It's Going to Be a Big Season For.....
Long serving readers of the site will know that each summer, I usually trot out an "It`s Going to Be a Big Season For…." series. So why should this summer be any different? Over the next week or so I will be looking at the four players with the biggest questions to answer in 2012-13. Those who are perhaps on the precipice with regards to their futures and people`s impressions of them. Maybe they divide opinion and need to make a statement in the upcoming year to establish themselves. This time last year Laurent Koscielny was a player that polarised Arsenal fans, but one very good season on, he`d be the first name on most of our team sheets.
There are a number of squad members who will be looking to make a mark this season with live question marks based on past performance for the club. However, I`m starting with a slightly different slant. In principle, the deal to take German international Lukas Podolski to North London was agreed in January. Arsenal had wanted him then to bolster their lightweight attack, but with Koln embroiled in an ultimately futile relegation battle, they did not want to let their top scorer go until the summer. Nevertheless, as a result, the Gunners got a German international- who this summer hit 100 German caps (the youngest ever European to reach that mark for his nation) - at a good price.
For Podolski, the move to Arsenal comes shortly after his 27th birthday and represents a watershed in his career. The Polish born striker has been a firm fixture with his international side since the age of 19, which tells you an awful lot about the talent he possesses. A brainy, industrious left sided striker with a hammer of a left foot, Podolski has all the ingredients one could ask for in a top level striker. If you watch him play for Germany, it won`t escape you that he works bloody hard too. However, his club career still has large question marks hovering overhead and taking on this move to London will be the making or breaking of his reputation.
After a very impressive showing in the World Cup in Germany in 2006, the Koln striker was picked up by Teutonic behemoths Bayern Munchen at the age of just 21. With Roy Makaay by now 31 years old, Podolski had been bought with an eye to becoming Bayern`s main man. Mark van Bommel, Julio dos Santos and Daniel van Buyten also arrived as they looked to consolidate on their domestic double of 2006. Podolski had been in the rather incongruous position of trying to keep Koln in the Bundesliga single handedly in 2005-06. Despite scoring 12 goals he couldn`t stop them falling out of the league. Bayern was a big move for the man his local team had already dubbed "Prince Poldi."
But Bayern underwent a poor season by their standards- finishing 4th and exiting the German cup in the 3rd round stage. Podolski didn`t really live up to his billing- with Santa Cruz, Pizarro and Makaay all getting more minutes. He persevered with Bayern until 2009, but continued to blow hot and cold. Significantly, he chose not to live in Munich, but in the small village of Hechendorf, just outside. The move and its residual pressures had come too early for him, even if he remained a fixture in Joachim Low`s Germany side. He struck up a promising partnership with international teammate and fellow Polish born striker Miroslav Klose- innovatively; the two would communicate in Polish to fox opposition defenders. But when Bayern bought Luca Toni in 2008, Podolski`s card was marked. He returned to his Koln cocoon in 2009.
In Koln he is feted as something of a superhero. His 18 goals last season weren`t enough to keep his side in the Bundesliga, but Prince Poldi has left with his status secured. But his arrival at Arsenal signals his second shot at life away from the comfortable bosom of those that held him so dear. Once again, he will try his hand at a club where expectations are higher, the level is higher and match days much more intense. He has six more years of footballing and ultimately life experience behind him. At 27 he should be approaching his peak and he must now test his talents under the scrutinising soda light of Premiership and Champions League competition and life in London.
For Arsenal, he represents a good, experienced and exciting signing. A player we have all heard of and have some level of familiarity with, which is fairly unusual for Arsenal fans! Theoretically, he fits perfectly into Arsenal`s system, principally you`d think as a long term replacement for Andrey Arshavin on the left side of attack. But he should be just as capable of playing through the centre. Aside from the whole van Persie furore he walks into- within which Podolski will be expected to pick up some of the goal slack with his frightening left foot- he will be well aware that in Germany, all eyes will keenly study how he copes with the pressure. For Podolski, this is a huge personal challenge.
There`s a groundswell of opinion in Germany that Podolski can only thrive in reassuring environments and a bit of a flat track bully to boot. However, he has an unerring accuracy when he strikes the ball. Profligacy has been a familiar and unwanted bedfellow for Arsenal over the last few years. A team that creates the amount of chances we do ought to score more. Though a cheerful presence, utterly devoted to football, Podolski has had his disciplinary problems in the past and can be known to be a bit 'flighty.` But essentially, he comes to us a 27 year old man promising a greater level of maturity. Podolski will have to shed the 'Prince Poldi` incarnation and show that he has become Lukas Podolski the man.