Category Archives: Lukas Podolski

Podolski, we hardly knew ye. Campbell, you’re up.

We have a few days between the Beşiktaş-boredom and the Everton-excitement, and so my thoughts turn a bit towards those whom we haven’t seen much of lately. Ostensibly, Lukas Podolski—along with Per and Mesut—is still recuperating from his World Cup exertions. However, unlike those compatriots, Podolski rarely got a chance to exert himself, playing a grand total of 54 minutes in Brazil, 46 of them in a meaningless match against the U.S. after Germany had already advanced beyond the group-stage. He’s now two appearance-less matches into the 2014-15 campaign, and it seems as if he might be on his way out of Arsenal. I’m sorry to sound harsh, but Poldi, for all of his hijinks, has never quite cut the mustard.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right away: there might not be a locker-room cut-up as good as Poldi. There’s something to be said for that. A squad needs someone who can ease the tension, lighten the mood, get the lads laughing, whether it be before or after a difficult fixture. Poldi, bless his soul, has filled that role with aplomb. Cockney lessons with Romford Pele. Photobombs. Selfies with Gooners. You name it, Poldi’s probably done it.

He’s also delivered some indelible, memorable moments. Tottenham. West Ham. Bayern (twice). Montpellier. So many others. Along the way, he delivered some tidy crosses and forged a fantastic partnership with Giroud. Similarly, his bromance with Mertesacker has thoroughly endeared both of them to Gooners. So why has Podolski been demoted, relegated, very nearly forgotten?

He possesses that thunderous, Mjölnir-esque, left foot, capable of delivering a goal from forty yards away or, at least, denting the woodwork or a keeper’s jaw. He might be alone in the current squad in possessing that ability. However, to be honest, this might be his only real quality. He doesn’t track back. He doesn’t offer the pace or movement we need from a winger. He’s not a striker. In short, he’s a bit one-dimensional. Too left-footed. Force him to his right, and he’s all but useless. As thrilling as he might be on a counter-attack, he can’t dribble a defender or conjure chances like a magician pulling rabbits from a hat. The swirling rumors have him going to Turkey, Germany, America. Much as it pains me to say, it might be time for him to move on.

There’s always been something a bit Arshavin-esque about him. Goofiness. Moments of sheer brilliance, punctuating lengthier, lazier periods. Stunning goals. A lingering sense of malcontent. Whatever it might be, Podolski has never quite found his role at Arsenal, aside from great selfies and tweets when the occasion arose. Should he move on, I’ll miss that moxie.

Less sentimentally, we’ve needed someone who can play on the left and offer a bit more than Poldi ever did. Someone with pace, technical ability, pace, work-rate. These and other terms more-aptly describe Joel Campbell. He arguably fits Arsene’s vision a bit more than Podolski has, offering movement off the ball and deft touch on it. By comparison with Podolski, he might suffer a bit in the charisma department, but he’d more than make up for that with his play on the pitch. He might be just as one-footed as Podolski, but he’s a relentless man in motion, constantly flitting about to make himself available and dropping down to defend. Whereas Podolski largely contented himself with waiting for the ball to find him on the wing, Campbell seems hungrier, seeking out and demanding the ball, whether this means taking it from an opponent or offering himself to a teammate. Once he has it, it’s anyone’s guess what he’ll do with it.

He might not be as fast as Walcott, but he’s quicksilver. Slippery. He’ll give you the slip and hand you the receipt before you know what hand it’s in. This might lack the stunning drama of a Podolskian howitzer, but it could more than make up for that in the end.

As we set aside the frustration of the first leg against Beşiktaş, against whom we couldn’t create or finish chances, the skill-set that Campbell offers could prove valuable indeed. I’d miss Podolski should he leave, but if his departure clears a path for Campbell to step up, I’m all for it.

