It was a match of huge significance, with Liverpool hosting Arsenal at Anfield. The Gunners had drawn blanks in their opening two games, and pundits were questioning whether their attack could sustain the loss of the prolific Robin van Persie.
Then came a classic Podolski goal. The German was at the centre of a lightening fast counter-attack, playing a one-two with Santi Cazorla before hammering the ball in to the bottom corner with a typically clinical finish.
In that instant, Podolski instantly became a favourite with the Arsenal fans. Remarkably, less than eight months later, stories are circulating suggesting that Podolski’s future could be in doubt (via The Sun).
It’s not hard to see where these stories have sprung from. Arsene Wenger has become increasingly reluctant to deploy Podolski from kickoff. The German forward has started just one Arsenal match since January 31st.
On the rare occasions that Podolski does start, he is rarely allowed to finish the game. Podolski has completed 90 minutes on just four occasions this season; only two of those matches have been in the Premier League.
There are several factors which could explain Podolski’s sudden fall from grace.
The first is that he has been the victim of a strategic decision to make the team less cavalier. Arsene Wenger has restructured the team, effectively introducing an extra midfielder at Podolski’s expense. That tactical switch has coincided with the team’s best run of the season.
Podolski’s unwillingness to track back could also be behind his absence from the team. However, that’s not a theory that is substantiated by statistics: Podolski is a willing worker and is prepared to work for the team.
The alternative hypothesis is that the German is carrying a nagging ankle injury. The club have not made any comment on this speculation, but it would certainly make sense: Podolski’s place on the bench being part of a plan to nurse him through to the end of the season when he will undergo surgery.
Whatever the cause of his absence, Arsenal fans yearn to see more of Podolski. When he is handed a rare opportunity, he invariably makes an impact.
In the recent Premier League encounter with Norwich, Podolski’s introduction changed the game. His intelligent movement and direct running unsettled the Canaries’ defence, and Podolski showed his finishing prowess by arrowing home Arsenal’s third goal.
Moments like that are the reason Arsenal must retain Podolski.
There is no better finisher in the current squad. Podolski has scored 13 goals from just 27 starts. Remarkably, only one of those starts has been in his preferred central striking role.
Podolski has been unselfish this season: he has played on the wing when asked, and collected 10 assists along the way.
He is a model of efficiency and, in the way he has handled his absence from the team, a model of professionalism.
The suspension of Olivier Giroud should give Podolski an opportunity to show what he is capable of in the next three games (via BBC).
Perhaps he will show Arsene Wenger why he’s been wrong to leave him out, and why Arsenal must do everything they can to keep him.