With Wenger completing most of his signings early on in this summer transfer window there was a degree of expectation around the Emirates, despite the loss of influential captain Robin van Persie. Arsenal fans were particularly impressed with the capture of German winger Lukas Podolski. At a modest fee of roughly £10million it seemed somewhat of a bargain. Especially as he was a 26 year old closing in on 100 international caps (which he earnt at Euro 2012) having scored 43 times for his country. Podolski was deemed to be a player proven at every level, with a strong reputation in Europe, despite a relatively unsuccesful stint at Bayern Munich.
He had just completed a season with FC Koln, netting 18 times in the League, albeit for a side who eventually got relegated. It is important to note that we are discussing a player who was phased out of the Bayern squad just three years before signing for the Gunners. Falling out of favour in terms of selection, at Bayern paved the way for return to a Bundesliga lightweight in the form of FC Koln. These issues suggest that Podolski had not actually proven himself at a top club, which in essence made his transfer to North London a risky one for Wenger. Further to this, he was yet another player with a fairly dense medals cabinet.
Podolski’s Arsenal form
Podolski made an instant impact at Arsenal, netting three times in as many games in September, including an incredible strike against Southampton and an excellent performance at Anfield. He quickly became a fans’ favourite as his name replaced RVP’s in the famous “He Scores When He Wants” chant, with many fans affectionately nicknaming him ‘Po-goal-ski’.
But was he signed as a direct replacement to Arsenal’s Dutch talisman? Many would plausibly argue that it was in fact Olivier Giroud who was signed with the intention to fill that void, having just scored 21 League goals for Montpellier, helping them to winning Ligue 1. He undoubtedly took time to adjust to the Premier League, but has worked hard to reach a tally of 14 goals so far. Podolski has thus been consecutively playing as a left winger, and appears content with that role.
When assessing his first season so far, it is important to draw comparisons with the other two players in the squad who play in that position regularly, Gervinho and Arshavin. Arshavin has failed to impress and at no point in his Arsenal career (apart from one evening at Anfiled) has he lived up to the hype surrounding his record transfer status. Gervinho too had a poor start to his time at Arsenal only mustering just four goals and six assists in his first season. Podolski has already surpassed both attributes by netting 13 goals and providing 10 assists, in all competitions. In this context Podolski has thus been the reliable choice to play at left wing and if the club finish fourth his contribution would be undeniable.
Podolski is in fact the joint top assister in the Premier League this season with 9, demonstrating his importance to Arsenal’s play. With this sort of contribution it would have been interesting to see how a Podolski-Van Persie- Walcott front line would have fared, had the Dutchman remained at Arsenal. It has been in the Champions League where we have seen Podolski at his best, an arena where Arsenal fans would have expected Cazorla to shine more. The German has scored 4 goals in his 6 European matches, as well as contributing with one assist. His stunning volley against the French Champions, Montpellier and his tormenting of the Olympiacos defence made him a threat in the group stages. However despite his goal against former club Bayern, it is fair to claim that he could have offered a bit more in the first leg.
Generally speaking though, his link up with Gibbs (when fit) has been very effective down the left flank as he provides a very direct option running at the space inbetween the full-back and the centre-half, which often opens up space for Gibbs down the flank. Alternatively, Podolski is equally adept at hitting the byline and playing in crosses. Such quick, direct play is very suitable to Arsenal’s attacking style.
It is always tough for new players to arrive in the Premier League and make an instant impact and as such it is fair to assume that the best is yet to come from Lukas Podolski, but his contribution so far has been excellent. He is an integral part of that front three that must be putting in consistent performances week in week out if Arsenal are to finish fourth. The fact that he is joint top of the assist charts and has netted eight times domestically is certainly indicative of a fine start to his Premier League career. Games against Spurs, Everton and Man United will truly test the worth of Giroud, Podolski and Cazorla.