Poldi bids Khedira a fond farewell…

GERMANY—It was an unseasonably warm day as Sami strolled along the Rhine, wondering how it could be that water could shimmer so sweetly. Perhaps it was La Décima still ringing in his ears. Perhaps it was the World Cup celebration. Still again, it might be the ringing of his mobile as his agent again called to update him on the latest news regarding his presumptive move to Arsenal. In any case, Sami felt secure, having made a confident return from ACL surgery, and it was with that blithe confident that he answered the call without checking the caller i.d…

     “a-HA!” The voice, rendered unintelligible due to its volume, pierced Sami’s ear-drum.

     “Um, who is this?”

     “Sami. Sami. Saaaammmmmiiii. Come on, now. Don’t tell us you don’t recognize the voice. Sami….”
     “Okay, er, um, yes. How are you?” Sami stammered and stalled, desperately trying to buy time. “I know that we are talking of a move to Arsenal. How do they receive our requests?”
     The voice that came into Sami’s ear dripped with disappointment. With sarcascm. “Sami. What is it you are doing? You know you have go up the apples and pears, one at a time, yes? You are doing this much too quickly.”
     “I still am not sure who it is I talk to. Jorg, is this you? It does not quite sound like—”
     “Jorg? Jorg? This is not Jorg, you twit—oh, es tut mir leid—I can’t Adam-and-Eve I dropped the dog-and-bone—hold on a minte…AHA! Sami! You know now who it is?”
     “Um, Lukas? Lukas, is this you?”
     “Aces, mate! #Aha!”
     Sami felt a bit confused, adrift as it were, even as he spoke to his countryman. “I am sorry, please, Lukas, but what is this ‘aces’? I’m not sure I understand.”
     “Bob’s yer uncle, mate. It’s just dear old Blighty, innit? I rang you up once I heard you might be joinin’ the Arsenal!”
     “Erm, yes. My agent and I have been discussing such a move with your manager and the board, and we—”
     “Lemme stop you right there, mate. Yer wages, they’re off the charts, see? Mesut hisself is getting—what?—130 a week? And you want, what is I’m hearin’? 130 net, after taxes and commisions and what-not? Bugger me if you’d be gettin’ that ’round these parts or anywhere else for that matter.”
     Sami took his mobile from his ear to stare at it in disbelief. I’m Sami Khedira, after all. I just won the World Cup. I won a tenth Champions League. I shall decide my wages. “Lukas, look. Understand me. I am a very good player, one of the best in the—”
     “Sami….” The voice offered a warning.
     “—one of the best at this position. Arsenal need a physical defensive midfielder, and it is this role that I can play. With me, Per, Mesut, and you, we can show these Brits how it is that we—”
     “Sami. I must stop you there. You must listen to me. You are a very good player, it is true. I have played with you. I have practiced against you. I know what you can do. This is why you must listen to me. You can do many things, but you cannot convince Arsenal to pay you—what is it?—£180,000 a week? This is—”
     “I want only £105,000 a week, net, and I believe this to be fair enough for—”
     “Verstummen. You are talking out of your arse, as we say. Mesut and Alexis do not play for that much. You will reduce your demands (or is it Jorg’s demands that we discuss? Hm?), or you will stay in Madrid. Not even those Chavs at Chelsea would pay you this much. You are 27. You tore your ACL. You expect the galáctico-wages, but those days are over. If you come to Arsenal, we will win, and you will be legend. Stay at Real, and yes, you win, but it is in the shadow of Ronaldo, Ramos, Casillas, Bale.”
     “Yes, Lukas; yes, but I must feel respected, and Jorg tells me that my wage-packet equals respect. Is this not true?”
     There was a pause. Sami pressed his mobile closer to his ear. Hearing nothing, he held it up to the sky, hoping to improve the reception. If only I earned more, Sami thought, I could buy a phone with better reception.
     “Sami. This is Lukas talking. If you do not believe in the Arsenal, if you do not believe in yourself, do not bother us then with your flirtations. Podolski out.”
     Bewildered, Sami stared at his mobile. “Call ended,” the display read. 

Apparently, Poldki didn’t get the memo RE: Pack yer bags.

