While Arsenal fans begin to implode with silly season in full swing, the signing of Lukas Podolski has seemed somewhat forgotten under rumours of M’Vila, Llorente and the vicarious obsession with the Eden Hazard transfer special. ‘Prinz Poldi’ as he is lovingly dubbed by many in Germany, will be 27 by the time he joins up with the Arsenal squad after the Euros, further evidence of Wenger’s shift away from the youth policy. Podolski began his career at FC Köln, bouncing between the German first and second division. He failed to keep them up in the 05/06 season and made the move to Bayern Munich. He became a bit-part player and moved further even down the pecking order when Luca Toni arrived, even being dropped to the reserves during his final season. Assured that a move back down to Köln would not affect his place on the international team, Podolski returned to the club where he was greatly adored in 2009. Köln were relegated this season despite 18 goals from their main man.
Despite playing for a lower side such as Köln and even spending a season in the second division, Podolski has remained an integral part of the German national team. At club level, Podolski was often finishing off moves, scoring 79 goals in 169 appearances for Köln, taking full advantage of his lethal left-foot and often playing as a striker. It is his role in the national team that I expect he will take up for us. Playing on the left of the 3 man attacking line behind Klose, Podolski’s lightning pace, world-class finishing and imposing physicality were the main ingredient to Germany’s ruthless counter-attack. Having scored 43 goals in 96 national appearances, Podolski is expected to have a good Euro 2012 and hopefully he continues his good form and arrives for pre-season full of confidence.
With the transition from the 3 striker formation to a false 9 with an inverted winger on the left complete towards the end of last season, epitomised by Benayoun’s presence in the latter stages, this is where we are likely to see Podolski begin his Arsenal career, assuming Robin Van Persie stays. Hopefully, this signals a return to the counter-attacking football that we possessed during the Invincibles era and with 6 goals from counter attacks this season (more than every Premier League team other than Arsenal), Podolski is the perfect addition to the team. Gervinho had a poor first season, with his finishing in particular under question, so Podolski will add a new and extremely threatening dimension to our left-wing.
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Of course, if every Arsenal fans’ worst nightmare comes true and we lose our captain and key player for the second season in a row, Podolski could well be a direct replacement for Van Persie. They share similar traits; excellent finishing, eye for a key pass, lethal from both inside and outside the box and adept at free-kicks. Van Persie has of course had a phenomenal goal-scoring record over the past 18 months, but with the amount of chances that Arsenal create (504 for the entire 2011/12 season, United finished with 509) it would be interesting to see how Podolski would fare.
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As the table shows, Podolski would undoubtedly be a step-down from the man who has turned into one of the most complete strikers in the world, his stats do fare well considering he was playing in a poor side that ended up relegated. The stand-out area for improvement, aside from goals, would be the key passes (chances created). While Podolski averages 1.3 per game, Van Persie averages at 2.4 and with our formation requiring the striker drop deep to link up play, the German will need to prove he is capable of this. Of course, this is the less desirable situation as many Gunners would rather Podolski a supplement to Van Persie, rather than his replacement. One issue I have concern with is their similar personalities. While both have matured in recent years, both have a fiery temperament and like being the main man at their clubs. Van Persie failed to get along with the last big personality in Thierry Henry and with Podolski’s venomous retort to Jurgen Klopp’s suggestion that he was too inconsistent for Dortmund he certainly still has a fire in his belly. I imagine the respective experiences of the two will serve them in good stead though and hopefully there is no problem here.
With a fee in the region of £10-11 million reported, Arsenal have a real bargain with Podolski. 96 caps and 43 goals for a national team at the age of 26 is a phenomenal achievement for any striker. Reading his interviews in the press, he certainly seems to be dying to don the cannon and begin to impress the Emirates crowd. There are fears that it could be a repeat of his time at Bayern Munich and with the eyes of the German press on one of their prize possessions, he will certainly have pressure on him. It appears though, that the experience at Munich has matured the fiery striker and he is ready to deal with the pressures and rid himself of the case of big club syndrome. Having reportedly snubbed an approach from Man United in favor of working with Wenger he’s already high in my good books. I for one can’t wait to see him perform for us and haven’t been this excited by a signing for quite a while. Lukas Podolski, welcome to Arsenal.
All Lukas Podolski stats courtesy of the ever-excellent WhoScored.com