Theo Walcott, it is easier to appreciate the energy that the German puts in when Arsenal do not have the ball.
We should all be inclined to believe that this is merely histrionic malarkey brewed by a media hungry for page views and ad-clicks; most transfer stories are.
Indeed, the article states that "Wenger believes his work-rate has dropped since he arrived in London" and, consequently, Podolski has fallen down the pecking order. To any rational Arsenal fan, this is utter nonsense.
But if the story does contain a nugget of truth, we must hope that it is not a harbinger of Podolski's departure after only a year at the club (another factor which makes this article less credible).
Who else in the team can compensate for his skills?
During the past few games that he has sat out, Santi Cazorla has usually been deployed in Podolski's position on the left wing. Yet, for all the Spaniard's brilliance, he is more of a natural in midfield than on the wing. Cazorla does not have Podolski's pace, is not as willing to cross and can seldom resist the urge to cut inside.
This is not something to be discouraged: He is arguably the best midfielder Arsenal have, and should be spraying passes to the attackers, rather than spending his time working to get free on the wing.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is perhaps a similar sort of player in his directness, positivity, work-rate and willingness to shoot from range, but there are several problems with giving him a starting role.
The first is depth. Arsenal fans know all too well the dangers of relying on one or two players to produce in a given position. Over the course of a season, injuries, fatigue and, at least as importantly, form will necessitate squad rotation and dropping one player for another.
If Podolski is not replaced with a similar player, Arsenal will lose one key link in their chain. And finding a suitable replacement will not be an easy task.
Oxlade-Chamberlain is also quite young, so the Gunners would lose Podolski's crucial experience at both the club and international level. As he nears his 28th birthday, the German is heading into the prime of his career, and there is nothing the 19-year-old Oxlade-Chamberlain can do to compensate for that.
And third, Arsene Wenger has said that he intends to eventually transform The Ox into a central midfielder. Giving him a more prominent developmental role in a position that he will not call home for the long term is counterintuitive and counterproductive.
Thus, if Arsenal are approached by any suitably big club this summer and asked about the availability of Lukas Podolski, the appropriate answer is some slightly bellicose combination of words that amount to "go away."
If the Gunners are serious about building a well-rounded, experienced squad of proven winners, they must fight to keep Podolski at the Emirates.
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