Wenger's big mistake: Podolski on the bench?

Arsenal’s hopes of booking their place in the Champions League next season took a blow at the weekend, as they were defeated 2-1 by North London rivals Tottenham at White Hart Lane.

Although the Gunners enjoyed long spells of possession throughout the game, Spurs caught them out with incisive and intelligent attacking play that penetrated Arsenal’s leaky defence and before they knew it, they were 2-0 by half-time.

Whilst fingers will be pointed and questions asked of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger’s defence, little has been mentioned of his choice to leave Lukas Podolski on the bench for 77 minutes, opting only to throw the German on after the damage had already been done.

Whilst there really is no defence for Arsenal’s defence in this case – they’ve been disorganized and calamitous all season long and Sunday was part of the rule, not the exception, in fairness – there are some who would say attack is the best form of defence.

When attacking phases of play break down or prove unsuccessful, it often results in pressure on the defence as the opposition counter-attacks and, in many ways, that can be evidenced by Sunday’s game.

Both of Spurs’ goals were a result of Arsenal losing possession in Spurs’ defensive half initially – what happened, on both counts, after that is a reflection of how little motivation there is in this current Arsenal team to prevent conceding goals.

But, as I’ve asserted before, there has to be an effort from the entire team to defend, not just the back four – the midfield, wingers and forwards need to chase back, cover, and where possible, alleviate the pressure on the backline.

Lukas Podolski, when he has played, has epitomized this principle aptly – I can’t even count the number of times I’ve seen him charging up the left flank only to end up chasing back to protect Kieran Gibbs, or heaven forbid, Andre Santos and now Nacho Monreal which, for the most part, he has done exceptional well.

In fact, it is partially due to his energy and determination to get back that he tires in the latter stages of game and is so often substituted.

His quality and finishing makes him, in my humble opinion, the obvious man to lead the Gunners’ line in attack – through the middle – however I can see the argument for him being on the wing as he does provide balance to Theo Walcott on the opposite side.

He is, however, undoubtedly, the Gunners’ most clinical finisher – Oliver Giroud and Theo Walcott are quality forwards but for me Podolski is the closest they have to the class of Robin van Persie this season.

Why the manager opted to leave him on the bench for the majority of the game – likely the game that is most defining of their season’s objectives – is beyond me. Aaron Ramsey was brought in to the side instead and, whilst I can see the logic of using the Welshman to add stability to the midfield areas, it was obvious early on that Arsenal would enjoy some possession in those areas.

Where they struggled was in finding that final ball (which Podolski has provided in the form of 11 assists this season) and in that clinical finish of which he has provided in his 13 goals.

By the time the German was brought on it was too late – way too late – for him to genuinely affect the game. Spurs had it all wrapped up by half-time and although the Gunners tried ardently to find an equalizer after getting themselves back in the game at 2-1, they lacked the ammunition in their arsenal.

image: © Ronnie Macdonald

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