26 December 2014

Giroud and Poldi (and Cazorla), together again...

Do you remember the beautiful partnership that once flourished between Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski, the one that delivered some stunning goals? At times, it was Giroud chipping or flicking to that Hammer of Mjölnir; at others, it Podolski fizzing in a cross for Giroud to tap in or head home. Whatever the case, that partnership has faded as Poldi has fallen out of favor. Whether it was too many kebabs or too many selfies, we haven't seen much of Poldi on the pitch, and rumours are swirling around a potential move away from the Emirates in January. More on that another day. For now, he's a Gunner (and rarely has a player's penultimate skill matched his club's name so well), and we need him, if only to rest Alexis  against QPR.

Without unduly slighting QPR, we really should be able to rest a few players as we look ahead to other, more-challenging fixtures. Away from Loftus Road, after all, 'Arry's boys have only mustered three goals in while conceding 20 in eight losses for a league-worst -17 goal differential. That 5-4-1 that they're playing may not generate many goals, but it's hardly doing much to prevent them either. Even taking into account their much-stronger home-form, QPR have conceded more goals (32) than any other side, conceding on average almost two goals per game.

On paper, then, this seems like just the kind of match a player like Alexis might thrive in. However, when we remind ourselves that he's played more minutes than anyone besides Mertesacker (and done a bit more running along the way), Arsène would do well to sit the Chilean and play Podolski. The benefits are two-fold: one, of course, rest our most in-form player rather than see him redline; two, rebuild Poldi's confidence if not his reputation ahead of the transfer-window or the final run-in. If we are to sell him on, we might as well give him a chance to shake off cobwebs and remind potential buyers what he's good for. If we can buy some rest-time for Alexis, well, so much the better.

Giving Poldi the start could resurrect that beautiful friendship from 2012-13 that saw our trio of 2012 summer signings link up so often and to such devastating effect. By my count, Cazorla, Podolski, and Giroud found each other no less than 16 times in that season, including three or four goals that involved all three. It's a triumvirate that brings together three very different skill-sets, delivering some very symphonic moments. However, for various reasons, Poldi's star has faded despite his being one of the most prolific finishers we've ever seen. Literally. Towards the end of the 2013-14 campaign, Podolski had achieved a minutes per goal involvement behind only two other players in Prem history: Thierry Henry and Sergio Aguero. This does reflect to an extent Podolski's role as a super-sub, coming on late in matches when opposing defenses were already weary and ragged, but it does also reflect his clinical finishing. Among our current squad, his conversion-rate hovers in the 20% range, far-better than anyone else in the squad.

More recently, however, Podolski has been more of a sideshow than anything else, with his most-memorable contribution to the recent campaign coming from his inability to find his shin-guard when trying to sub in against Dortmund. If he can set aside the shenanigans and the selfies, maybe there's enough time for him to rediscover the shooting boots that have seen him score 31 goals in 81 appearances with Arsenal. I love Podolski for what he brings to the club, which too often shrouds itself in overly-serious intensity or melodramatic gloom, but I also miss what he brought to the pitch. Here's hoping he gets a chance on Friday to remind us all—and, perhaps, himself—of what he's capable of.