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.
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.)
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.
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.
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!
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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