Pitchside

Why Arsenal’s game-changer still has plenty to offer

Pitchside

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Lukas Podolski's impact off the bench looked to have sealed a vital three points for Arsenal after their weekend setback, but a questionable foul against him led to a late Swansea equaliser.

The German's Arsenal career has, simply put, failed to ever truly take off. The Germany international arrived at the Emirates with international pedigree and a penchant for wonder goals courtesy of his hammer of a left foot.

His record for the club is hardly shabby having plundered 27 goals in 48 first-team starts for the Gunners, plus the 15 occasions when he has stepped off the bench.

It works out at a goal every 2.3 games for Podolski, but performances such as yesterday's, when he helped his side recover from the despairs of defeat to go in front before the late hitch, actually hinder his claims for a first-team spot rather than help them.

Podolski's influence on an ailing attack simply served to highlight that the German has become nothing more than the man Arsene Wenger can come to rely on for an impact off the bench.

The proof was in the pudding as early as the fifth minute in the weekend humbling at Chelsea, with Podolski afforded a rare starting role in such a crucial match. He failed to offer Kieran Gibbs sufficient cover in the left-back role as Chelsea exploited the gaping holes at the back to maximum effect.

Podolski, last night, looked a man reborn, determined to make an impression on his team-mates, the fans and manager alike after the Gunners' predictable final-third play had been snuffed out by Swansea's organised rearguard.

He did so, sending out an emphatic message of his qualities by first turning home a Gibbs cross before turning provider with a stunning arcing cross to Olivier Giroud, who imposed a message of his own on those around the Emirates with an accomplished finish.

Podolski threatened to mar all of his good work by conceding a free kick as the clock ticked towards stoppage time, however, and from the resulting move, Swansea found their equaliser.

The decision to award the Swans a free kick from referee Lee Probert appeared kind at the time, but it epitomised Podolski's inherent defensive faults as he tried 'too hard' to track back and rob the visitors of possession, when in reality, he had no right.

His 35-minute cameo underlined the good and the bad of Podolski in one small bundle, but Wenger will have at least been encouraged by his role in ameliorating the Gunners' efforts going forward.

His Performance Score shot up courtesy of a mad two minutes where Swansea folded as a result of the increased pressure on their goal, encompassing both Podolski's cleverly-finished volley and the sweeping pass that led to Giroud's strike.

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With the psychological scars of Stamford Bridge still discernibly lingering around the Emirates, Arsenal themselves collapsed and handed the initiative back to the away side.

If you address Podolski's action areas, it speaks volumes that three of his most prominent positions were in the defensive third, where he is far from comfortable, leading to the crucial foul - his sole indiscretion on the field - but it was punished nevertheless.

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He was without doubt the star turn for the Gunners, however, and it could have been far worse had he not been introduced for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain just prior to the hour mark and inspired the temporary comeback.

His only shot and only cross of the match both proved decisive and he also completed two aerial contests, with one tussle notable for managing to beat the towering specimen of Wilfried Bony, who had already shown his ability when airbound as he stooped to steer his side in front after 11 minutes.

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Podolski also completed two clearances and, while his defensive duties will always be questioned, he showed a maturity to his hold-up play in the final exchanges. As Giroud pulled away, he sensibly chose to keep hold of possession and win the foul, with the Frenchman devoid of any support at the Swansea end of the field.

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It proved to be a slight false dawn as he would then go on to concede his only foul of his second-half vignette and give Swansea the opportunity to snatch a point. They duly obliged, frustrating the Gunners' top four ambitions and effectively ending any faint hope of a title challenge.

Podolski's razor-sharp finishing and directness in the attacking spheres mean even if a summer departure is on the cards, he still has plenty to offer in the home straight of this season.

Whether yesterday proves he is little more than an impact sub or not, is another matter entirely.

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