The fans want Podolski through the middle Arsene – Do it now!

"Come on boss play me the fans want me out there"
“Come on boss play me the fans want me out there”

So due a rash tackle from Olivier Giroud Arsenal it seems are likely to face the next 3 league matches without their sole striker. This brings into sharp focus our alternatives given the vital nature of the next few weeks for our Champions League aspirations. We have a set system Wenger seems unwilling to tinker with and that system requires in normal circumstances a sole striker comfortable with his back to goal. A striker with the strength to hold the ball up and bring others into play, notably our 2 wide players and the central attacking midfielder.

This being the reality, there will be some serious soul searching going on at Colney this week because none of Podolski, Gervinho or Walcott are truly strikers in the same mould as our Marmite Frenchman. Wenger must decide whether to fit a round peg into the square hole left to be filled by Olivier’s absence or to tweak the system/tactics.

This however is not a blog in which I intend to second guess what ‘Le Boss’ may do but more to consider what he might do with Lukas Podolski. This is however slightly complicated by the story that Podolski is carrying a minor ankle injury which will require surgery in the summer. Does this affect his mobility? It is hard to say as he looked exceptionally sharp against Norwich for 20 minutes but strangely sluggish against Fulham. Many fans have surmised that it is the ankle problem which has caused Wenger not to start him in the EPL since January, whilst the press have decided he has fallen out with the German and aims to offload him at the first opportunity. Wenger has strongly denied there is a rift and has gone out of his way to issue statements via the club site to the contrary.

Whichever is the case, from in the pub before the games, in the ground and on the social media, one thing is abundantly clear and that is that most fans want him to play a more active role and I would contend that most recognise him as our most natural finisher. Indeed I might go as far as to say that no one else in our squad would have scored the goal he scored against Norwich. I would go further and say that it never crossed my mind that he did not know exactly what he wanted to do when he received the ball and how he intended to do it.


Would anyone else at Arsenal have scored this?
Would anyone else at Arsenal have scored this?

So is the issue here simply that Wenger wants to persevere with Wilshere at CAM and has to move Santi to the left to accommodate him in that role? If so I am against it as Jack is far better in my view as the box to box player. A role, that Ramsey is playing particularly well at present. There is no doubt Santi has the creativity for the left wing position but he is reluctant to get close to the main striker, and become the second attacker in the box when the attacking play is coming from the right. I would personally prefer Santi back where he has played most of the season and let Jack and Aaron compete for the role just in advance of Arteta, leaving Lukas free to return on the left. None of this of course addresses Wenger new dilemma.

So the question is will Wenger do what he has threatened to do as recently as the 14th of April:

“Podolski was injured when we played at Bayern and won,” the boss said. “After that, we won at Swansea…sometimes you have periods like that and I think he can play as a central striker as well.

“I work a lot with him as a central striker at the moment. He is a quality player and when he comes on you can see that straight away. You don’t get 100 caps by luck.

Now I am firmly of the opinion that Podolski can play up front on his own and the player himself has been quoted as saying he wants to play more centrally. I am also acutely aware that many don’t share this view, citing his lack of ability to play with his back to goal and his lack of mobility. There is no question that he can run the channels well and he is far superior to Giroud at swivelling a defender and getting a shot away. I hate to raise it in an Arsenal blog but many said earlier in the season that Defoe could not play as a sole striker due to his lack of strength and hold up play. No question in my mind he proved he could.

I cannot maintain to be any sort of expert on the Bundesliga but I was quite certain that Podolski often played the sole striker role last season at Cologne and that many of his 18 league goals came when he was solo through the middle. So at this point why speculate when I could ask the expert? I have used his knowledge before and he runs his own superb Arsenal blog so I asked Chris Mader, better known to many as @GermanGunners to help.

First I asked Chris if he had heard any more on Poldi’s injury?

Chris:  Poldi seems to be carrying an little injury on his ankle. That’s what I’ve heard. But it doesn’t seem to be serious and may only a minor operation during the summer break. So it shouldn’t hamper him in this season’s final push.

 I told Chris that I had felt for a while he could easily cover Giroud centrally or provide an alternative. Was I incorrect in recalling he had played there last season?

Chris:  I’m with you regarding his role as a centre forward. At Cologne he often played as a single striker up front basically due to the fact that he was the main target in Cologne’s offence so most of his goals were scored from central positions.

