Lukas Podolski : Lot to Offer, Much to Prove

On Monday, Arsenal announced the deal to sign Lukas Podolski from FC Cologne on a long term contract to bring a long running saga to its official conclusion. Some see this as an early signing and a sign of intent, going so far as to infer that lessons have been learnt. Others might say it’s a late signing and should have been wrapped up in January itself. In any case it’s a transaction that most fans have welcomed.

There seems to be a broad consensus that Prinz Poldi has the makings of a world-class player. Arsenal Vision carried a very interesting and informative interview with an FC Cologne fan. Raphael Honigstein says a more mature Podolski is set to prosper in the Premier League. Arsene Wenger has called him a “top-class player”, “very good finisher”, and “a proven performer at club and international level”.

However, there is a slight but vital difference between a proven world-class player and someone who has the potential to be such a star. Podolski’s spell at Bayern wasn’t a success by any stretch of imagination and while his relative failure is attributed to immaturity and bad timing, there is no doubt the German international has a lot to prove at the highest level.

Some might point to his international record – 43 goals in 95 caps is certainly impressive at first glance –  and suggest that he is the real deal. But in the article linked above, Honigstein reports a counter-argument made in the German press,

After a competent but by comparison with his peers fairly indifferent World Cup in South Africa, Spiegel called him “a specialist for football minnows” while Süddeutsche Zeitung thought he was a “milieu player,” only able to succeed in special environments.

The German football correspondent then provides a thought-provoking break up of most of Podolski’s goals.

A closer look at his Germany record shows that some of the cynicism was justified. Podolski has scored a goal each in games against Brazil, England and Russia and netted eight times in three major tournaments but the bulk of his strikes has come against much more modest opposition like San Marino (4), South Africa (3), Liechtenstein (3), Azerbaijan (2), Luxembourg (2), Thailand (2), Slovakia (2), Ecuador (1), Austria (1), Cyprus (1), Slovenia (1), Northern Ireland (1), China (1), Finland (1), Kazakhstan (1) or Hungary (1).

Clearly, there is some merit to the criticism, but simply labeling the latest Arsenal signing a small-team bully would be extremely unfair. Arsenal fans could, of course, draw attention to the points dropped by the Gunners against some of the lesser lights of the Premier League and rejoice in the acquisition of a player who could make the difference in such encounters.

Naturally, there is also some debate on the roles that he can play at Arsenal. With Robin van Persie on fire as the leading marksman, and hopefully staying beyond the duration of his current contract in a fully fit state, Prinz Poldi might have to play second fiddle to the undisputed king.

Arsene said the new signing will “provide us with good attacking options”. Versatility is a valuable trait at this level, especially if the player is more than competent in different roles. With Germany, particularly under Joachim Low, Podolski has excelled as a left-sided attack-minded winger/striker. At Cologne he’s either played as the central striker or in a two man attack. This means at Arsenal he could play multiple roles.

Many observers have noticed Arsenal’s limited attacking threat down the left flank this season. Being a naturally left-sided player, and thanks to his tactical development with the national team, Poldi could immediately make an impact on that wing. He could also take up the central role when RvP needs a break or is unavailable. The two could also combine in the middle if Arsene wishes to try some tactical variations but that seems less likely given the manager’s reluctance to deviate from his system in recent years.

Without taking the numbers too seriously, comparing some of Prinz Poldi’s stats with those of his new teammates acts as a guide to shape further discussion.

The German international’s shots/goal ratio stands out. There is no doubt he knows where the goalposts are and has the technique to put the ball between them. Corroborative evidence for this is seen from his appreciable goals/game ratio for the national team. Even against minnows a striker has to know how to find the net in order to score his goals. Gervinho and Walcott will tell you it’s not easy.

It’s interesting to note that Podolski has also got a high frequency of successful dribbles. Only Gervinho and Oxlade-Chamberlain have a higher rate, which is understandable given their natural tendencies and strengths. It should come in handy in wide role even if his dribbling mainly involved dropping a shoulder, kicking the ball past the defender, and beating him in a foot-race with a quick change of pace.

Furthermore, it’s worth noting that Podolski has the lowest frequency of getting dispossessed (except Benayoun) or turnovers which implies he doesn’t lose the ball as often. This must have been a valuable quality for his Bundesliga side Cologne which has the second lowest possession stats. Physical strength and strong technical skills are needed to hold the ball under pressure. This surely must be an area where Arsene will want to use and further develop the German’s skills. It can help the Gunners bring the ball out when they’re being pinned back and also when they’re attacking against a packed defence and have to play in tight spaces.

