Why Lukas Podolski Will Be Key for Arsenal in Champions League Chase

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Why Lukas Podolski Will Be Key for Arsenal in Champions League Chase
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Lukas Podolski has a reputation as something of an enigma. However, based on his performance against West Ham, he seems determined to set that aside. Arsenal’s inconsistent maverick wants to become a mainstay of the team.

It’s impossible to divorce Podolski’s match-winning display against the Hammers from his poor showing against Wigan a matter of days earlier. On that occasion, Podolski was hauled off in favour of Yaya Sanogo. Despite his limited contribution, the Arsenal fans in attendance were furious, openly booing Arsene Wenger’s decision. Podolski himself wasn’t much happier; he trudged towards the tunnel before kicking a bottle in frustration.

If it was that same feeling of frustration that drove him to produce such an effective display against West Ham, perhaps it was no bad thing.

Paul Gilham/Getty Images

His first goal was arguably the most important of the night. It prevented Arsenal from going in at half-time a goal down and lifted spirits around the stadium. Collecting a pass from Santi Cazorla, Podolski fired off a snapshot that fizzed past Adrian and into the bottom corner.

If his first was characterised by its accuracy, the second was all about power. After a deft header from Aaron Ramsey, Podolski opened his body before blasting the ball high into the net. When he sets himself properly, his left foot is every bit as explosive as the cannon on the Arsenal crest. 

Paul Gilham/Getty Images

The brace took him to 10 goals this season. Considering he has made just 15 starts, it’s an excellent tally. It’s easy to forget that the German international missed most of the first half of the season with a serious hamstring injury. Without that, he might be running Olivier Giroud close as Arsenal’s top goalscorer. 

Certainly, his stats compare favourably with the Frenchman. According to Squawka, Giroud has a shot accuracy of just 41 percent. By contrast, Podolski boasts a hit-rate of 68 percent. More often than not, he makes the goalkeeper work.

Lukas Podolski shot accuracy via Squawka.com

He’s the most effective finisher in the squad, but can be a little lax when it comes to the defensive side of the game. In the first half, it was notable that Arsenal’s stand-in left-back Thomas Vermaelen regularly castigated Podolski for his failure to track back.

Nevertheless, he showed his value at the other end of the pitch. In the final third, few players are more effective.

After the match, Arsene Wenger was asked if he could alleviate Podolski’s defensive responsibilities by playing him through the middle. He told Arsenal.com:

I am tempted but I have so many offensive players, who all want to go in the middle, and Lukas is the only one who is really a wide player. Rosicky is a central player, Cazorla is basically a central player, and when you don't have Walcott it's very difficult to do that.

It seems that, for now at least, Podolski will remain on the flank.

After both his goals, the German was unusually muted in his celebration. Perhaps after his premature withdrawal against Wigan, some anger still burns away inside him.

That may be the best thing for his Arsenal career. If that anger can fuel more goalscoring performances of this ilk, Arsenal will have quite the player on their hands.

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.

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