Arsenal have done their first business of the January transfer window, but, rather than bringing in the so obviously needed extra center-back or imposing central midfielder, it has been a player exiting the Emirates Stadium.
Lukas Podolski, who arrived from Cologne in the summer of 2012, has joined Inter Milan on loan for the remainder of the season. And, with the 29-year-old writing an emotional farewell to Arsenal’s fans on social media and having just 18 months remaining on his contract, the chances are that he will not be returning.
The deal was hardly a surprise. Inter’s interest was well known, as was Podolski’s desire for more regular first-team action. For a player who has more than 100 appearances for current world champions Germany, going through the first half of the season without making a single Premier League start was always likely to make him “frustrated,” as manager Arsene Wenger described on Sunday.
On the face of it, a record of 31 goals in 82 appearances for a player who operated more often on the left flank than through the middle for Arsenal is far from shabby and will have some questioning why he was given so few opportunities this season and has been allowed to exit midseason. The fact that he can play in multiple positions would certainly make him a useful option, particularly given Arsenal’s continued poor injury record. Moreover, when he has played he has proved to be perhaps the club’s most lethal, certainly most powerful, finisher.
Yet there are plenty of good reasons why Wenger has decided that his squad can do without Podolski’s talents. Most obviously, if there is one area of their squad where Arsenal are well-stocked it is in attacking areas. With Alexis Sanchez, Danny Welbeck, Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott, Joel Campbell, Tomas Rosicky, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Yaya Sanogo and the soon-to-be-fit-again Mesut Özil, the options are plentiful and a number will have to miss out. Given that Podolski is thought to be one of the club’s top earners on around £100,000 a week, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to have him warming the bench or even a seat in the stands. Why not take that money and spend it where the need is greater?
Despite Podolski’s goal record, it is easy to see why Wenger stopped relying on Podolski. The 29-year-old was a prolific scorer with his previous club when playing through the middle, yet in the appearances where he was deployed there for Arsenal he lacked the presence or energy for a lone striker. When utilized in the left-sided position where he has often appeared for his country, Podolski’s lack of defensive responsibility was often crippling to the team.
The issues really came to the fore as Arsenal’s Premier League title challenge was spectacularly derailed last spring. Taken off after 24 minutes against Chelsea when Arsenal were already 3-0 down, Podolski failed to provide any assistance to left-back Nacho Monreal as Everton repeatedly exploited that flank in a 3-0 win. Then against Manchester City, Podolski was stripped of the ball in the opposition half and only just about back to his feet by the time the ball was put into Arsenal’s net. In a team so often found wanting without the ball, Podolski was the biggest culprit.
Arsenal are quite simply not a good enough team to carry passengers, and Podolski, despite his qualities, was not a good enough player to justify being one. He is still very much capable of producing the goods in Italy, but his exit is surely a good deal for the Gunners.