Lukas Podolski Represents a Period Arsenal are Trying to Move Beyond

The German international is one of the best strikers of a ball in the world, but he lacks the all-round skill set for a side looking to win Championships


So long Lukas. It would be a lie to say we hardly knew ye. These last few restless months of frustration have felt like an eternity and your imminent departure feels somewhat overdue. But that doesn’t curb the feeling that getting rid of one of the more popular squad members and arguably the most skilled player at the club when it comes to the all important asset of striking a ball towards goal for next to nothing is a bit of a waste.

So it is, that a man with 121 international caps for Germany, the most prolific goal scorer at Arsenal in the previous two seasons in the Premier League and Champions League, a man blessed with immense shooting technique, power and precision is about to head off to Italy and struggling Inter Milan on loan for a small fee with an option to buy at £5 million.

There were a few jokes on social media before Arsenal’s trip to West Ham a few days ago that it would be a fitting swan song for the German. His record v the irons stands at an incredible 270 minutes played in four games, registering four goals and four assists in the process, meaning he directly contributed to a goal approximately every half an hour against them.

But in many ways that was his problem. In his two full seasons at Arsenal West Ham finished 10th and 13th, they were a lower mid table club, one which was responsible for nearly a quarter of the goals and assists Podolski provided in his Premier League career. Against sides Arsenal dominated Podoslki flourished because he put away the chances that were there, but against a higher calibre of opponent he wasn’t able to have the influence needed to have a real impact in front of goal.

That wouldn’t be a huge issue if he contributed to the team in other ways, but the truth is he lacked the all-round skill set for a modern wide man. He didn’t have the pace and off ball movement to create enough chances for himself and others, didn’t get involved in build up play as effectively as some of the creative 10s Arsenal used there and didn’t always track back to help his fullback sufficiently.

With Arsenal regularly struggling in the centre forward position last season, there were numerous calls for Podolski to be used as a striker, but a good shot and decent goal rate is far from all that is needed for a modern day centre forward. In truth, Podolski perhaps suffers from modern tactics shifting away from a strike paring more towards a sole front man, who needs to be able to hold the ball up and link up play with the midfielders more, something Podolski fails to do as effectively as someone like Olivier Giroud. When Arsenal have varied their striker approach from Giroud, Welbeck and Sanago they’ve preferred the pace and dribbling of Theo Walcott and Alexis Sanchez instead. There is a suspicion that Wenger signed Podolski as a striker, giving him the number 9, and playing him up top on his debut, only to quickly realise his shortcomings after watching him struggle in the role.

In a sense, Podolski represents what Arsenal became in the early parts of this decade. After the investment in youth that occurred in the Fabregas era failed to get the elusive trophy, players kept leaving and there was a more immediate threat to Arsenal’s standing in England’s top 4 and Europe’s top 16. Young prodigies were replaced as transfer targets with proven reliable performers in their peaks, such as Arteta, Mertesacker, Giroud, Podolski, Cazorla and Monreal. While all have been relatively successful they arrived when Arsenal were scraping the barrel of their resources to maintain their position in the Champions League. Arsenal are now trying to move beyond that and become a club that can compete for the highest honours, and there are signs with the arrival of Özil and Alexis, plus the high level improvements of players such as Aaron Ramsey and Laurent Koscielny, that they’re not that far away with a couple more signings, a reduction in injury issues and less tactical naivety. As such, Podolski has become a player below the calibre Arsenal are looking for.

Arsenal are now incredibly well stocked in wide areas. Recently Cazorla’s influence wide has deteriorated but Özil is still competent in the role and had a good World Cup playing as a left sided inside forward, when the likes of Podolski himself could’ve been used instead. Among the Arsenal forwards, all of Alexis, Walcott, Chamberlain, Welbeck and Campbell are good wide players who are younger than Podolski and offer a wider variety of skills.

Podolski is something of a fan favourite for his character, social media skills and antics involving Tottenham, so many will be sad to see him go. But the truth is, as one of the higher earners in the squad, someone starting to move beyond his peak years, and a player Wenger clearly lacks an adequate level of belief in these days, it no longer makes sense for either club or player for him to remain at Arsenal, especially as his departure could help fund holes downfield.

