Podolski signing sets tone for the summer
Last summer Arsenal’s signings departed from the apparent “norm” – the five players that Arsene Wenger snapped up on deadline day had almost 250 international caps between them, while the experienced Mikel Arteta was also brought in, who has never played for Spain, simply due to the brilliance of the likes of Xavi, Iniesta et al. Arteta has surely been the most important of those signings to Arsenal, but the rest of them have also made contributions (admittedly this sentence, like Wenger has this season, blatantly ignores the existence of Park Ju-Young).
In the recent past Wenger has opted to sign younger, less experienced players – this strategy is explained wonderfully by the man himself in quote number 56 here, although they’re all superb. Before the move to the Emirates, Wenger frequently signed older, experienced players – Wiltord (26), Pires (27), Gilberto Silva (26) and so on. And the signing of 26 year old Podolski signals that last summer’s trolley dash into the aisle marked “experienced” wasn’t just a one-time thing. Perhaps we’ve seen the end of Wenger’s “experiment” with signing players young and developing them as the basis of his transfer policy – the apparent failures of Denilson, Nicklas Bendtner and Carlos Vela among others certainly would have helped him make his mind up if that’s the case.
Podolski brings with him a wealth of experience; almost 50 goals for Germany in nearly 100 games give him a ratio of nearly a goal every other game. Between two spells at FC Cologne, his boyhood club, Poldi played for Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich from 2006 to 2009. The move seemed to come too soon, and didn’t work out, with the striker managing to secure a move back to Cologne after three years in Munich.
Most people have put his failure there down to being too young and inexperienced – the player himself has cited that as the reason too, and certainly seems more level-headed than previously. His story is slightly reminiscent at first to that of Robin van Persie – a young, talented forward who, having made the move from his home-town club to a massive one, didn’t quite seem mentally ready for the challenge. Perhaps the difference was that van Persie had Wenger as his mentor, not to mention his hero Dennis Bergkamp to learn from at training.
Whatever the reasons for Podolski’s lack of success at Bayern, he seems to have matured now, and has 18 goals in 28 starts for FC Cologne. It may not be enough to stave off relegation – the Billy Goats lie in the relegation play-off spot with a game to go, and could easily be sent down automatically on the final day; they host Bayern while fellow strugglers Hertha Berlin are at home to Hoffenheim – but Podolski has scored around 50% of his club’s goals in the league. I thought it would be best to get a view from someone who sees Podolski week in, week out, so I spoke to Sebastien of Positions Spiel to get a better idea of his qualities.
In my opinion, Lukas Podolski is a great signing from Arsène Wenger. The Frenchman has bought a player who, despite only 26 years, is one of the most experienced but also most promising players of the Bundesliga since he has never been able to tap the full potential. He was actually not ready for Bayern Munich in 2006 and his team mates in Cologne haven’t allowed him either to play as greatly as for the German national team. Apparently the better his team mates are, the stronger Podolski is performing.
Since his team mates have never even been at eye level, not to mention better than Podolski, he has had to decide entire seasons for Cologne on his own. The native Pole has always scored and assisted, no matter on what position he was playing; either as left winger, false nine or offensive midfielder. Liberated from any defensive task (his only weakness) Podolski’s high speed, stunning left foot and impressive ability to dribble have made him to FC’s key player more than ever. It isn’t for nothing that “Prince Poldi” has scored 47% of his club’s goal in the current season. The former manager Stale Solbakken recognized that Poldi is a great counter-attacking player. But considering his performances for the German national team, I am sure Lukas Podolski will perform very well for the Gunners. He is actually able to create chances and play combinations in a localized manner.
During his last three years in Cologne, Podolski hasn’t only been outstanding on but also off the pitch. Despite the disappointment of many false promises, Poldi immediately accepted responsibility and was appointed captain. He lead his love to success by Cologne’s standards but wasn’t afraid to declare his opinion in public for what he was fined several times. As Cologne’s hero and undisputed key player, he didn’t have to fear much, though and even barged in rather political club affairs. Fact is that Lukas Podolski has become to someone who won’t shy away from responsibility at a big club such as Arsenal.
To sum up, I’d say that “Prince Poldi” is a great buy whom Arsenal’s supporters will surely enjoy on and off the pitch. He unites everything to become to one of the best offensive players of the Premier League and I think that Arsenal’s way of playing accommodates Lukas Podolski. I’m convinced that his transfer fee is a bargain; you rarely get one of the best players of the Bundesliga for such little money. Less is actually sometimes more.
His maturing into an exceptional professional seems similar to that of, again, Robin van Persie, and the similarities don’t stop there. As well as being left-footed, Podolski is naturally a second striker, but has been asked to operate as a lone front-man, and is growing into the role at the RheinEnergieStadion.
He can also play wide on the left hand-side though, which is one of the things which will have convinced Wenger to pay the rumoured £12 million to sign him. As well as being a first-class back-up for van Persie (I can’t imagine there are many others available who would be able to duplicate the role as well), he’s an option out wide. While he’s a direct option, similar to Gervinho and Theo Walcott at Arsenal, he guarantees quality finishing from the left, and would allow Wenger to play the three-striker formation with which he experimented at the beginning of the season.
Podolski will give Arsenal’s front three a great variety – he can lead the line in case van Persie is absent, and as a wide player would help to unsettle and get at the central defenders on the opposition. Wenger likes to rotate his front line more than any other position, and with Gervinho, Walcott, Podolski, Oxlade-Chamberlain and potentially another signing (a wide playmaker is still imperative, as Arsenal have often faced similar problems to Manchester United at City), he’ll be able to choose his attacking trio based on form, fitness and opposition, rather than being forced to play the same duo out wide with Robin van Persie in between. The competition can only be good, and more rotation will naturally lead to less injuries.
It’s also an excellent sign that Podolski’s signing has been secured so early – while the early announcement, which was simultaneous with the re-opening of membership renewals, was perhaps done with marketing in mind, the early signing will help Arsenal integrate their new German forward into the side, and he’ll have plenty of time to prepare himself for what lies ahead. Furthermore, if he has an excellent Euro 2012 (which I’m confident in predicting Germany will win) his stock will rise, and Arsenal won’t have to pay that higher fee. All in all, as Raphael Honigstein said on arsenal.com, Podolski seems to tick all of the boxes for Arsenal. Let’s hope his signing helps van Persie to decide to tick some boxes on a piece of paper regarding a new contract at the Emirates.