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Where in the world to play Podolski and Arteta

With the season now over and transfer silly season in full flow, I thought I would take a look at some of the players in our squad and consider their roles within the squad. The most obvious starting point might be with Lukas Podolski and Mikel Arteta, two players who many think aren’t playing in their “preferred” positions.

With the season now over and transfer silly season in full flow, I thought I would take a look at some of the players in our squad and consider their roles within the squad.  The most obvious starting point might be with Lukas Podolski and Mikel Arteta, two players who many think aren’t playing in their “preferred” positions.

Lukas Podolski

 When Poldi arrived at the club, and then a certain Dutchman left, many Arsenal fans were hoping to see him play through the middle.  He had been given the number 9 shirt and at Koln he had scored a fair amount of goals through the middle at a the struggling side the previous season.  I was not the only fan excited to see a player arrive that possessed an explosive shot and a clinical side to his game.  I was all for experimenting with Poldi as our new centre forward.

However, as early as the first game of the season it was obvious that Podolski was maybe lacking something to be an out-an-out lone striker.  I hoped this might have been down to a lack of experience in his career in leading the line alone so when Arsene Wenger spoke of his time spent coaching Lukas to play that role, I was certainly keen for the boss to give him another chance.  However, his spell up front in the final 4 games of the season suggested to me that nothing had really changed.  Granted he scored two goals against Wigan but that was down more to horrendous defending than good forward play.  Unfortunately his movement is not sharp enough to get him in behind, his hold up play lacks composure or strength, and he has a tendency to try and pick the ball up 40 yards from goal.  Our system requires someone to occupy defenders and create space for other attacking players but too often Podolski failed to fill the penalty area.  That is why, whatever you think of his natural scoring ability, Giroud has done well in bringing players into the game.

That brings me nicely onto how I think Podolski should be used within our squad and it is not much different to how we have seen him deployed in most of his games.  Much of the English media has criticised Wenger for using Podolski at LW but in my opinion, this is a false argument – one intended to beat Wenger with something other than facts.  In his first 6 months in England Lukas contributed effectively from the wide left position.  He demonstrated a burst of pace, a willingness to go to the by-line and he had a solid end product.  At one point he had the most assists from open play in the Premier League, 9 in total, and many of them came from classic wide play.  The West Ham game is a perfect example of this, a game which saw him provide some wicked crosses from out wide, often brought about by swift counter attacks led by Lukas himself.  However, in the same game he also showed what I like most about him; he knows when to move inside to sniff out a chance.  Arsenal’s system is fluid enough that he is by no means restricted to the left hand side and he often rotated well with Santi and benefited immensely from Giroud’s hold up play to contribute some important goals (West Ham at home and Swansea away).  14 goals in all competitions from the left (16 in total) is a very good impact.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Lukas has 100 caps for Germany, the vast majority of which have been earned in a left sided attacking position, something which I think many pundits seem to forget.  This is exactly how I think he should continue to be used at Arsenal.  He has the right blend of intelligence and attributes to be a threat from out wide, whilst at the same time remaining a goal-scoring threat.  He has clearly been blighted by a niggling injury but at the very start of the season he showed what he can offer the side from that position.

Mikel Arteta

Before we look at Mikel Arteta in detail, it would be wrong not mention what an outstanding job he has done as the club’s leader this season, especially in light of the leadership void that has been mssing from this club for some time. He has also put in some sterling performances in a role that isn’t traditionally his – the most defensive minded member of our midfield trio. 

It is clearly not his best position but he has still managed to make the most completed passes in the league, as well as a high amount of interceptions and tackles per game.  I am a huge fan of his commitment to the cause and it pains me that I still have some issues with his role in the side, many of which are not necessarily his fault

Against teams who find it hard to get out of their half against us, it is absolutely fine to have Arteta alone in midfield with two more attack-minded players ahead of him: e.g Jack and Santi.  When we dominate, Arteta is comfortable mopping up play and moving us forward once again as there is a lack of pressure on him and our defence.  However, some teams (notably Villa at home) have been able to exploit his lack of pace to catch us on the counter attack knowing that he doesn’t quite have the legs to cover the full backs. 

Certainly, the strongest sides in the league took advantage of our midfield weaknesses at times this season and clearly felt that if they could get behind Arteta he did not quite have the defensive instincts, or physical attributes to recover.  Bayern Munich was the clearest example of this as they took full advantage of our lack of midfield cover to the defence.  I know Bayern are a fantastic side but we want to be able to match teams at that level.

I think these issues led Wenger to employ Ramsey as a slightly more deep-lying midfield player next to Arteta.  He provided energy and bite to the defensive side of our game which certainly made us harder to beat in the latter stages of the season.  The problem I have with this though is that I wonder if we are therefore required to have two men to do what a natural defensive minded and physically capable midfield player can do. 

Although we were harder to beat, we definitely lost creativity from our midfield as Ramsey was required to do large amounts of legwork.  I fear that unless we are playing the poor sides in the league, we will lose the attacking edge of some of our players if we are not able to call on a defensive midfield player at times. 

I have maintained that Jack should play in a deeper midfield role, similar to Ramsey’s at the moment.  However, although they can both cope with the physical aspects of the game, it is crucial that we do not lose the attacking edge that they can bring to the side and I feel this may be an issue if Arteta retains the same role he has now.  At times they will be required to exert too much energy defending when we need them doing it going the other way.

I still feel that Arteta has a strong role to play in Arsenal’s immediate future.  As I said, against some sides there is no problem setting up with him as the deepest midfield man.  However, there will be occasions where we need more expert defensive cover to our defence.  Arteta clearly has immense passing ability and I feel we could exploit this even more if he plays more as a playmaker from deep, just as Xavi does.  The issue is more along the lines that Arteta is playing out of position and although he has done an excellent job for us this season, through no fault of his own, teams have been able to exploit our midfield unless we sacrifice the attacking edge of another player.

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