Having been on the bench for the vast majority of Arsenal's opening two matches, Lukas Podolski's future has spent the last few days being spoken of in rather uncertain terms.
As all and sundry are imploring Gunners boss Arsene Wenger to add greater depth and quality to his squad, the mere mention that Podolski could be on his way out was rather surprising, if not entirely unexpected given the meagre 10 minutes game time he'd seen prior to today.
However, the 28-year-old—who lest we forget managed 11 goals and 10 assists during his debut Premier League season (according to Transfermarkt)—was given his first start of the campaign at Craven Cottage.
There he gave something of a resounding answer as to whether he has an immediate future at the Emirates Stadium with his display in the Gunners 3-1 win against Fulham.
His two goals, both as clinically taken as you'd expect from a forward with 46 goals to his name for Die Mannschaft, will get the headlines, but his entire performance during the west London downpour was nothing short of excellent.
Operating from the left in Arsenal's 4-3-3 formation, Podolski played with great intelligence, tucking in from the flank and finding space between the lines: stationed in something of a halfway house in off the touchline, his direct opponent—ex-Koeln teammate Sascha Riether—didn't know whether to follow him, while Fulham's midfield duo were already entrenched in a midfield battle with their Arsenal counterparts.
Thus, Podolski prospered, and whilst last season he certainly had a tendency to go missing in games—something, which combined with a persistent ankle problem may explain why he was substituted on 23 occasions during 2012-13—his 80-odd minute showing against the Cottagers showed a focused Podolski at something close to his best.
The German may not be the flashiest of players: he's never going to waltz past two defenders after turning them inside out with a step-over and a Ronaldinho-style flip-flop.
However, in continually finding space, he was able to help his side build attacks by giving them an outlet to play off, time and again showing himself before returning the ball to colleagues in dangerous positions facing the opposition goal. And then, there is the sharp nature of his finishing, something which has never been in doubt.
Both his goals today saw somewhat similar attacking moves patiently built up—with Podolski playing his part in the initial phases—before the German hitman backed up play and finished with considerable aplomb.
His first effort, a controlled sidefoot full of venom which, following a ricochet which had left David Stockdale stranded, dissected two Fulham defenders on the goal line was more than good. His second (Arsenal's third) was straight out of the striker's handbook to taking chances.
It came following a sweeping move which ended with Santi Cazorla—himself imperious in a central role—teeing up Podolski on the edge of the box. From 15-yards out and coming under pressure from two Fulham defenders, Podolski drilled an angled drive across goal, beating Stockdale low down at his far post. It was unfussy, yet clinical, two words which characterised Podolski's entire display.
Wenger full of praise for Aaron Ramsey. Lukas Podolski, he says, is definitely staying. No new bid for Cabaye (yet) #AFC— Daniel Taylor (@DTguardian) August 24, 2013
Additionally, the reintroduction of Podolski to the starting XI, quite aside from his individual contributions, served to give the Gunners greater balance also.
With Santi Cazorla tucked into a central position, Kieran Gibbs received greater support down the left, from a defensive point of view, while the diminutive Spaniard was able to get more involved in the central and attacking thirds and could subsequently dictate proceedings to far greater effect.
Whether Arsene Wenger can fit Jack Wilshere, Podolski, Cazorla and an in-form Olivier Giroud into a balanced XI is something that remains to be seen, but the performances of three of that quartet today certainly make it something worth thinking about.
But certainly today was Podolski's day. After a week in which his future had been the source of much conjecture, his on-field display spoke for itself. Arsenal would be foolish to allow a player of his quality to leave, regardless of any potential new recruits.
This was just the reminder anyone doubting the quality of Lukas Podolski needed. And in spite of the torrential rain, the sun was very much shining on Prince Poldi in West London.
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