Lukas Podolski: Grading His Contribution to Arsenal so Far

Hans WetzelFeatured ColumnistDecember 5, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 21:  Lukas Podolski of Arsenal scores their second goal during the UEFA Champions League group B match between Arsenal FC and Montpellier Herault SC at Emirates Stadium on November 21, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

In high school, I penned an English essay on Antigone, written by the Greek tragedian Sophocles. As with the other essays that I had written for this particular course, I had not read the entirety of the assigned material, and wrote an essay that was well-written and technically sound, but thoroughly uninspired.

While my instructor's responses to my past efforts had offered gentle encouragement to be more thoughtful and inventive, my efforts with Antigone were met with the following: "So much potential, so little realized. Hans, the world is happy to watch excellence wallow in mediocrity." 

The forceful retort was illuminating for two reasons.

First, that there are some educators that give enough of a damn about their students' achievements to call them (read: me) out. And second, for recognizing the innate ability to succeed.

I doubt that I have risen to meet my potential in any facet of my life, but the words have stuck with me for years, and they have burned in my mind as I have watched Arsenal flail about in recent weeks. The squad's results have been maddening, appalling and expected, all at the same time. 

While perhaps not as frustrating to watch as fellow forward Gervinho, Lukas Podolski embodies the enigmatic character that the team as a whole appears to have grown into.

The German possesses some serious footballing talent. His free kick against Southampton was terrific, while his finish against Montpelier was sublime, even van Persie-esque.  

His numbers aren't anything to scoff at, either.

According to WhoScored.com, Podolski has netted seven goals and assisted on four more through his first 19 games with the club (14 Premier League starts, five Champions League starts). He has also enjoyed an 86.3 percent successful pass rating in the league, falling to 82.8 percent in the Champions League.

Deployed almost exclusively on the left side of manager Arsene Wenger's front four attackers, assuming a 4-2-3-1 formation, his work rate and willingness to track back on defense make him a near-automatic selection on the flank. 

Yet despite possessing obvious and copious quality, and providing a decent return on investment in terms of goals and assists, the German does not have the look of a player with 100 caps for the German national side. 

Podolski looked anonymous when given a run out in his preferred central striking position against Swansea. Far from an off-color performance for the winger, his recent displays against Aston Villa, Manchester United and Norwich, to name a few, have all been tepid. 

His runs are full of bluster, but often he does not receive the service from his teammates that he probably should. When he does, he has the ability to place the ball on a needle's head, as was the case when he whipped in a perfect ball for Olivier Giroud's first Arsenal goal against West Ham back in October.   

But poor service does not explain how he simply disappears in matches.

He's as much a magician with some of his finishing as he is with his vanishing acts. He has averaged 32 passes per game over his 14 league starts, a number that compares favorably to that of Gervinho (21.5) or Theo Walcott (13.8), two players who occupy the same wing position.

Yet the two players' statistics are misleading, as both have come off the bench several times, and Gervinho has played several matches through the middle. 

And for a player who consistently looks like he is a better player than someone like Gervinho, the Ivorian, even on a bad day, can frequently get himself into a dangerous position before he makes a characteristically poor final decision. In his less defined outings, Lukas Podolski is unable to get that far. 

Podolski looked to be a good bit of business when Arsenal purchased him from boyhood club Cologne back in April for a fee rumored to be around £11 million, especially in light of his 18 goals and six assists for the German side that are coming in only 28 appearances, as he struggled with injury during the 2011-12 campaign. 

After several months worth of games with the North London side, the fee paid for Lukas Podolski has proven to be fair, but not a bargain. His displays have mixed healthy helpings of industry with ineffectiveness, but with several splashes of brilliance for good measure.

The promise of more, like with Arsenal itself, is what will keep fans from writing off Podolski prematurely.

Unlike Gervinho, a player whose quickness is matched only by his ineptitude in the final third, there can be hope that the forward can shrug off his middling form to introduce much needed consistency to his game.

In lieu of grading him alphabetically, I'll say this to Lukas Podolski, Arsenal winger and German centurion: Live up to your potential, don't merely demonstrate it, for Arsenal fans have come to expect excellence wallowing in mediocrity.     


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.