(Excuse the sarcasm but the above was more often than not the Cologne team set up last season. DOES IT LOOK FAMILIAR? Now you may say but Dave Cologne were relegated were they not? Yes they were but Podolski started 28 matches and hit 18 goals and provided 7 assists, primarily as the main striker.)


Leading the line and scoring for Cologne last season
Leading the line and scoring for Cologne last season

What about when Cologne played with 2 strikers?

 When cologne played two strikers he often paired up with Novakovic so he is used to link up play which could easily be done with Giroud.

 I think many in England and many Arsenal fans think of him as a wide striker/left wing as that is where they have seen him play recently for Germany.

Chris:  His position on the flank got “popular” when Löw started him there in the German national team. A decision in my opinion which has now cost him his starting spot in Löw’s team.

 So as a German and as a Gunner where do you see him at his most effective?

 To me he is more effective as a centre forward. Poldi is clinical in front of goal. He knows how to act in the box and won’t wait long to get the ball on target. Combined with his powerful shot that a deadly combination. He’s also more mobile than Giroud. He can run at players and get past them. A quality Giroud does not have in my view. With his mobility he might be better to get a ball passed through from midfield with a quick give and go.

The give and gos involving Podolski have been much in evidence with Cazorla and Giroud this season, of that there is no doubt. Thanks Chris and serious food for thought.

An early relationship that blossomed, but now in competition!!
An early relationship that blossomed, but now in competition!!

You have got me thinking now though Chris because when Podolski burst onto the scene in 2003 He was playing centrally in a pair with Klose. This was a 442 right?

Yes from memory it was not until 2007/8 that Low first moved Podolski to the left to accommodate Gomez.

Thanks Chris, superb to get a first hand view of an informed German Gunner.

So this of course brings us back to the age old question of whether Wenger might look to adapt the formation to allow Podolski to play up front in a pair, either in the short term or in the longer term. I can see the eyes rolling at this point but there are a few new factors to consider. Firstly we know that Wenger has been working with Podolski as a central striker recently. Secondly courtesy of the lucky fans who attended the special supporters Q&A evening with Wenger last week we also know the squad practice 442 in training every week.

The latter fact explains why they have adapted easily during games such as Reading and Tottenham this season.  Podolski is undoubtedly when fully fit a superb left sided striker, with the West Ham game in which he made or scored all 4 goals being one of the stand out individual performances this season. Centrally I will still prefer the German to either Walcott or Gervinho and would prefer a system whilst Giroud is out that adapts to the fact that Podolski is more comfortable centrally in a pair. This does not necessarily require a total change in set up, more to ensure that one of the 2 wide players gets close in with Lukas, when we are on the offensive.

In simple coaching terms this is no more complicated than if we are attacking down the right then the left winger becomes the second striker and we are attacking down the left then the right winger tucks in close to the central figure.  Equally if the ball is played into Podolski’s feet central both one of both of the wingers need to be getting beyond him. This brings us back to why our current system is more effective when Podolski if left wing as he totally understands this and instantly moves into to support Giroud.

Just out of interest having heard from Chris on the change in role for Podolski in the German National side I thought it might be interesting to research that slightly more deeply. The change in formation under Low having inherited a superb squad from Klinsman after the 06 World Cup was gradual. He stuck with 442 during qualification for Euro 2008 but Podolski was moved to the left of midfield to allow a Gomes/Klose partnership to be tried. In the finals themselves he tried it again and had to admit failure dropping Gomes and restoring the Podolski/Klose partnership which then took them to the final.

Podolski and Klose a partnership 2003-08
Podolski and Klose a partnership 2003-08

Thereafter it has been virtually all 433/4231 and Poldi has generally been selected on the left. The enormous wave of talent flowing through German football however has seen Podolski’s almost automatic selection threatened and now he is more a squad player. This of course may prove next season to be to Arsenal’s advantage. As I argued recently most attacking players tend to be at their absolute peak and 28/29 and it may be as with Arteta we see the best of Lukas in an Arsenal shirt if he is playing less for Germany.

Based on when the preferred formation changed after Euro 2008 for Germany my research suggests that 29 of Podolski’s 44 international goals have come when he has been playing as a striker in a partnership, primarily with Klose and not as a wide striker/winger.

