By Husmukh Kerai
Arsene Wenger knew for a long time that he would have a Robin van Persie-shaped hole in his Arsenal team at the beginning of this season. The €30.5 million the Gunners eventually received for the Dutchman’s services was never going to bring in an adequate replacement capable of propelling the north Londoners up the league table like the now-Manchester United hitman singlehandedly could.
So the 63-year-old decided to hedge his bets and share the responsibility of providing Arsenal’s goals, once the sole domain of Van Persie, among the freshly contracted Theo Walcott and summer arrivals Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski.
A lot has been made about Walcott’s emergence as a credible central striker but Wenger still believes that the England international’s best role is as the right-sided exponent of a front three, a position he began to make his own last season by racking up the assists for that free-scoring Dutchman.
Arsenal’s attack last term was very lop-sided though, the left flank was a position,along with the central role, up for grabs this summer and Wenger knew Lukas Podolski was the man for him after observing the German execute the position for Joachim Low’s national team.
Podolski arrived after his best-ever season in the Bundesliga with Koln, operating as a central striker in the German side’s line-up, managing 18 league goals and catching Wenger’s eye. It is no mean feat but when his name was being whispered around the Emirates early last year, many expected the 27-year-old to be a direct replacement for Van Persie. Wenger maintains that his best position is not down the middle.
So he recognised that the Gunners would require a target man to bring the best out of his two wannabe central strikers tied out to the flanks.
In came Olivier Giroud, who finished joint-top marksman in Ligue 1 last season but in truth was never a prolific striker at Montpellier, the big Frenchman existed more as a focal point to build attacks around, rather than a goal getter. Exactly the type of forward Wenger wanted to add to his side this summer, Giroud’s ability to bring his team-mates into the game should not be underestimated.
Arsenal have made the transition from what was once a ‘one-man team’ into a balanced attacking triumvirate. A decision made out of necessity rather than choice, there simply is not another Van Persie out there, but one that now seems to be paying dividends.
The numbers make good reading for Wenger’s summer additions. Giroud may look a clumsy figure up front at times but 12 goals and more significantly nine assists so far this term are healthy statistics for a player settling in to a new league and having to fill the boots of the best player in the country. They also show he is more than a brute who is good in the air. His link-up play when dropping short to lay it off to the Arsenal midfield is exemplary.
After a nightmare start to life at the Emirates, having to wait almost two months for his first goal, the French international has endeared himself to the Arsenal fans with his tireless work ethic and hunger in front of goal. He spoke earlier in the season about how hearing the Emirates Stadium serenade him with their version of ‘Hey Jude’ makes him want to ‘die’ for them on the pitch.
Podolski had his fair share of critics in his first couple of months at the club too. He was jeered off by some Arsenal fans when he made his customary substitution on the hour away against Aston Villa after an abject display.
But the German must be doing something right on the pitch. He tops the Premier League’s assists charts having created nine goals for the Gunners this season, three of which came in a stellar performance against West Ham on Wednesday night. His thunderbolt strike that evening took his goal tally up to an impressive 13 in all competitions.
Not bad figures in what is a relatively average Arsenal side. Supporters who have watched the Arsenal during the Premier League era will say Podolski or Giroud are not in the same bracket as Ian Wright, Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry or even Van Persie.
But a combination of the two, alongside Walcott, has what it takes to salvage what is left of Arsenal’s season and perhaps even restore Wenger’s reputation as an astute buyer in the transfer market.
Follow Husmukh Kerai on