Let’s now look at some other passing related variables,

To go with his 18 goals, Podolski has managed a respectable 6 assists this season, which is all the more commendable given the quality of the team he has been playing in. His chance creation rate (min/kp) is comparable to Walcott and Benayoun but is lower than that of Gervinho, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Van Persie.

The KP/A (key passes/assist) stat is an interesting one. Essentially, it measures the number of chances a player has to create for his team to score a goal. Superficially speaking, this could be a benchmark for the quality of chances created. That would mean Walcott and Gervinho are creating very high quality chances whereas the ones by Van Persie are the weakest. To an extent this is true as the wingers tend to get in behind and provide gilt-edged opportunities in front of goal. Many of RvP’s key passes, on the other hand, have come from set-pieces and had a lower probability of success.

However, there is also the case that Van Persie has been on the end of many of the chances created by his teammates and has made them look easier whereas the chances he’s conjured have not been finished as well by others.

As a side note, it seems better to leave out Benayoun and AOC from this particular discussion given that their numbers under consideration are too small (1 assist, 11 chances created). In other words, if the next chance they create turns into a goal their ratio will drop from 11 to 6, which is too big a change from a single event. Drawing any sort of inferences from such numbers would be counter-productive at best.

With this in mind, Podolski’s KP/A ratio is encouraging as his teammates certainly do not have the class that, say, Van Persie does. This means the German could potentially amass a higher number of assists at Arsenal and better the ratios of other wingers if he can combine effectively with De Kapitein.

Moreover, given that his shots/goal ratio is excellent, Prinz Poldi could convert more of the chances that Van Persie is creating. This would bring RvP’s KP/A ratio to a healthier level and add to the overall goals scored by the team. Again this would depend on the understanding between the two.

Poldi’s Min/Pass ratio is high which means he doesn’t make as many passes, nevertheless it is somewhat better than that of Van Persie. For a striker 3 minutes per pass is not bad. But he’ll have to be more involved if he has to play on the flank. Arsenal have failed to replace the technical qualities of Nasri, which made the job of others easier, so it will be interesting to see if Lukas is the man to bridge the gap and ease the burden on the midfield.

For Germany, he stays relatively higher up the pitch while someone like Muller provides the defensive balance and work rate on the right. At Arsenal, Ramsey could take up that mantle in the big games but that would mean leaving Walcott out. If Theo has to play on the right, Podolski will have to double up as the working-winger, if you will, in order for Arsenal to find the balance the system of play demands.

He’ll also have to improve his passing success, which is the lowest in that table and probably the only area where he lags behind every Arsenal player compared. Then again, it takes two to make a pass and the quality of his teammates would certainly be a factor in that. Similarly, Podolski has not made a high number of through-balls  (succeeded with 4 out of 10 attempted) but could potentially do better if he had runners like Van Persie and Walcott alongside.

The future Arsenal player also has a better crossing success rate than Walcott or Gervinho (20 successful out of 106). The Gunners could undoubtedly benefit from better crossing, especially from the left.

All-in-all, with the arrival of the German, one can certainly hope for greater attacking impetus, multiple offensive permutations, and shared responsibility  culminating into more goals. And isn’t that the main reason for signing a striker/winger?

The optimism surrounding the signing must also be tempered with a dose of caution. As with any transfer, there are many reasons it could fail. For instance, the up and down nature of the league which produces end-to-end football could be too much for the Cologne No. 10 who has been known to shy away from consistent physical efforts in the past. Or he could react to the grappling and kicking that is common in the Premiership and have disciplinary problems. Let’s not forget Van Persie’s had his issues in the past and just earlier this year Gervinho picked up a three game ban when he succumbed to a clever player’s antics. The Ivorian has since learned his lesson but the German comes with a bigger reputation of being a hothead – he once slapped national captain Ballack on the field of play.

The Prince of Cologne must also prove he can adapt to life outside his comfort zone in a different city, and with big players alongside him, in order to produce consistently outstanding performances in a demanding environment. Some fans might recall a certain Jose Antonio Reyes and wonder if Podolski will have similar struggles.

