Lukas Podolski-Mesut Ozil Partnership Is Vital in Arsenal's EPL Title Chase

James DudkoFeatured ColumnistJanuary 27, 2014

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - JULY 03:  Mesut Oezil and Lukas Podolski of Germany celebrate victory following the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Quarter Final match between Argentina and Germany at Green Point Stadium on July 3, 2010 in Cape Town, South Africa.  (Photo by Joern Pollex/Getty Images)
Joern Pollex/Getty Images

Arsenal teammates Lukas Podolski and Mesut Ozil can form a partnership that will be vital to the club's pursuit of the English Premier League title.

The first of Arsenal's quartet of FA Cup goals against Coventry City provided a snapshot of this crucial combination at work. The goal, as so many have been this season, was created by Ozil.

He roamed into space just outside the box, in that devilish grey area between the midfield and forward lines. It is a position that, to his credit, Ozil tends to find himself in more than most players.

Upon receiving a pass from Jack Wilshere, Arsenal's record signing instinctively anticipated Podolski's breaking run from the left flank.

He instantly nudged the ball into the path of his international compatriot. Podolski then deftly rounded the goalkeeper and coolly slotted the ball into the far corner.

That one movement crystallized the success or failure of Arsenal's hunt for silverware. It was a smart link between the club's best source of creativity and its deadliest finisher.

Podolski was in deadly form in the FA Cup.
Podolski was in deadly form in the FA Cup.Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Podolski may have endured a stop-start campaign, but his importance in this frenetic title race cannot be overstated. In the absence of fellow wide forward Theo Walcott, Podolski's goal threat will prove invaluable.

While Walcott recuperates from the knee injury he suffered at the start of January, Arsenal need another supporting attacker to fill the void and complement central striker Olivier Giroud.

Podolski is the only player on the books capable of firing enough goals to ensure the Gunners don't miss Walcott too much. Manager Arsene Wenger is keenly aware of Podolski's quality in front of goal, as he told, following the veteran forward's brace against Coventry:

Podolski can score goals and when you have a goal chance you want him to have it. He is a clinical finisher and he has an unbelievable short and quick backlift. He is very accurate in his finishing. He can be effective, he can score goals when he starts and when he comes on, he is always dangerous. His performances have been more convincing on the flank than in the middle until now.

Despite Podolski often being a model of inconsistency since he arrived in the summer of 2012, Wenger must now include him as often as he can.

Of course, Podolski's inconsistencies can easily be solved. First, a run of good health and regular playing time is needed. Second, Podolski will be more productive with more supply. Enter Ozil.

The two have established a noted rapport on the international stage. Their partnership can be even more mutually beneficial at club level.

Despite the sensitive souls who will not abide a hint of criticism toward Arsenal's record signing, Ozil has experienced mediocre patches since his arrival.

He has been anonymous in a clutch of games this season, with November's 1-0 away defeat to Manchester United the most notable example.

But as more voice their disapproval of Ozil's overall form, even a consistent critic can say his recent performances have been a little better than advertised.

In fact, a pattern is slowly emerging from the man Wenger paid £42.5 million to sign. Periods of supposed torpor are being punctuated with sudden flourishes of flair.

The wonderfully timed and weighted pass to set full-back Nacho Monreal free to create Arsenal's first goal in a 2-1 away win over Aston Villa on January 13th is one such example.

Ozil is becoming more influential.
Ozil is becoming more influential.Clive Mason/Getty Images

Ozil is steadily even finding companions for his previously lone moments of inspiration. His guile will be as important in this title push as Podolski's scoring proficiency.

Ozil is sure to find his form boosted by Podolski. Even when Ozil has struggled, criticism has needed to be prefaced by one harsh reality: A player defined by how he provides chances for others needs more targets to aim for.

But without Walcott, where are the direct runners to attack the gaps through which Ozil threads his passes? Serge Gnabry offers pace, but he is still more eager to trick his way past an opponent, rather than use straight-line speed to latch onto clever pass.

Without Walcott, Ozil is surrounded by a host of players each seeking to occupy the areas he calls his own. That is why a healthy Podolski can mean a more dangerous Ozil for Arsenal.

The former has the natural instinct, quickness and timing to attack defensive gaps in a direct way, a way the latter has no problem recognizing.

A connection as prolific as that could prove decisive in the title run-in. It did in 2002, when Dennis Bergkamp and Freddie Ljungberg frequently combined to secure vital points during the season's final two months.

Podolski and Ozil could mirror Ljungberg and Bergkamp in 2002.
Podolski and Ozil could mirror Ljungberg and Bergkamp in 2002.Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Ozil and Podolski are capable of producing the same impact. That is why Wenger ought to consider moving Santi Cazorla over to the right to let Podolski feature more often. But even as an impact substitute, the goals Podolski can fire off the bench could yet turn many pivotal games.

Combine a prolific Podolski with a back-on-form Cazorla and a returning Aaron Ramsey—whose return from a hamstring injury was confirmed by Wenger, via Sky Sports—and maybe Arsenal don't need to sign a striker this month. Maybe.

But the Gunners will need all the firepower they can muster from their own ranks to help negotiate the next two months. The fixture list is unforgiving once February commences.

Aside from facing Bayern Munich and Liverpool in cup competitions, Arsenal must also battle Manchester United and Liverpool again in the league.

In truth, March is even more daunting. The return tilt against Bayern is surrounded by trips to London rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea. Arsenal also host Manchester City's dominant scoring machine.

But with an unerringly stout defense and Ozil creating chances for Podolski to dispatch, the Gunners may have the ideal formula to survive the crunch part of their season.

If they do, Wenger's men may well be rewarded with the trophy much of their play this season has merited.