From seemingly never-ending thoughts of “What now?” to feelings of sheer euphoria — that’s the life of an Arsenal fan these days. It may not be on purpose, but Arsene Wenger has managed to keep all concerned with the club ever alert and in constant deep thought for one reason or another.
This time, it’s the possible signing of Lukas Podolski from FC Cologne that has captured the attention of the Gunners’ fans. The German international was very highly rated a few years ago, but now finds himself at a club battling the drop in the Bundesliga. With a purported transfer worth around £11 million close to completion, it’s only fitting to wonder whether this deal would represent a terrific bargain or, like Park Chu-Young, a waste of money.
Let Bayern-Gones Be Bayern-Gones?
Why did Podolski fail at Bayern Munich? At the 2006 World Cup where he performed so well – he was joint second top-scorer with 3 goals — it seemed he had the world at his feet. He was voted the competition’s best young player, ahead of the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and a certain Lionel Messi. Few players have the esteemed pleasure of saying they were ‘better’ than Ronaldo and Messi. In addition, due to his exploits with FC Cologne at the time, despite the club being relegated, a lot of high-profile clubs showed genuine interest in snapping him up — the likes of Real Madrid, Liverpool, Bayern Munich, etc.
A subsequent move to the Bavarian club proved a wrong decision, however. Podolski rarely featured — largely due to the existing striking options at the club (namely, Roy Makaay, Roque Santa Cruz and Claudio Pizarro) — and, when he did, he struggled to impress. It may very well be that the weight of expectation at Bayern coupled with his lack of playing time caused considerable damage to Podolski’s development. The signing of Luca Toni from Fiorentina the following year certainly didn’t help matters. The Italian’s impressive form over the next couple years kept Podolski on the bench until finally, in 2009, he returned to his roots at Cologne, pegged as a failure.
Podolski’s Return to Sweet-smelling Cologne
In his second debut season at his old club, it was clear that Podolski was still suffering from Bayern hang-over — he only netted twice that campaign. Signs of frustration were evident given his concession of almost 3 fouls a game that season, picking up 7 yellow cards for his troubles. A lack of concentration and even rust manifested themselves in the form of dispossessions and turnovers — 2.4 per game, each. After that nightmare debut campaign, it became clear that a once bright talent had gradually withered into a has-been.
Why is Arsene Wenger Interested???
After that terrible debut season, Podolski managed to pull himself together. He seemed focused again, evidenced by the fact that he was caught in possession less (2.4 down to 1.8 times per game) and gave away the ball less (2.4 down to 1.6 times per game) in the following campaign. He even calmed down a bit — he fouled 1.5 times per game that season rather than the 2.8 times he did in the previous campaign, collecting 5 yellow cards in the process. He was more lethal too, scoring 13 goals in his second, second season at Cologne, achieving a chance conversion percentage of 14.8 — a sharp increase from the petty 3.6 he mustered in his debut season. This season, he has been doing even better — 16 goals and a chance conversion percentage of 27.1 make pleasant reading.
Arsene Wenger has had to take much criticism given the weighty goal-scoring burden on Robin van Persie’s shoulders. The Dutchman has scored an astonishing 43% of Arsenal’s league goals! With such a massive influence in the final third, there would be a huge cause for concern if van Persie went missing through injury. That considered, with Park Chu-Young and Marouane Chamakh desperately out of form, Wenger really needs someone who can find the back of the net with a measure of consistency, who won’t break the bank, and who would fit seamlessly into his tactical plans.
It may not have crossed the minds of many, but Podolski’s playing style is actually very similar to that of van Persie’s. For one, they are both technically sound, enabling them to strike the ball sweetly and accurately from range as well as in set-piece scenarios. Secondly, they both have an eye for the final pass. van Persie has the edge here, though, as he makes twice as many key passes per game than Podolski — 2.4 versus 1.2. This facet of a striker’s play is vital in Arsene Wenger’s one-striker system as this striker has to drop deep to link up with midfielders and allow them to run in behind him. As a result, he has to be able to pick out these players as they do so. In harmony with that, both van Persie and Podolski are good at playing through balls as well — Podolski, though, has the edge here, being accurate with 54.3% of his through balls while van Persie is accurate with 31.6% of his.
They are also quite good at holding on to the ball — a skill that is also necessary in the one-striker system utilised by Wenger. Podolski is also capable of playing out wide, in addition to up front. His love for cutting inside combined with his technical qualities and vision would see him prove to be an ominous presence for opponents on the right side of attacking midfield. Arsene Wenger would surely appreciate the versatility Podolski would offer. Given van Persie’s telling influence, the fact that Podolski is quite similar to the Dutchman should make Arsenal fans salivate at the prospect of his arrival.
So, as surprising as the story was, the evidence put forward suggests that Arsene Wenger is on the verge of picking up a decent bargain. With fans still desperate for Wenger to spend some cash, they can only hope that the German’s arrival is just the beginning.