Football transfers don’t have warranty periods and returns are rarely accepted, certainly not at the same price. These are gambles that clubs have to take. Given the price reportedly paid for Podolski and the qualities he has, this seems like an astute signing by Arsenal. He won’t, on his own, win the major titles for the Gunners and he could struggle to fill in the boots of Van Persie if the Dutchman were to leave or get injured for a long period, but Podolski will make the squad significantly stronger and, crucially, give the manager some options that he’s lacked this season.

Lukas Podolski, welcome to The Arsenal.

DesiGunner on Facebook

26 Responses to Lukas Podolski : Lot to Offer, Much to Prove

    • santori says:

      “Much to prove” is always a good thing. Hunger.

      @26, he is coming in at the right time with his career looking to go into it’s peak.

      The value in the market has shifted somewhat. Weheras Wenger found lots of quality with younger ‘unknown’ players in his earlier reign, because some ‘big’ clubs are active in this area, there is a lot of added value to be had with players who may have ‘lost their way” somewhat but are still exceptional quality….if properly motivated.

      Metersecker being one.

  1. Gerry Lennon says:

    Who wouldn’t want to slap Ballack from time to time?
    I read another possible ‘flaw’ in his game, lack of headed goals? However, i can see where he will come in handy at set pieces … around the edge of the box for a long range pot or two. You have to make the most of what he is good at.
    If anything, I would say he is more likely to replace Ramsey in a 4-4-2, as he likes to come in with late runs. In our usual 4-3-3 though, it will be the Gervinho role of coming in from the left, but with scoring. We are assuming that RVP stays of course?

    • santori says:

      I think Ramsey should be playing further back in the Arteta CAM role personally.

      And in that, he should be behind Arteta, Diaby (when available) as the protege in the position.

      I personally prefer Jack (and of course Rosicky)deployed further forward to effect our moves quicker and more importantly close down the ball faster when turned over.

      But would be interesting to see if we can fit in a variation of 4-4-2 with Poldy in support of RVP (or vice versa), particularly against teams that sit back and park the bus (having ceded ground to us)

  2. Steph says:

    If he only can score against weak opponent, I will still take it. EPL won not by dominating vs top six opponent, but by winning vs smaller clubs

    • santori says:

      Slip ups at Wigan and QPR were very costly.

      We would be on 72 points by now otherwise and breathing a little easier.;)

  3. arsenal1again says:

    Podolski looks great on paper and he’s German. This means fitness, great workrate and pace. Like with all german attacking players, he will shine in the latter stages of games when the opposition is tired.

    The inferior assists is what you want from a striker’Att Midfielder … it indicates selfishness, a trait in all the best goalscorers. Too many players dilly dally and play pinball in the box instead of just shooting. Van Persie is sometimes guilty of this and on some occasions it has paid of, but it has not paid off on more occasions. Strikers need a one track mind, a ruthless and selfish desire to be the scorer. No truly great goalscorer has been a great assister.

    Podolski isn’t injury prone either. He’s physically strong, technical, knows where the goal is, sufficiently selfish, is versatile, very fit, has phenomenal workrate and he’s tall. Thierry Henry didn’t start heading balls until late in his career. Dennis Bergkamp was not a header of balls.

    • Arsenal Hamm says:

      No truly great goalscorer has been a great assister=messi?

    • JJ Pittman says:

      Pele? Cruyff? Maybe I am too old!(68)

      • santori says:

        More like Pires.

        We need that threat from left channel. Currently much of it goes out right because Walcott is marginally more threatening but if RW gets shut down, we are rendered somewhat ineffective (albeit Santos/Gibbs have come in good in recent games which is another option when we want to add layered defense out left)

    • cupsui loves kozzer says:

      Dennis Bergkamp anyone? he was some bloke that played a few scored a few and set up a few for some team in north london

  4. Cescsational says:

    Lets just hope he keeps on banging them in against the supposed minnows,rugby f.c sorry stoke,fulham,swansea,west brom,bolton,qpr,everton,5pud2(lousy and mouthy neighbours),aston villa that’s if they’re not relegated by the and even liverpool,they’re so shit and a mid table team as far as i’m concerned,prinz pogoalski will gun you down next year

  5. Borntobeagunner(btbag) says:

    Now i can expect a screamer at least every week. Goal pole screamer POGOALSCREAM PODOLSKI LOOK AT POGOALSCREAM= LUCAS PODOLSKI Welcome. Desi tanx once again

  6. […] do read Desi Gunner’s writeup on Podolski. It is a good article. Share […]

  7. ak47 says:

    been waiting for this. good job.
    certainly a chance he could flop but id be very surprised not to mention disappointed. i think we’ve upgraded massively for many of the positive reasons you’ve pointed out. having such scoring accuracy with the ability to hold up play and shrug a defender off on the left makes us a completely different beast. on paper the balance looks spot on.wanna play high up? we got walcott, ricky, ox and ryo to go in behind. parked bus? lukas and ricky or santos. with all being interchangeable. stay fit rob stay fit.

