Arsenal FC Tactics: How Does Lukas Podolski Fit into Arsene Wenger's Plans?
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Arsenal head into the international break at the top of the EPL table, though there are just three points separating the first-placed Gunners and sixth-placed Spurs.
After a horrible opening day when Arsenal lost to Aston Villa at the Emirates, the Gunners have shown immense character to bounce back and, despite plenty of injuries, they have managed to string together a set of impressive results in different competitions.
Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have all been used as wingers for most part of this year and it has been rather unfortunate that all the four have been injured at the same time.
But Arsene Wenger will be pleased that, despite the absence of such key attacking players, his team have managed to score goals and secure important points along the way.
He will welcome the timing of this international break—after this, the Gunners will finally start getting some of their players back with Cazorla set to be the first to return to the side.
When all the attacking players are fit, it will be a very interesting dilemma for Wenger to choose from the array of attacking players at his disposal.
It will be extremely difficult for the manager to keep all his players happy, especially with the World Cup to come. However, it also means all his players will be looking to produce their best in every game they get, which only bodes well for the performances of the Gunners.
Wenger is a manager who rewards performances and if a player grabs his opportunity, there is every chance for him to get an extended run in the team.
One player who will be very keen to win back his place when he returns from injury is Lukas Podolski. This season is vital for his World Cup chances.
The Germany national team has plenty of superb attacking players who can play on the left, such as Marco Reus, Mario Goetze and Andre Schurrle to name a few players.
The Gunners also have two exciting attacking midfielders in Cazorla and Mesut Ozil and, in all probability, Cazorla is the preferred choice on the left flank.
Last season Podolski was also tried as the striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with mixed success, but with Olivier Giroud in such excellent form, it is questionable if Wenger will prefer the German ahead of Giroud.
So, here is a look at the options Wenger could try in order to get the best out of Podolski—if they can do that, it is sure to benefit the Gunners, considering the talent of the German international.
Lukas Podolski on the Left Flank
Wenger prefers to have a attacking midfielder playing on the left flank with a more direct threat on the right flank.
Though Wenger did play Podolski on the left flank for a number of games in the 2012-13 season, the German international was benched during the second half, mainly because Wenger opted for more control in central midfield.
Podolski's ankle injury did not help his cause and he struggled to force his way into the line-up towards the end of the last season.
With the arrival of Mesut Ozil, Podolski's place on the left is even more under threat since it means that Arsenal's player of the last season, Santi Cazorla, is most likely to play from the left flank.
Ozil is primarily an attacking midfielder and if he is fit enough, then he is the one who will be preferred in the No. 10 role. Theo Walcott has cemented his role on the right flank over the last couple of seasons and only in case of injury is he likely to be dropped.
If one of the three among Cazorla, Ozil or Walcott were to get injured, then Podolski would have a chance of playing on the left flank.
If Walcott were to get injured, then Wenger could either opt for Oxlade-Chamberlain, who will be fit for the second half of the season, or he could use the versatile Cazorla on the right flank with Podolski on the left.
If Ozil or Cazorla were to get injured or rested, then the question is whether Wenger will opt for Podolski or prefer to bring in another attacking midfielder such as Tomas Rosicky or Jack Wilshere to fill in for them.
Podolski has a great chance of starting, though, considering his experience and the fact that he would take no time to adapt if he played on the left.
Lukas Podolski as the Striker
In the last pre-season game for the Gunners against Manchester City, Wenger used Lukas Podolski as the lone striker in the first half with Olivier Giroud in the second half as the main striker.
Podolski did decently without creating any great headlines with his performance, but there were indications that he could do a decent job in the central striker role.
Due to the suspension of Giroud, Podolski was the main striker in the last four league games of last season with Wenger preferring the German in the last game despite Giroud being available.
Podolski, in the limited appearances he has played as the striker, has looked decent but lacks the link-up play of Giroud; also, his movement needs to improve for him to get behind defences.
Giroud, despite not having great pace, manages to get ahead of his defender because of his excellent movement. Podolski is arguably better than Giroud in terms of finishing when he gets the opportunity, but he lacks the inventive movement of the Frenchman which is why it is harder for him to get chances.
Podolski is best arriving late in the box to meet a cross or cut-back from the other flank, but as the main striker of the team, he will be the focal point of the team.
Robin van Persie is a striker with exceptional off-the-ball movement, but when he started the 2009-10 season, his positioning and movement were certainly not as good as they have been since the 2011-12 season.
It shows that with diligent understanding of the game and working under a good manager, it is possible to improve this aspect of a player's game.
Giroud is the main striker as of now for the Gunners, but when Lukas Podolski is fit, he will get a lot of games as the striker considering the need to rest the Frenchman to keep him fit for the season.
That will certainly mean that Podolski has the chance to establish himself as the main striker when he gets the chance and ensure that he does not give Wenger the chance to sign another centre-forward.
Compared to last season, this season offers a much better chance for Podolski to improve, considering the team is well settled and he has developed an understanding with the existing players, as well as with Ozil, with whom he has played a number of times for the German national team.
When he plays as the main striker, unlike Giroud, he is not likely to remain predominantly in the central striker role and he has the tendency to move towards the left flank or come deeper to find space.
The creative midfielders, such as Cazorla, Ozil, Wilshere and Ramsey, are always alert to the opportunities where they can play a pass to help the attacking players get behind the opposition defence.
Theo Walcott is a player who will always provide options with his anticipatory runs off the ball and that, along with his superb pace, is the reason why it is easy for him to get behind the defence.
When Podolski plays as the central striker and comes deeper, he links up like the extra midfielder. However when he does this, his movement off the ball is not the best and often does not offer an option for creative players to put him through on goal.
But this is an area where players improve when they gain a better understanding with team-mates and their style of play.
For example, Ramsey's second goal against Sunderland was a superbly planned move where Ramsey made a run beyond Giroud, knowing that the French striker was fully capable of playing the first-time pass to him.
That is the sort of goal Arsenal could not have scored last season because, typically, big centre-forwards like Giroud do not generally play such delicate, incisive passes.
When Podolski drifts to the flanks, the advantage Arsenal have is the presence of Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil, both of whom use the freedom of movement on numerous occasions.
If Podolski were to move left, he offers the space for Walcott to drift inside and Ozil, with his lateral movement, is always likely to exploit the space. Having midfielders such as Ramsey and Wilshere playing in deeper midfield also helps because of their ability to drive from deeper midfield to more threatening areas of the pitch.
On the whole, Podolski playing as the centre-forward will offer the team a new style of play, but for that to be effective, Wenger will have to invent him as the lone striker.
If he can provide enough options for the creative players behind him and link up well enough with the midfielders, then there is no reason why he cannot be an effective striker. The raw ingredients are there considering the fact that he has the pace to go behind defences, good technique and combination play along with ruthless finishing ability.
Even with the German national side, there is a good chance of Podolski being considered for the role of the main striker should he impress for the Gunners, which is an added incentive.
For Arsenal, his return to injury is a huge boost, considering his versatility and also his ability which can help them secure important wins.
For now, the German will have to play second fiddle to Giroud, but there will surely be opportunities for him in this season.
It is clear that Podolski does love the club and feels settled at the Emirates, but if he does not get regular playing time, there will be few alternatives but to leave.
However, if the German does grab his opportunity, then he has the chance to be the player who leads Arsenal to great success.
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