Lukas Podolski future: Double for Arsenal won't see misfit get a new contract
The German’s struggle to adapt to English football means he is unlikely to get a new deal at Arsenal despite the two crucial goals on Tuesday
Wednesday 16 April 2014
The thrill for Lukas Podolski must have worn off rather quickly. He might have felt he had proved something on Tuesday night, as his two goals earned three points which moved Arsenal back up to fourth in the Premier League table. It was the perfect follow-up to his comments on Saturday evening, that he was being under-used by Arsène Wenger and ought to play more.
But Wenger was asked afterwards if this changed anything. Might it launch a new era for Podolski, giving him what he wanted, a role through the middle, either alongside Olivier Giroud or even in place of him? The answer, in Wenger’s own polite way, was no. “I am tempted,” Wenger admitted, when asked about 4-4-2, “but I have so many offensive players who all want to go in the middle.”
Some of them will therefore have to compromise, and Podolski will be moved before the others. “Lukas is the only one [of the attacking players] who is really a wide player. [Tomas] Rosicky is a central player, [Santi] Cazorla is basically a central player, When you do not have [Theo] Walcott it is very difficult [not to use Podolski as a wide player].”
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What of Podolski superseding Giroud and playing through the middle? “Look, I played him as centre-forward a few times and I thought he came a lot to the ball, more like an ‘off’ striker than a target striker,” said Wenger, before quickly running off Podolski’s strengths unless he looked too critical: “But he is a fantastic finisher because he has unbelievable power and a very short back-lift. The one you want to have a chance is him.”
That Podolski is the most natural finisher at Arsenal has never been in doubt. The problem is with the rest of his game. That is why Wenger is so reluctant to play him up front and has put him out on the left instead, to Podolski’s own frustration. That, ultimately, is why Podolski’s Arsenal career has barely got going, almost two years in, and why it might not last for much longer.
This dilemma has never been clearer than it was on Saturday at Wembley, during the FA Cup semi-final after which Podolski poured out his frustrations. He started that game on the left, was barely involved and, after an hour, Wenger decided that they needed more of a direct threat. So Podolski was hauled off for Giroud, who came on to partner Yaya Sanogo in a 4-4-2.
“I felt that we needed some physical presence through the middle,” Wenger explained, “and the only two players who had that are Sanogo and Giroud.”
Lukas Podolski (left)and Wojciech Szczesny of Arsenal celebrate victory over West Ham
That said more than enough. Podolski is not cut out to play centre-forward for Arsenal. He is not quick enough to run in behind or selfless enough to hold the ball up. The last time he did it was on New Year’s Day, at home against Cardiff City, when Podolski – still on his way back from a four-month injury absence – laboured through 64 minutes leading the line before being replaced by Nicklas Bendtner, who won the game instead. For their next match Walcott went up front, and got injured, before Giroud came back in.
Application, rather than talent, has always been the main difference between Giroud and Podolski, both of whom arrived in the summer of 2012. Giroud has embraced the physical demands of the English game to the point of exhaustion, while Podolski looks as if he is still adjusting.
Back in November 2012, just a few months into Podolski’s Arsenal career, Wenger was attempting to convey why Podolski was finding adjustment so difficult. “He is not used to working at that level of intensity. At [his previous club] Cologne he plays there and says ‘my friends’,” Wenger explained, holding out his arms to demonstrate the unconditional adulation Podolski always received from Cologne fans whatever he did. “So when you come to England it is a shock. In England you have Rooney who works his socks off. Everybody works hard, there is no room for anybody to work less or you do not exist.”
That felt like the root of the issue. Podolski was so used to being the star man at FC Köln, the biggest fish in one of Bundesliga’s smaller ponds, that he had to readjust to the demands of working hard for a successful team. The problem, though, is that Podolski has not yet started to produce the intensity Arsenal would still like from him.
This is why, even on the left wing, he is not exactly the player fans were hoping for. He does not cover his left-back as much as he should, and does not stretch defences like he might going forward. It is little surprise that Wenger has not always trusted him for the big games, when most is demanded of the team. In recent months Podolski was an unused substitute for the big home games against Chelsea and Manchester United in the league, Tottenham and Everton in the cup and Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
It must be exasperating for Podolski, who has 112 full caps for Germany, more than Cristiano Ronaldo has for Portugal. But his record, for club and country, suggests a player who is at his best against the worst. He has scored 17 Premier League goals for Arsenal, but after the first one at Anfield, in September 2012, they have come almost exclusively against unfancied sides: he has four against West Ham, three against Fulham, two against Wigan and the rest against Southampton, Reading, Newcastle, Stoke, Norwich, Swansea and Tottenham.
Lukas Podolski hammers in Arsenal's third against West Ham
Even for Germany his 46 goals include four against San Marino, three against South Africa, three against Liechtenstein and so forth. He has scored just four goals since 2010, his last two in a friendly against Ecuador last May, and his place is increasingly under threat from the next generation of fitter, faster German forwards.
But with two years left on his Arsenal contract, Podolski could be forgiven for wondering what he is going to do next. If there was going to be a new Arsenal deal it probably would have come by now.
Even Köln, set to be promoted back to the Bundesliga this summer, are thought not to want a third Podolski spell where he would be, once again, simply too dominant over the town and the club. A mid-table German team or Internazionale are the likeliest options for a player whose time in England has never worked out.
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