Well, this is all a bit awkward, isn’t it? There we were, comfortably advancing through the usual stages of jettisoning a bit of dead weight. The rumors had been started about the player’s impending transfer away from the club. Unnamed sources were mentioning friction between the player and club. The player’s playing time or lack thereof, as well as his body language when subbed off, was magnified, scrutinized, and analyzed, and then submitted as evidence that he, like others who had not been up to snuff, were moved along to some other club elsewhere. Well, somewhere along the line, Lukas Podolski didn’t get the memo or failed to read it, because he’s been playing like a man determined to prove his worth.

Cutting a fine figure now…

After all, it was just a few days ago that I was pondering “angry Podolski” after his brace against West Ham, which he celebrated with a grim scowl rather than a joyous smile. I wondered if that was what his game was missing; maybe a sharper edge should replace the locker-room cut-up if Poldi was to be the kind of player we need. Before the West Ham match, the rumors had started to circulate and proliferate: Arsène is dissatisfied with his training and his attitude. He’s superfluous to our needs. He doesn’t track back adequately. Poldi will be moved on in the summer. And so on.

For lack of a more-direct comparison, it has seemed at times as if he’s been Arshavin-ed, getting shifted (if not shafted) from his preferred, more-central role to play wide or as a second striker. Some of the criticisms sound familiar: disinterested performances. Reluctance to track back. Occasional spurts of dynamism. However, in the few times that he’s been played through the center, he’s failed to impress, failing to tally a single goal or assist in four appearances there (including against clubs like Cardiff and Fener, against whom we played quite well, scoring five goals almost despite Poldi’s presence, or at least without much in the way of contributions). Between the injury that kept him out from September through most of December and his own inability to reclaim a starting role upon his return, it was starting to look as if Poldi’s time was running out. After reacting with some petulance after being subbed off against Wigan, the writing was on the wall as well as a numerous websites.

What a difference a week makes.

Four goals and 177 minutes of match-time later, Poldi looks rejuvenated. The grim, cold responses to his goals against West Ham have melted away to be replaced by the warmer, enthusiastic glee we’ve come to expect from him. Scoring a second brace against Hull evoked smiles, thumbs-ups and actual celebrations from the man. He played to the crowd, pumping his fists in an ecstatic display. I do believe he touched his fist to the crest. As much as we might appreciate the goals themselves, don’t let them hog the limelight. Just as notable, if less noticeable, have been other statistics. For one, 177. Normally, Poldi might need three or even four appearances to get to 177 minutes. In his last two, he’s played a full 90′ (something he’s only done seven times) and almost did again, going for 87 minutes before coming off to give Sanogo a chance. Now, he’s still not registering tackles or interceptions, implying that he’s still making only dilatory attempts at defense, but that’s an area we can overlook for now, chalking it up to who we were facing and how we were doing just as much to Poldi’s own proclivities. Heck, if he’s going to go ahead and keep scoring braces, I think we can forgive the laxity in tracking back. Despite all the time he missed and the struggles he’s faced, he’s now notched 12 goals, third-best behind Giroud and Ramsey, and he adds that lethal left-foot along with a willingness to stay wide that we don’t get when Cazorla plays on the left. There’s something to consider.

Now, this could all add up to quite the opposite conclusion, that is, instead of playing to prove that he deserves to stay at Arsenal, he could very well be sprucing up his resumé ahead of the summer transfer-window. An in-form Poldi can market himself to a different echelon of clubs, after all. In either case, it’s a win-win: we get Mjölnir, hammer of goals, back, and Poldi gets his recognition and perhaps his reward. It may be too late for Poldi to match of better his numbers from last season when he chipped in with 16 goals and 12 assists. He’s got 12 goals and three assists to this point. I don’t think he has quite enough time for nine assists in four matches, but there might be just enough time for him to find four more goals. That’d be fine by me.