So farewell Poldi. Thank you for your service. It’s a shame it never quite worked out. You’ll always have the highlight of a couple of thunderbastards, terrifying Manuel Neuer and pissing off Tottenham fans though.


World Cup Harder to Predict After a Couple of Rounds

Check out any bookie before the World Cup and it was pretty obvious who the bookies were confident would win.  Skybet for instance had the supposed dark horses but increasingly overhyped Belgium as fifth favourites at 18/1, slightly ahead of the European pack of France, England, Portugal, Holland and Italy, as well as Colombia in the mid twenties to one.  All of them were someway off joint fourth favourites Spain and Germany, who were both 11/2 slightly behind Argentina at 9/2 and Brazil at 3/1.  To most observers it was obvious one of the so called big four would win it with it most likely being a South American team rather than it being a European nation.  

But after the first two rounds of games the certainty of a member of the big four winning it has almost entirely been ripped to shreds.  Tournament favourites Brazil have been far form convincing, relying on referee blunders and goalkeeper howlers to overcome Croatia in the tournament opener and failed to get the better Mexico in their second game. They have clear issues up top and their midfield is also an arguable weak point.  

Argentina have been similarly underwhelming.  For all the pre-tournament hype about their attacking prowess they’ve had to rely on two moments of Lionel Messi magic to get wins against war torn Bosnia and Herzegovina and lowly ranked Iran.  Despite a strong qualifying campaign there remain questions about whether they’re able to get the best out of all of their forwards together.  Sergio Aguero was the most prolific goal scorer in the Premier League during the club season but has so far only registered a single shot on target in the opening two games.  

Germany demolished Portugal in game one, but they were helped largely by the haplessness of Portugal, who had to play the whole of the second half with ten men due to Pepe’s madness, though the game was likely done by then anyway.  Then of course there was the entertaining, but from a German perspective, disappointing draw with Ghana.  Of the favourites Germany probably had the worst build up to the tournament, with fitness problems for Lahm, Schweinstiger and Neuer before talisman Marco Reus was ruled out of the tournament less than a week before it was due to begin.  The flaws in the side – the lack of genuine strikers and Jogi Löw’s baffling refusal to play genuine fullbacks no matter way – are obvious and a clear barrier to the sides hopes of winning the tournament.

As for Spain?  Well, what needs to be said that hasn’t already?

The failure of the big four to really shine to the levels of expectation has led to the rise of many other outsiders as genuine contenders, but even they haven’t fully convinced.  The Netherlands made the first statement, hammering Spain 5-1 on the second day but they themselves looked remarkably vulnerable against Australia.  The case is similar with Italy, a win against England raised expectations, before a loss to Costa Rica sent them crashing down again.  Chile look an impressive unit, but even they struggled in the second half of their game against Australia, and if they fail to beat the Dutch in their final game, will face the prospect of Brazil in their first knockout game.  

In the end, of all the sides in this world cup, it has arguably just been France and Colombia to really have been without fault.  France have probably been the best side in this tournament, sweeping aside a Honduras side whose ten players admittedly seemed to be more interested with the amount of pain and bruises they could inflict on the French team, rather than any threat on Les Bleus goal, and then hitting five past a talented Switzerland side.  Similarly it’s hard to not feel the Colombia bandwagon which is lighting up Brazil with their yellow kits and their fantastic football.  The threat of implosion as a result of the loss of their talisman Radamel Falcao was never likely due to the immense depth they have in the forward position and in James Rodriquez they have an arguably just as talented main man.  

Maybe it’s too early to be drawing such conclusions.  It’s possible to peak too early and if one of the remaining big three were to get a run together in the knockouts they may be unstoppable.  But at the moment there would be many a good outside bet due to the mixed performances from the favourites.  Colombia and France have been the most impressive sides, but Chile and the Netherlands are another good outside bet.  However, despite the early signs, it may still remain foolish to look past one of the big South American teams.   

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