21 August 2014

Podolski, we hardly knew ye. Campbell, you're up.

We have a few days between the Beşiktaş-boredom and the Everton-excitement, and so my thoughts turn a bit towards those whom we haven't seen much of lately. Ostensibly, Lukas Podolski—along with Per and Mesut—is still recuperating from his World Cup exertions. However, unlike those compatriots, Podolski rarely got a chance to exert himself, playing a grand total of 54 minutes in Brazil, 46 of them in a meaningless match against the U.S. after Germany had already advanced beyond the group-stage. He's now two appearance-less matches into the 2014-15 campaign, and it seems as if he might be on his way out of Arsenal. I'm sorry to sound harsh, but Poldi, for all of his hijinks, has never quite cut the mustard.
Let's get one thing out of the way right away: there might not be a locker-room cut-up as good as Poldi. There's something to be said for that. A squad needs someone who can ease the tension, lighten the mood, get the lads laughing, whether it be before or after a difficult fixture. Poldi, bless his soul, has filled that role with aplomb. Cockney lessons with Romford Pele. Photobombs. Selfies with Gooners. You name it, Poldi's probably done it.

He's also delivered some indelible, memorable moments. Tottenham. West Ham. Bayern (twice). Montpellier. So many others. Along the way, he delivered some tidy crosses and forged a fantastic partnership with Giroud. Similarly, his bromance with Mertesacker has thoroughly endeared both of them to Gooners. So why has Podolski been demoted, relegated, very nearly forgotten?

He possesses that thunderous, Mjölnir-esque, left foot, capable of delivering a goal from forty yards away or, at least, denting the woodwork or a keeper's jaw. He might be alone in the current squad in possessing that ability. However, to be honest, this might be his only real quality. He doesn't track back. He doesn't offer the pace or movement we need from a winger. He's not a striker. In short, he's a bit one-dimensional. Too left-footed. Force him to his right, and he's all but useless. As thrilling as he might be on a counter-attack, he can't dribble a defender or conjure chances like a magician pulling rabbits from a hat. The swirling rumors have him going to Turkey, Germany, America. Much as it pains me to say, it might be time for him to move on.

There's always been something a bit Arshavin-esque about him. Goofiness. Moments of sheer brilliance, punctuating lengthier, lazier periods. Stunning goals. A lingering sense of malcontent. Whatever it might be, Podolski has never quite found his role at Arsenal, aside from great selfies and tweets when the occasion arose. Should he move on, I'll miss that moxie.

Less sentimentally, we've needed someone who can play on the left and offer a bit more than Poldi ever did. Someone with pace, technical ability, pace, work-rate. These and other terms more-aptly describe Joel Campbell. He arguably fits Arsene's vision a bit more than Podolski has, offering movement off the ball and deft touch on it. By comparison with Podolski, he might suffer a bit in the charisma department, but he'd more than make up for that with his play on the pitch. He might be just as one-footed as Podolski, but he's a relentless man in motion, constantly flitting about to make himself available and dropping down to defend. Whereas Podolski largely contented himself with waiting for the ball to find him on the wing, Campbell seems hungrier, seeking out and demanding the ball, whether this means taking it from an opponent or offering himself to a teammate. Once he has it, it's anyone's guess what he'll do with it.

He might not be as fast as Walcott, but he's quicksilver. Slippery. He'll give you the slip and hand you the receipt before you know what hand it's in. This might lack the stunning drama of a Podolskian howitzer, but it could more than make up for that in the end.

As we set aside the frustration of the first leg against Beşiktaş, against whom we couldn't create or finish chances, the skill-set that Campbell offers could prove valuable indeed. I'd miss Podolski should he leave, but if his departure clears a path for Campbell to step up, I'm all for it.