Lukas Podolski – The Finisher

So, with the news that our social networking machine – Lukas Podolski – has joined Galatasaray for anywhere between £2.5 – £4million pounds, one question still remains…..

Was Podolski’s stint at Arsenal one of the most underwhelming considering his pedigree?

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Podolski joined in 2012 along with Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud in the start of a transfer market revival for Arsenal which heralded a return to strength for the Gunners. No more French Under-16 prospects thrust into the first team after joining for the princely sum of three pence and a mouldy turnip – oh no, the cumulative total for these three footballers cost Arsenal just over £30million. Quite the alternative to the standard transfer fare that had been served up previously.

All players came with a reputation as well, just to keep up the theme of surprising the Gooners at the time. Santi Cazorla was a Spanish international and regarded as a superb technician with a certain flair for ball control on either foot. Olivier Giroud had just come from winning the first Le Championnat for Montpellier and plundeing 21 goals in 36 games in the successful league campaign.

Then there was Lukas Podolski. The man who nabbed the Best Young Player at World Cup 2006 ahead of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The man who had helped himself to a massive haul of goals for a frighteningly good Germany side. The man who only a season previously was at Bayern Munich.

Podolski brought with him a threat. A threat that opponents would be aware of. If fans knew what weapons were in his arsenal, then opposing teams would be already fearing his name on the teamsheet, surely?

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His Arsenal career started brightly enough to convince that his move would bring goals and the odd long range screamer.
His first goal for our club was in a 2-0 win versus Liverpool which was also Arsenal’s first goal of the season. Despite the goal being scored in what might possibly be the worst kit ever conspired to be televised, his calm finish from a Cazorla pass was indicative of how lethal he could be.

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Goals flowed rather evenly for Lukas, no matter his staccato-esque starting chances. His volley against Montpellier will live long in the memory and his free-kick Vs Southampton was pure power. He could be more than just goals however.  Perhaps his strongest run of performances came in November 2012, when he scored against tottenham, Montpellier, Reading and Newcastle. Not only that but assists were also thrown in for good measure, so much so that his fellow new recruit Santi Cazorla benefitted from his passes to the tune of a hat-trick in the game against Reading.

He was in his stride and playing in a role that Joachim Low and his predecessors had found to be quite effective for the Polish-born striker. Podolski took up a starting berth on the left hand side of midfield and would take up residence on the left hand side of the penalty area, drifting around that spot until possession would be granted. From there, he linked up well with runners or often enough, he could ignite the rocket on his left boot and the ball would simply fizz into the net.

It seemed quite effective. There were evidently drawbacks to this method but Podolski finished with 16 goals and 11 assists in his first season. More telling to Lukas’s future at The Emirates was the fact that he had started in a strikers role on a few occasions for Arsene Wenger during the season thanks to Olivier Giroud’s suspension. The results mystified the fans.

How could the best finisher at the club be a moot point in a Number9 role? Why can’t the man with a howitzer of a left foot be simply rudderless when asked to play this position? Upon viewing his games in this position, he seemed to simply float aimlessly and fail to use his power to hold the ball up with regularity. Plainly put, he was rather hard to find.

2013-14 was another story of good numbers but leaving fans with more questions. He was the man who helped us defeat Liverpool in the quarter-final of an ultimately successful F.A Cup campaign. He scored against his former club, Bayern Munich, in the Champions League.  He started what was one of  Arsene Wenger’s most important matches in his ongoing tenure – the F.A Cup Final Vs Hull City. He was given chances and it is fair to say he took a fair few of these that his boss handed out liberally. A 10 week injury lay-off put paid to  improving Podolski’s previous seasons stats, but 12 goals from 27 appearances is not to be sneered at.

So why were Gooners everywhere wondering whether Podolski was a vital member of the team? Was he dispensable?

At the crux of Lukas’s Arsenal demise was the simple fact that the team couldn’t have a left sided midfielder who spent the majority of his minutes on the pitch lurking around the oppositions box. If a player starts on either the left or the right – with Arsenal’s fondness for attacking full-backs – it is vital that the men on either flank support the full-back. With Podolski leaving the left gaping, it was inevitable that teams would find this weakness and mercilessly take advantage of it. Lukas did defend sometimes, but this wasn’t his only cross to bear.

Podolski plays well with possession. When given the ball, he proved that he can make the difference when attempting to breach what may be a compact defence. With an ethos of ‘pass and move’ though, Podolski at times resembled a person waiting for a bus that was meant to arrive yesterday. He cut a frustrated figure. Wenger would have been more than aware of what Lukas brought to the Gunners table before he signed him as he is known for scrutinising potential targets. The blame regarding his short sojourn at London Colney lies squarely at Poldi though.

He could run and harry. He could get into space to receive. Everyone has seen him do it. This makes his off-colour displays all the more infuriating. The two biggest factors in bringing the curtain down on his spell in London were things he could have quelled. If he had had the mindset of Aaron Ramsey, Alexis Sanchez or even Theo Walcott, he would have worked on the weaknesses which blighted his career in the Premiership. He didn’t. He seemed quite content to be an all-consuming presence on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. This, the man who has the third highest amount of goals for an esteemed footballing country such as Germany.

Before the Podolski-afficianado’s start their riposte, I ask you all this: If Lukas simply ran off the ball a fraction more than he did and tried to adapt to the framework which Arsenal possess, do you think he would have scored more goals? Hell, do you think he would still be at the club?

The fact of the matter is that the free-flowing football which Arsenal employ and will do at least until Wenger retires, does not require an eighteen-yard box floater. It needs a dynamic attacker who can link up well with runners but also make space where there is none. All through movement. Podolski’s finishing skills are the best the club have had since Van Persie but his repositioning on the pitch were the worst we had.

Elveda, Lukas Podolski. Your left foot packed with dynamite will be missed, as will your occasionally fantastic responses on social media. Hopefully the Turk Telekom stadium will appreciate your mix of the sedentary but occasionally explosive.

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