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So, were the Tigers playing ‘possum? That was a bit too easy…

And so the FA Cup pre-final scrimmage is over, and the carnage, damage, and adages will all accrue to Hull’s side after a 0-3 demolition that suggests the actual FA Cup final should be little more than a cake-walk for the Gunners. It was all one-way traffic, wasn’t it? Three goals scored. A clean sheet kept for the first time since 16 March against Tottenham. 58% possession. Players back from injury and finding the kind of form that propelled us to the top of the Prem: Ramsey, Özil, Koscielny…Yep. Ain’t nothing left to do now but skip the formalities and announce Arsenal as the FA Cup winners.

Okay, so it wasn’t quite that easy. Were it not for a few nifty saves from Szczesny, not to mention the woodwork, we might have had a tougher time of it, at least in the early going. Hull had a fair few chances in the early going and will rue their inability to finish one or more of them off as Long and Jelavic (who are each cup-tied and can’t play in the final) nearly netted, and it was Livermore who hit the post as Hull threatened yet again. We’d do well to close down those opportunities before they present themselves again if we have any hopes of winning the FA Cup, I’ll say that much.

However, once the Tigers came up empty-handed on those chances, it seemed as if their momentum slipped through their fingers as well. Facing a resurgent Arsenal, and one as close to full strength as this squad has been since, well, early September, they just couldn’t afford to squander the chances they had. With Ramsey and Özil back, and with Podolski finding the kind of form that endeared him to Gooners so thoroughly last season, any club would be hard-pressed to stem the tide. Özil carved out the chance that became our first goal, an almost Norwich-esque pornogol di Wilshere, receiving the ball on the right side and crossing it in to Cazorla at the top of the box, who deftly chested down and tapped into the box for the oncoming Ramsey, and all he had to do was chip Steve Harper to open the scoring. It was some splendid stuff that should remind us all of what we’ve been missing since Ramsey and Özil went out with their injuries.

Ramsey, it must be said, picked up where he left off, scoring the first and “assisting” the second and third, showing just how valuable he is and how much we’ve missed him. Apparently, he gets credit for an assist on the second goal, chesting down Giroud’s cross only to see Podolski beat him to the ball to lash it home just before halftime. Similarly, the third goal came as Ramsey tried to finish off a cross from Cazorla only for Harper to make the save, coughing it up right to Podolski, who had little to do but poke it home. The announcers credited Ramsey with a goal and two assists, which might stretch the truth just a bit, but let’s not let details get in the way of proper credit. Just try not to torture yourself with thoughts of what might have been had Ramsey not gone down in the first place. We all have our reasons and our doubts—what if Ramsey had been rested in December? What if we had found a replacement for him in January? Bear with me on this last one—what if we had been a little more supportive of him, a little less cruel towards him, a 12 or 18 months ago? Food for thought, that last one.

Whatever grist for the mill Ramsey’s absence and resurrection create, one thing’s for sure—we have found a form that bodes well for the run-in, having won three in a row for the first time since late January, and it’s better late than never. With Everton slumping midweek against Crystal Palace, we’re now back in fourth place, if only by a one-point whisker. Even their hugely symbolic win over Man U doesn’t alter that fact. We now have just three matches to play—home against Newcastle and then West Brom before closing on the road against Norwich (who might just have the worst run-in in the Prem with trips to Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge before hosting us).

All in all, we look to finish strong. Even if it’s not quite the finish we envisioned in January, it’s far-better than the one we imagined in August, and perhaps spot-on with the one we started expecting more recently. Yes, we’ve come down to Earth after a glorious run, and there are some who will chastise us for “faltering down the stretch” when I think it’s closer to the truth to marvel at just how long we fought the nearly irresistible forces arrayed against us. Take me in a time-machine back to August 2013 and offer me fourth place and the FA Cup, and I would’ve taken it in a heartbeat. We’re now less than a month away from achieving that, not that we’ve actually proven anything yet, but each match brings us ever closer. Our magic number for claiming fourth place has fallen to nine—just nine points combined from those we claim and those Everton drop, and fourth is ours. One match at a time…

Last but not least, a quick plug: last year at around this time, I tore my ACL and MCL playing football. I thought my playing days were over. I had the surgery and, thanks to my physical therapist, and ready to get back on the pitch. More recently, my PT has committed to run the Chicago Marathon and is using the opportunity to raise money for Big Brothers Big Sisters, a mentoring program that helps at-risk youth bond with and learn from adults. If you’re looking to donate to a good cause, here it is. Click this link to visit the donation page. Thanks!

