Podolski earned his inclusion with an all-action cameo against Swansea. After initially beginning on the bench, he was introduced as a second-half substitute, with a tremendous impact. First, he swept home to draw the match level before providing a stunning cross to allow Olivier Giroud to tap Arsenal into the lead.
However, it wasn’t a perfect display: He was dispossessed for the move, which led to Swansea’s late equaliser.
That’s the problem with Podolski. He can be devastatingly effective going forward but is occasionally a liability from a defensive point of view.
Nevertheless, against City, Arsene Wenger decided he was worth the gamble. Podolski was brought into the team as a left-winger, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain dropping to the substitutes’ bench.
In the first half, it looked as if Wenger’s decision might have backfired. During the opening 10 minutes, City threatened to open Arsenal up down their left flank on several occasions. Behind Podolski, Kieran Gibbs looked isolated and frequently endangered. Pablo Zabaleta and Jesus Navas were able to double up on him, and a better final ball could have seen City saunter into an early lead.
When they did go ahead, the goal came down the same side of the pitch. Podolski was crowded out by defenders, and David Silva broke into the resulting space. Both Gibbs and Bacary Sagna were caught high up the pitch, and Arsenal’s centre-backs were exposed. Silva fed Edin Dzeko, whose shot cannoned off the near post before rebounding to the Spaniard, who tapped the ball over the line.
However, Podolski’s performance observed the cliche of a game of two halves. After the half-time break, he looked revitalised and refocused. His defensive work was more adroit and his attack play had more purpose.
The German created Arsenal’s equaliser. Receiving the ball from his station wide on the left flank, he looked up before playing an expertly judged cross into the box. Mathieu Flamini, playing with the box-to-box energy of Aaron Ramsey, arrived at the perfect time to sidefoot into the corner.
He almost provided the winner, too. Only an outstanding save from Joe Hart prevented Podolski firing Arsenal into an invaluable lead.
Podolski is a conundrum that Wenger will be desperate to solve. According to WhoScored.com, his eight Premier League starts have produced four goals and two assists. Few players in the Arsenal squad are quite so ruthlessly efficient.
Wenger has attempted to play Podolski as a lone striker, but the experiment has never worked. In order to get the best out of the former Bayern Munich man, the Arsenal manager might have to pair him alongside another more physical striker in a 4-4-2.
In that system, he would be liberated from the defensive responsibility with which he struggles. That would be a significant departure for Wenger, but Podolski’s talent might just be worth the switch.
Podolski departed with around 10 minutes left on the clock. However, he had left his mark indelibly on the match—for better or worse.
James McNicholas is Bleacher Report’s lead Arsenal correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here.