Pitchside Europe

Are Arsenal misusing Lukas Podolski?

Lukas Podolski is making a slow yet promising return to the Arsenal team after four months out of action with a torn hamstring.

Including his return to action against West Ham United on Boxing Day, the Germany international has played in three of Arsenal's last five matches but has only started one of them.

He has been subbed off once and subbed on twice, meaning he is yet to complete 90 minutes since his return (the graph below depicts his contribution in his past three matches).

Despite leaving him on the bench while contending with a number of injury concerns Arsene Wenger is talking up Podolski and said as recently as last week:

"If there is one (player) you want to see in front of the goal in a shooting position, it is him because Podolski is certainly one of the best finishers I have ever seen.

"He can play that central role when he is completely fit and is one of the potential assets we have there.

"When he is physically ready, he will of course help us."

However, with injuries to Theo Walcott and Nicklas Bendtner, and Olivier Giroud occasionally needing a rest, is Wenger right to keep starting Podolski from the bench?

It is hard to judge how good he has been this season as injury has limited him to five league games - but in those five matches he has scored three goals which equates to a goal every 1.7 games.

In Giroud’s 20 games he has nine goals which is a goal every 2.2 games and Walcott’s five in 13 works out at one every 2.6 matches.

And although his data comes from far fewer matches Podolski hits 83% of his shots on target whereas Walcott manages just 59% and Giroud a poor 41%.

So this season Podolski is the best striker at the club with a better goals per game ratio and shot accuracy.

While last season Podolski scored three less than Walcott he netted the same amount as Giroud and by virtue of appearing in one less match had the better goals to game ratio. His shot accuracy was also 12% better than that of the Frenchman.

Podolski has also completed 90% of passes this season. Last season 84% of passes were completed and he won over half of the 25 take-ons he attempted as well as 78% of tackles  - as well as enjoying a mammoth nine assists from 31 key passes made.

The data shows that Podolski is the most efficient finisher at Arsenal. It looks like Wenger could well be wrong to leave him on the bench, even if he is still recovering from his hamstring problem.

When fully fit it looks like Podolski should be the preferred option at centre-forward.