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Is a pissed-offed Podolski a productive Podolski?

We love Podolski. He’s a cut-up. A card. A clown. #Aha! And so on. Whether he’s trying to learn a bit of London slang, taking cute pictures of himself around town, or shouting that aha of his, he is, by all accounts, a wonderful personality and great all-around guy. However, something’s been missing from him this season, and it’s not just the goals and assists that he delivered so many of last season. Yes, he’s got 10 goals now to go with four assists, but he did go for 16 and 12 last season. This time through, he’s often cut a forlorn figure, consigned to the bench, as others have supplanted him. It’s gone far enough that rumors of his departure swirl endlessly. However, that may have changed just a bit after Tuesday’s performance.

For one, Poldi played a full match, start to finish, for the first time all season. He’s come close on a couple of occasions, but the symbolic value of being on the pitch as a starter and walking off only after time is called is notable; it’s something he earned through his performance. All too often in the past, he’s been subbed off at some point after 65-70 minutes. More than that, he’s almost always been the man subbed off when something else goes awry—such as when Gibbs was sent off against Chelsea. He’s enough of a defensive liability that we can rarely afford to rely on him, not until he decides to track back more urgently. When he does end up on the bench, he seems to end up sulking and muttering to himself, disgruntled to no end that he sits while others move ahead of him in the pecking order.

Part of it is down to injury, as he missed nearly four months after tearing his hamstring against Fener back in August. He’s had to work his way back to form. More importantly, though, he’s had to regain Arsène’s trust, and that’s taken longer than Poldi would like. Even as we’ve seen others fall to their own injuries, it looked at times as if Arsène was looking for other options besides Podolski, such was his apparent lack of trust.

After Tuesday’s performance, it may be that Poldi has turned a corner, reminding us all of what he can do when he puts his mind to it. That’s the key: putting his mind to it. I don’t think anyone doubts what he can do with that left foot of his. What’s been lacking has been the commtitment, the desire, necessary to impel him to play at his best. After getting subbed off against Wigan, he was frustrated enough to kick a water bottle. After the match, he admitted that he is “not happy to always come out and watch from outside. You cannot be happy with this situation.” However, his performance to that point had lacked incisiveness or purpose (not that many others could claim to have played much better).

From the start against West Ham, though, Poldi looked like a different player. He was driving forward and looking dangerous, putting all three shots of his on-target and converting two, and his pass-accuracy was an impressive 90%, behind only Arteta and Cazorla, showing an impressive focus and intent. That finishing—oh, that finishing—was something to behold. The first was the more clinical as he had to turn in tight space and cut his shot at an acute angle across the mouth of the goal to the far-post, out of reach of Adrian but still inside the post, and in. That’s a tough shot, and coming off his left, getting the English right to keep it from curling away from the goal is a tall order indeed. The second goal was a thunderous shot that might have hadouken-ed Adrian through the back of the net had he dared to attempt the save. Poldi’s now sporting a rather-tidy 31.6% conversion-rate, far and away the best in the squad. No less an authority than Ian Wright has weighed in, suggesting that Poldi get some more time on the pitch. It’s hard to argue against the logic: more time= more shots. More shots= more goals.

However, what struck me about Poldi’s performance was the growling, almost-grim, focus. After each goal, there was little if any celebration, just an acknowledgement that a goal had been scored. For the first, he turned and trotted away, thanking Cazorla for the pass, but his reaction was otherwise businesslike. After the second, he put a fist in the air, but there was no glee, no celebration in it—just a scowl. The aha! Poldi was nowhere to be seen. In his place was a determined, focused player intent on making his mark and staking his claim. If we lose a bit of the clownish Poldi, on the pitch at least, and see a chippier, grittier one, one playing with a chip on his shoulder, then so be it. There will be time enough for silly Poldi off the pitch.

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