Is Wenger being unfair on Podolski at Arsenal?

Arsenal forward Lukas Podolski has yet to play a full 90 minutes of Premier League football this season.

The 28-year-old German has been used predominantly as a second-half substitute since arriving in North London from Koln in the Bundesliga in the summer of 2012 to replace former captain Robin van Persie.

That same summer, he was joined by the Ligue 1 join-top goalscorer in Olivier Giroud from Montpellier. The Frenchman has been the first choice for Arsene Wenger through the middle in the central striking role that Podolski has stated he would like to play in as well as being a regular starter at Arsenal.

Podolski has started just three games in the Premier League this term and scored two goals in one (against Fulham last August) and one goal and one assist coming on as a substitute against West Ham in December.

I have always regarded Podolski as the best finisher at Arsenal – since his arrival I have stated many times my firm belief that his left foot is as close to Van Persie’s finishing as Arsenal currently have at the club. Giroud is a great target man but he is nowhere near that level technically.

That was fine when you could explain Giroud’s inclusion in the starting XI ahead of Podolski – you could day Podolski is better suited to the left flank, that Giroud holds the ball up better, that Giroud contributes more defensively, that Giroud scores goals but, crucially, those arguments are a little less water tight of late.

Podolski has returned to full fitness and he is desperate to get into a Germany squad for the World Cup this summer, as it’ll likely be his last one for his country. Meanwhile, Giroud has been ineffectual in recent weeks. His hold-up play was poor against Manchester United at the Emirates – Nemanja Vidic completely got the better of him and the one chance he had, he missed – and non-existent at Anfield.

What’s more is Giroud is not making the kind of runs he was earlier on in the season, his movement has become stale and unimaginative and he’s too easy to mark out of a game, as Vidic demonstrated aptly after Martin Skrtel showed him how to on Saturday. To me, it seems as though he’s lacking sharpness, possibly due to fatigue after having played almost every minute of the season so far, and definitely confidence, certainly competition.

Then there’s Podolski who wasn’t effective against Cardiff but, in fairness to him, he had just come back from a hamstring injury and had barely played in three months. At the very least, giving Podolski a crack at the whip would give Giroud the impetus to improve, work harder, train harder and take his chances when he has them in front of him. At the moment Podolski’s not even being given a chance and I would suspect that is a serious concern for him.

Podolski has scored 5 goals in all competitions this term, averaging a goal every 75 minutes in the Premier League and FA Cup compared to Giroud’s goals every 206 minutes. Likewise, Giroud’s shot accuracy rate is pretty appalling at just 38% of his shots hitting the target in the league and just 16.3% of his shots ending up in the back of the net.

Podolski may not be the aerial presence or the target man that Giroud is but his finishing is impeccable and with the creative players Arsenal have at their disposal he would get enough chance, I’m sure.

His shot accuracy rate is a whopping 75% with 37.5% of his total shots ending up in the back of the net making him 37% more accurate than Giroud and 2.3 times more likely to score than the Frenchman. His pass completion rate is 90% to Giroud’s 67%, he has won 75% of his aerial duels to Giroud’s 46% and he’s just dying to play – you can see it written all over his face.

Lukas Podolski scored 16 goals in all competitions last season for Arsenal and the exact same number in the Premier League (11) as Olivier Giroud and making twice as many assists, despite playing 350 fewer minutes.

The games against Manchester United and Liverpool saw Arsenal create chances without taking them, which must be a sorry sight to see from the bench for the German with just three months left to prove his worth to his country.

image: © sdhansay

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