I am acutely aware that my readership is very divided on the reversion to a 442, 441 or 4132 for Arsenal. Many I know feel the system out dated, a view I vehemently reject. My own view as most are aware is that we should adapt the formation to the opposition as for example Manchester United do so successfully. I accept our current system can work well but equally feel we have layers suited to both formations and Lukas Podolski is certainly one such individual. Interesting also that the hugely popular guest post of 2 weeks ago suggested Jovetic is another player ideally suited to playing the old Bergkamp role in a 4411.

Sometimes circumstances just arise where a manager’s hand is forced or a new selection is enforced. On other occasions certain payers just work well in a partnership and it makes sense to build a formation around that understanding.  The return of Tevez last March saw Mancini adapt to a 2 striker system that won Manchester City the league. Before that Aguero has been more withdrawn and one of the 3 behind Balotelli of Dzeko. This for me is a perfect example of a coach being flexible and also a coach accepting that sometimes it is worth accepting that there is more than one way to skin a cat. In the the 7 games in April and may that the 2 Argentinians started as a striker partnership City won all 7!


Do 2 strikers in partnership really not work on EPL in 2013??
Do 2 strikers in partnership really not work on EPL in 2013??

Now could be that watershed moment for Wenger. Without the services of Olivier Giroud (one assumes) who was already running on an empty tank anyway, for the next 3 games, Wenger will have to adapt the Arsenal team for the visit of Manchester United and beyond.  It has been a while since Wenger out thought Ferguson as he so often used to. Perhaps now if the time to do it and Podolski if fit could just be the surprise main weapon?

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  1. He has to start, if Wenger doesn’t start him then he’s making a rod for his own back if he thinks Gerv or Theo can cause them any issues. I also think Wenger coaching Podolski on how to play centre forward is extremely odd. Do you think he coaches Sagna on how to play right back?

    1. I know but I felt it worth adding it in for extra credence. So many think he can’t play there including many who’s opinions I respect oddly

  2. Fans are funny. Sometimes they see what they want to see despite what is obvious. Podolski came on in the 75th minute vs Fulham and was already gasping for air after 10 minutes. This guy’s fitness level is deplorable. That was why he kept getting subbed off early in the season. WHy would you let a guy who cant last 90 minutes lead your attack. Girrourd might have his bad days but his work ethic is only bettered by Ramsey’s. He tracks back, wins balls in the final third and fights for the team, That’s why as bad an idea as i think it is, I want wenger to start Lukas through the middle. Then arsenal fans will see just how awful he can be. After the 40th minute, you might as well be playing a man down. He reminds me of Van der Vaart at Spurs: just refused to adapt to the physical demands of the English game.

    1. I am not aware I have suggested Podolski over Giroud my friend. Podolski was playing on average 80 mins earlier in the season and I will trust the Arsenal staff to decide who is fit

    2. This season Podolski has proved to be a better striker through the middle. He has scored a wonderful goal against Norwich from there. Giroud has wasted.several easy chances against Everton and cost us 2 valuable points. Podolski is far more clinical and would have scored against Everton. He played in the center forward position regularly in Germany and scored many goals. So my vote is with Podolski anytime over Giroud.


  3. Great post again, Dave. I’m curious what your line-up would be, if Poldi played centrally?

    I was a little taken back by how sluggish he seemed against Fulham. Podolski has always been really active, even if only for the 68 minutes that he plays.

    It’s a point worth remembering that he very rarely lasts the 90 minutes. Considering MU’s last-gasp pressure, that may or not be an issue.

    I’m also a fan of the 442, and there have been times during this season that we have momentarily switched to something resembling that.

    This formation may be an option:

    Sagna Mertesacker Koscielny Gibbs
    Arteta Ramsey Wilshere Cazorla
    Walcott Podolski

    I prefer Gibbs over Nacho. Gervinho would be an interesting option instead of a misfiring Walcott. And Rosicky could play for Wilshere.

    I’d play Arteta and Ramsey as they have been, and let Jack and Santi feed the front two, with Cazorla linking, and Jack playing a box to box. Sagna and Gibbs would more than adequately perform the wider roles (as they have anyway this season).

    Whaddya think?

