Aston Villa v Arsenal: Arsene Wenger lauds fit-again Lukas Podolski as 'one of the best finishers I have ever seen'

The German has returned from a four month absence following his recovery from a hamstring tear and will feature heavily with Theo Walcott and Nicklas Bendtner injured

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is confident fit-again German forward Lukas Podolski can have a big impact as the Gunners look to last the distance in the Barclays Premier League title race.

With Theo Walcott sidelined for the rest of the season and out of the World Cup after suffering a serious knee injury in the closing stages of the FA Cup win over Tottenham last weekend, Arsenal are in need of some attacking options to support lead frontman Olivier Giroud.

Podolski marked his return from four months out with a torn hamstring to come off the bench and score in the 3-1 win at West Ham on Boxing Day.

Although the 28-year-old was then somewhat subdued when handed a start in a central attacking role for the New Year's Day game against Cardiff, Wenger is in no doubt of what Podolski can bring to the side when firing on all cylinders.

"Podolski has been out for four months and after being available, it doesn't mean you are competitive in the Premier League - it takes some time to come back," said Wenger, whose side head to Aston Villa on Monday night looking to sustain their position at the top of the table.

"He is working hard. This week he looked sharper in training, so he is getting closer now to being completely fit again.

"If there is one (player) you want to see in front of the goal in a shooting position, it is him because Podolski is certainly one of the best finishers I have ever seen.

"He can play that central role when he is completely fit and is one of the potential assets we have there.

"When he is physically ready, he will of course help us."

Giroud suffered an ankle injury during the 1-0 win at Newcastle on December 29, with his decisive goal ending a mini-drought.

The French forward then had to miss the Cardiff match because of illness, and was rested completely for the FA Cup tie against Spurs.

Wenger feels there is plenty more to come from the powerful, 6ft 4in frontman and the rest of his team over the second half of the season.

"Giroud needed a rest physically and he got one, and I am convinced he will come back refreshed and ready to score again," said Wenger.

"What is most important, for Olivier Giroud and for me, is the team produces a good collective performance.

"[Whether] he scores or somebody else, we have plenty of people who can score and for me it is always most important that we play the football we want to play, and after anybody can score in my team."

Arsenal are on the lookout to bring in some cover for Giroud during the January window, with injured duo Nicklas Bendtner and Yaya Sanogo still short of full match fitness.

The likes of Real Madrid starlet Alvaro Morata and Fulham veteran Dimitar Berbatov have both been touted as potential targets, along with £32million-rated Brazilian Diego Costa at Atletico Madrid.

Wenger, though, insists anyone who eventually does arrive should not be seen as a replacement for Giroud.

"It (a new signing) would not be against any player - we want the squad to be as strong as possible, to fight and to have the chance to win the battles we want to win," said Wenger.

"But I don't think (any of) our players would be upset - you cannot play in a big club and be upset about any speculation, because all the players have to face that."

Arsenal have not lost at Villa Park in the Premier League since 1998.

Wenger, though, will take nothing for granted against a team who recorded a shock 3-1 win at the Emirates Stadium on the opening day of the Premier League season and are scrapping for points at the other end of the table.

"We have overall a good away record in recent years and that is part of the explanation," said the Gunners boss.

"Playing at Aston Villa has always been very physical, tense games, but we always found the resources to do well (there).

"Why? There is no specific reason, so let us just make sure that it continues."

PA

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