    • santori says:

      Considering Wenger’s record with our panic buys* last summer, I think he should fit in nicely.

      Once again, Wenger’s purchase is well considered.

      * Park being the one anommaly.

  8. Nepali Gunner says:

    Great Article again Desi. Wonderfully written and analyzed.

    As for the signing, I am cautiously optimistic. But as some others have mentioned, I think Podolski will be an astute signing simply because he will score against the lower opposition. I believe he will be an asset for counter attacks, which currently struggle with. Theo is still inconsistent, so with Podolski I think we can expect more goals against teams that park the bus.

    Podolski has good control, and I think that what makes him a good player. I remember when we played against FC Cologne in the pre-season, he was the standout player because his ball control was so good. And even with the German National team, they clearly focus on technique and control, something which both Theo and Gervinho lack. So I think he can be a step up from both.

    The risk is his attitude, and from all I have read, he has matured. So I hope he will be much more productive at Arsenal than was at Bayern.

    Either ways, Podolski definitely addresses a key weakness we have had this season. And all indications are that Vertonghen and M’Vila are close, with Matias Suarez and Hotlby also signed. It’s already shaping up to be quite a summer.

    On question I have for you Desi, with our current crop of players, I have a slight hunch about us playing 3-4-3 next season. It is a long shot, but with defenders we have, I don’t think its a bad idea, and perhaps Wenger might be thinking too. Purely a hunch on my part though, but any thoughts on that?

    • santori says:

      I would not get my hopes up if I were you./ I doubt we will add that many players this summer.

      Most likely IMO 2 + 2(maybe)

      Striker (Poldy) and a wide man. Then depending on our surplus strikers, maybe another striker late on and/or a DM (depending on Diaby)

      But very small maybes IMO. Price of those players will also bear in + natural evolution in the squad.

      MVilla could be sueful but may be too pricy. Vertongehn is more limited in midfield albeit he covers defense (Djourou). But we have Miquel 9and to soem extent) Bartley pushing for 4th CBack.

      So not so sure we will be seeing too much coming in. We should of course be seeing as much leaving as possible to make room for better contracts for RVP, Walcott.

      • santori says:

        My gut feeling is that we won’t go anywhere past 30m for players this summer (and that may be generous bearing in mind contract improvements)

        Assuming we go for 10m per player (roughly), that will be 3 if lucky.

  9. santori says:

    Definately an asset for us.

    Scores in a struggling team (leading the line). Robustly built, packs with him direct shooting /finishing which we so often lack and able to play wide left where we have been somewhat less threatening of late.


    OTOH, I still think we may need another striker even if RVP pens a new deal and Poldy is in.

    Pending movement of current surplus (Bendtner, Chamakh, Park), if one of either our strikers take a knock in the summer (touch wood), we will be left reliant on one again.

    Not sure if joel Campbell is ready to step up. gut feeling is he will need at least another season.

    Therefore, one more striker is imperative (unless one of the surplus decides to stay on)

    Probably best to have someone slightly taller (than Poldy) in that case. I’m thinking Luuk De JOng 9who seems a natural carbon copy heir to RVP in the making) or Leandro Damiao (Internacional), who is both robust and good in the air , not to mention comes with technique.

    Both are 21-22 which fits in perfectly with our current squad balanced between experience and younger proteges.

    Prob, have to wait and see how movement of current surplus to use strikers in the squad pans out but I think we should get a good young striker being that Poldy may find himself deployed out left quite frequently.

    • santori says:

      The other issue is wide man.

      Even with Poldy in, I think we have a slight short fall in the wider positions.

      Just to recap, we started this last season’s campaign with 6 wingers (in no particular order) – Arsharvin, Benny, Walcott, Ox, gervinho and Ryo.