    1. Bats I agree re Fulham and said so but a week earlier he did more in 15 mins v Canaries then rest of team in 90.

      The fitness is a concern but it is not his level more the injury I hope. I would not disagree with your line up but would have Ox and Theo either side of Lukas with Jack, TR7 and Gerv to come on.

  4. Great analyze on Podolski’s position and career.
    He already has the tools to be a dangerous striker (lone). All he needs is some guidance and game time to be the striker for the team and he has a good chance to succeed. Giroud has more flaws than Poldi and his game does not fit the style of our play, yet Wenger sticks with him. It will be a huge joke if you tell me this is not favoritism.

  5. My team against Manchester united will be:- Scezney Sagna Mertersacker Koseilny Gibbs Ramsey Rosicky Vermaelen Cazorla Podolski Oxlade.

  6. Podolski is a quality quality forward but why doesn’t anyone remember the small but massively significant fact that the guy is playing through injury? If it wasn’t for our position in the league and the fact that its a really tight run in Podolski would’ve been ruled out for the rest of the season already. It’s a niggling ankle injury and he needs an operation to sort it out. THAT is the reason why Wenger has used him so sparingly and he’s STILL awsome when he can manage 10 minutes here and there.

  7. Very good article! It’s a pleasure to reed such a well done research.
    Pod is a clinical finisher…. No doubt of that. Wenger should Play him on that role… We will loose some headers that OG can do easily… Instead of that we will add quality finish and a better ballance …

  8. I prefer poldoski upfornt even if giroud is available. His finishing is second to none @ arsenal at d moment

  9. sorry but if you dont think poldolski can play st youve gone mad hes been are best option the whole season, put him there and watch the goals come in plays just like rvp goal poacher hes the answer, PLAY HIM STRIKER!!!!

  10. For me its a simple one. 4312 scrap wingers as we don’t have a decent winger. Podolski and walcott or chamberlain or gervinho up top. Cazorla playing behind I the am role with a midfield trio of wilshire arteta and rambo. At home I would play jenkinson and monreal or gibbs as they are ideal wing backs who can utilise the full width of arsenals pitch. For me sagnas crossing is poor compared to jenko.

  11. Very interesting piece Dave,

    As usual it is well written and brings up some very good points. A comment above questioned why Arsene was coaching Podolski on playing center forward and also wondered if he coached Sagna on playing right back well I think the simple answer to that is yes. Every coach wants different things from his players and a striker playing for FC Koln, Stoke City or Arsenal would be asked to perform completely different tasks. It is the same for our full backs.

    I love Podolski’s explosive shooting, his strength and his fight. I think he is the best finisher at the club and would put away many chances but for those who are championing him I ask the following. What did they make of his display as centre forward in our home game to Sunderland? If that was too early to judge (which arguably it was) what did they make of it in the home game against Swansea when he switched with Gervinho very early. According to Arsenal Column it was because he failed to track Angel Rangel.

    Personally I haven’t been impressed with his all round game for that role. Does he have the ability to drop off his man in the 9.5 position, control a ball, avoiding centre back challenges and bring others into play? I am not sure he has that in him. Don’t get me wrong here, I would love to be proved wrong because I think he has an insane amount of goals in him. His movement in those two games was also non existent.

    Without knowing for certain, I would guess that it is these reasons why Arsene has been working on him as a center forward. I haven’t watched FC Koln a great deal so I cannot say whether he played the same role as for example van Persie did for us last season. Giroud doesn’t have the same van Persie technique but he wins headers that Podolski simply wouldn’t get anywhere near thus flicking onto our players to bring them into play. His touch to set up others is also quality.

    Giroud did more in his 20 odd mins than Podolski did in the prior minutes and it is this reason why Arsene has not looked back. Watch those two games I mentioned again and you’ll see that Lukas simply wasn’t (hopefully not isn’t) suited to playing the Arsenal main striker.

  12. After watching the spuds win on Sunday depression descended on my consciousness, seeing their young, energetic manager guide them to a late win was a sickener.

  13. Just to continue for a second. I do not assume that the manager knows everything or gets everything right but you have to wonder why a man who sees these players play almost daily hasn’t played a player up front more than once or twice. The amount of times I have read people telling me that Theo has been playing out of position on the right because he is a striker, only for that experiment to have proved in my mind completely unsuited to that role. Theo is also a fantastic finisher but is no ‘Arsenal centre forward’

    But like I have said, I hope Lukas can improve on the areas he needs to because he is the one player I want our chances falling to.

