The Podolski puzzle. For almost a decade, the German has shined for his national team and enjoyed a few good seasons in the Bundesliga at now-relegated club Cologne. However, doubts lingered. Criticisms circled. Why did Lukas struggle and leave Bayern Munich? Was it his mentality? Is he only good as a big fish in a little pond? Was he played out of position? What, exactly is his position? And therein lies the dilemma.
A dilemma which Arsene Wenger must now face.
Winger? Forward? Inverted winger? Withdrawn striker? Where does Podolski excel? At Bayern, the bavarians tried to mold him into a traditional #9. He failed. His finishing is good for a midfielder, but not quite up to par for a striker. On the other hand, naysayers point out that he seldom backtracks, even when pushed out wide. Defensive diligence? Minimal to halfhearted. Still, Klinsmann’s Germany played him wide left to devastating effect. How has Wenger played him at Arsenal?
Well, here’s a video below. Here’s a link if you don’t have flash.
As you can tell from that 2 and 1/2 minute Malta Guinness Low Sugar infomercial, Wenger has deployed Lukas in his preferred wide-left position. However, Wenger’s other selections and decisions certainly raise the eyebrow.
Obviously, the decision to only field two players other than Lukas for the Malta Guinness Low Sugar workout was a risky one. With only two defenders, Wenger really left Arsenal exposed at the back. He also heaped a lot of pressure on Podolski to perform. Still, you can clearly see what Wenger had in mind for the German.
With both Mertesacker and Sagna offering defensive cover, Wenger obviously wanted Lukas to enjoy an advanced, attacking role. This tactical lineup is very similar to the German national team and former club Cologne, where Podolski thrived. However, Wenger’s tactics totally backfired due to two reasons: (1) the attacking inclinations of Mertesacker and Sagna, and (2) Podolski’s questionable fitness.
In the early stages, at various times Sagna overlapped Lukas and thus forced the German to cover for him. Normally, an overlap and cross is a great way to breakdown a defense and create a chance. However, Lukas and Sagna looked anything but cohesive. As Michael Cox has noted, Podoslki seems to understand better Kieran Gibbs. Also, Sagna’s cross-stops were poor throughout the entire two minute commercial.
In the later stages, Podolski’s lack of fitness combined with the attacking proclivities of Arsenal defenders to create wholly imbalanced side. As you can clearly see, Mertesacker progressively drifted forward until he was the most advanced player. Also, Lukas clearly lost steam around the minute mark, and eventually retreated behind Sagna. On the one hand, Lukas feels his legs get heavy and compensates by at least staying behind the ball and assuming defensive positions. This means he doesn’t stretch Arsenal’s defense, but he also fails to expand Arsenal’s attack.
Podolski has world class talents, but Wenger has yet to solve the puzzle of how to maximize the German on the field or dance studio. More worrisome, he already has an aging winger in Andre Arshavin. Low fitness levels. Questionable defense. Mercurial offense. Gunners hope the German’s career doesn’t repeat the tail-end of the Russian’s time at Arsenal.
In the meantime, after Tony Valencia’s torching of Andre Santos at the weekend, many Arsenal fans have renewed their calls for Arsene to hand a start to the Golden Corral, this time at left back. Tactics at Arsenal are anything but a joke.