      Currently with Poldy, we have Gervinho, Walcott, Ox and Ryo. (Arsharvin most likely not staying and Benny moving on)

      If Poldy has to assume a front role, that would leave us short and reliant on 2 very young wingers next season.

      Gnabry (who is barely 17) is an exciting prospect and I for one would like to see him graduate early into the first team and get a couple of outings with the cups.

      BUT we are young on the flanks and more importantly, we are mainly direct. We lack a more nuanced player with a bit of craft and guile (with AA and Nasri gone)

      Therefore I do believe a wideman is imperative this summer and next on the agenda (or should be)

      Belhanda could be an interesting prospect following on from Wenger’s policy of inducting top performenrs from France.

      He can play across the midfield (on both wings) but more importantly may offer us cover in the AM position.

      AM BTW, should be Jack (IMO he should push further up), Rosicky and young Ozyakup 9again outstanding for the reserves and deserves another season with the first team, first half of season anyway)

      An alternate (and staying with the Maghreb theme) out wide and ont he right could be Taarabt who seems to have matured somewhat with his game and packs an excellent shot from RW which will complement Poldy out left.

      He could be worth considering (outside the box option) but my worry would be his apptitude.

      Ideally, would like to see Song get some cover in DM as well (particularly with Diaby’s availability in mind) but I think the MVilla/Vertonghen rumours are a huge ‘maybe’ only and that defense for us next season would be an evolutionary thing, which may not be all bad.

      • cupsui loves kozzer says:

        great points Santori and of course desi…thanks again. beautiful article that examines all sides of story…there are about 1000 football writers that could learn a lot from you!!

        Santori I am hearing very good things about Belhanda and if Real are a bit interested he is gonna be something. Zizou thinks he is “an incredible talent”. I agree we need a versitle attacker man ala Na$ri. I think the position we are struggling with the most is AM and although rosicky’s revival was very timely he is getting on and needs support.

        So i think a AM that can play as the technical wing player is very important. Yossi has been handy but we need an improvement on that.

        For me Vertoghen who i have a good feeling about may just come and then the AM/technical winger IS ALL WE NEED. Names such as Belhanda, Kagawa (although flithly united look like they may get him), erickson, Affelay (or some other of the countless AM on offer at barca that can’t get a game…maybe fabregas…haha), nuri sahin etc. should all be availavle at a reasonable price

        I think Campbell will get a loan in the prem (he should get a visa for international games and if not talent as he keeps scoring for Costa Rica. A prem loan for Landsbury (hopefully with west ham again if they make it) prem loan for miquel, frimpong on return, and Ryo.

        Keep Bartlet and Le Coq in the squad

      • cupsui loves kozzer says:

        As for players out:
        We need to sell chamakh, Bendtner, Vela, Denilson, Squid, Park and Djourou (if Vertoghen is signed).

        that may leave a small lack of depth at striker so look no further than Giroud, tall (192cm – 6’3.5″) goal scorer and is different to prinz poldi and RvP, also good technique crucial to arsenal.

      • cupsui loves kozzer says:

        So MY ideal squad for next year

        Sagna Kozzer TV5 Gibbsy…
        ……..(new AM)/Whilshere……

        Back up (in order)
        GK – Fabs, Monnone
        RB – Jenko Fett, Kozzer
        CB – (Vertoghen), Merte, Bartlet
        LB – Santos, (Vertoghen)
        DM – (Vertoghen), Le Coq
        CM – Arteta/ Whilshere, Ramsey, Diaby, Le Coq
        AM – Whilshere/(new AM), Rosicky, Ramsey, The OX
        LM – Gervinho, (new AM)
        RM – The Ox, Gervinho, (new AM)
        ST – Podolski, (Giroud)

        That is easily affordable in terms of wages and transfers. AND that squad is ABSOLUTELY CLASS. That team could easily beat the manchester, and it has the experience, strength, depth and technique to account for those tough away games in the depth of winter.

  10. […] do read Desi Gunner’s writeup on Podolski. It is a good article. Did you like this? Share it:Tweet […]

  11. DNA05 says:

    “We have bought Lukas Podolski and our next step is to bring Jack Wilshere back and Abou Diaby back. Then, if you look at our squad, I don’t feel we are behind anybody else.”

    Seems like Weneger will stop at Podolski?
    I can’t figure why Wenger still mentions Diaby with all his glass-like body. Maybe waiting for Diaby to perform like RVP? not every day you can do that.

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