    1. You are probably right in our present formation, although I do wonder how much his lack of movement if down to his fitness. It is a probably down to the fact that I want a 2 striker system and I hate the modern formation so much. This is driving my writing and I guess that is wrong.

  14. My best team for Manu would be sezsney sagna mertersacker koshinely Gibbs Ramsey cazola rosicky arteta ox podolski

    In terms of subs I would get wallcot for ox Wilshire (if he is fit) for rosicky nacho for gibbs

    I believe if we beat Manu we will make top 3, otherwise we will struggl.

    Come on gunners!!!!!

  15. The thought of having Poldi playing as a central striker was exactly something that I have been contemplating of recent. I believe as you said, Giroud is lacking the quality to turn and beat his marker and he also falls short in properly holding up the ball when the need arises in order to have the other players come forward. Also, evidence (Past matches) has shown that Poldi is far more clinical finisher that Giroud. Even though giroud is better with his headers, I would prefer to see Podolski playing that position either by him self or during a 4-4-2 system..

  16. Nice article Dave, very well written and completely agreeable. Podolski is certainly more of a second striker in 2 striker formation than the left winger. I am not sure if he can be a lone striker all on his own but he will thrive if he is to pair with someone like Giroud. Undoubtly he is the best finisher at Arsenal at present and to get most out of him, its better Wenger deploy him more centrally. But at present in OG’s absence, who can partner with him? We wont win the air balls from the goal kicks and we certainly miss the physical presence in the midfield for one of our midfielder to move closer to Poldi during goal-kicks.

  17. my team selection is scezney jekinson mertersecker kolscieny gibbs arteter ramsey cazolar gervinho poldoski chamberlain

  18. Actually it was during Euro 2008 after loss to croatia that germany changed formation from 442.
    Podolski has a rep in germany as a slayer of minnows – iceland and the likes.recently germany have preferred gotze as a false 9 rather than play podolski upfront.He is a good finisher but all round game is average .In a 442 he might thrive but if arsenal try it at the emirates against manU they would be thrashed.Against Qpr and wigan definetly

    1. We have played 4-2-3-1 against them for some time and have been thrashed. Utd play 4-4-2 most of the time. we have more than good players to play 4-4-2 against them and beat them like we used to pre 2005.

      1. Agree mate and love your line up. Exactly the same as mine as it goes which is uncanny as the next blog will cover. Great minds

  19. Is there anyone in barcelona front line that used to win headers like OG? No, and yet they win matches. Give prince poldi some games then you are gonna see the finishing we’ve been lacking.

  20. hi dave,
    nice article. I totally agree with you. podolski is the best finisher we have at the club. Against manu he has to start. But like @arsenalvision has said podolski’s movement up top for single striker system is not good. he continuously tries to come deep leaving no man in the box. But its this trait which makes him a perfect player for no. 10 role. I feel we need to play him behind the main striker. Against manu my line up would be SZCZ
    sagna per kos gibbs
    TR7 Rambo arteta santi
    I feel tr7 and santi will give us that intelligence in mid field regarding when to provide width and when to go narrow.
    Also I would like to know your views on Vermelean as CDM( alone not in double pivot) as he is now 3rd choice CB at Arsenal.

  21. first of all, let me congratulate you on running this excellent blog. i’m obviously a newcomer here and i’m really glad to have found it.

    i understand that you are a big fan of 4-4-2, even in your next blog on how to beat manchester i see you preferred 4-4-2. The thing is to play 4-4-2 these days one needs a striker capable of coming down and acting almost as an auxiliary central attacking midfielder, like van persie, rooney or tevez. I believe it was arsenal who first started the trend of such striker with the great Dennis Bergkamp, but unfortunately i don’t think we have such a striker in our squad these days. Without a striker like that, 4-4-2 will always be outnumbered, hence outplayed in the midfield against any version of 4-5-1/4-2-3-1.

    So i don’t think it’ll be wise to change to 4-4-2 suddenly at this stage of league. Its one thing to use it for practice and quite another thing to use it in a match against Manchester United. I believe we can still play 4-2-3-1 with podolski up front and Cazorla at CAM, by slotting Alex Oxlade Chamberlein in left wide position.

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