When Olivier Giroud picked up a late red card against Fulham how Arsene Wenger set up his attack without the Frenchman was always going to be a key decision in Arsenal's attempts to claim a Champions League place. Whilst the Frenchman has not been prolific this season, he has become a staple of the side in recent months as the focal point of their attack.
In the first game without Giroud, Wenger opted to play Podolski through the middle, and seems set to use the German forward there again against QPR on Saturday evening. Podolski has had a reasonable first year in North London, but has been used sparingly in the second half of the season due to injury, and there has also been speculation that he is set to leave in the summer.
His lack of playing time was evident against Manchester United last Sunday, when he looked short of fitness and confidence in front of goal. So it is perhaps surprising for Wenger to have made his intentions to use Podolski again so clear, when the manager could perhaps turn to Theo Walcott instead.
Both Walcott and Podolski have made their feelings about being pushed onto the flanks of an attack clear this year, and it looked like one factor that might see Walcott leave the club at one stage. The English player was used as a striker on a few occasions around the turn of the year, and for the most part performed well there. Now secured to the club for the future, and seemingly in better shape than Podolski, it seems surprising that Walcott is not being played through the middle in Giroud's absence.
There could be a suspicion that Wenger is looking to keep Podolski happy ahead of the summer, when there might be interest in the German striker, but with so much riding on the next few matches in seems unlikely that anything is being risked on the pitch. Podolski could of course return to form dramatically against a lacklustre QPR side, but right now, Walcott would seem a safer bet as their centre forward.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald