Monthly Archives: April 2012

Soccer - Bundesliga - 1st FC Cologne v Hannover 96 - Rheinenergie Stadium

Running the rule over Arsenal signing Lukas Podolski

The Good

Age: 26
Height: 182cm (~6′)
Weight: 82kg (180lbs)
Foot: Left, left, left

Arsenal confirmed the signing of Lukas Podolski from FC Koln today and by so doing have signaled that the club has shifted direction over last summer in terms of transfer business.

Podolski’s transfer comes on the very day that Arsene Wenger admitted that the team is overly reliant on Robin van Persie to score goals. If you think that’s a coincidence, I have an England National Team managerial position to sell you.

Robin has scored 28 of Arsenal’s 59 League goals this term which is 47% of Arsenal’s offensive output and puts him third in overall contribution in terms of percentage, behind Demba Ba (50%) and Clint Dempsey (59%). Wayne Rooney is 5th in percentage at 38% because his team has chipped in an additional 11 goals over Arsenal.

Podolski has scored 18 goals for FC Koln in the Bundesliga this season and that makes for 53% of Koln’s total output of 34 goals. Podolski’s 53% is tops in the Bundesliga this season. I’m putting this in the “good” category because it means that Arsenal will have two options for players to be overly reliant on next year.

It’s tempting to look at the Bundesliga and wonder why Arsenal didn’t move for leading scorer Klaaaaasss Jaaan Huntelaaaaar. But when you look at the team numbers for Koln you can see that the fact Podolski managed those 18 goals at all is kind of a minor miracle: FC Koln was 2nd to last in possession, took the fewest shots per game (8.9), fewest shots on goal (3.3), were last in dribbles per game (10.8), and 14th in passes per game. Arsenal on the other hand are first in possession, first in dribbles per game, third in shots on goal, and first in passes per game.

GP Goals Shots G/S AST KP A/KP
Robin van Persie 36 28 161 17% 10 89 11%
Lukas Podolski 28 18 81 22% 6 38 16%
Clint Dempsey 35 16 138 12% 6 47 13%

One last thing I noticed about Podolski is the fact that he’s 82kg. Just to put that in perspective, Podolski weighs 8kg (~17lbs) more than Alex Song. I’m sure Arsene will have him slim down a little but that weight is not fat as far as I can tell.

For once, Arsene isn’t signing a little slip of a lad who will be buffeted about by giant half-orcs like Ryan Shawcross.

The Bad

Podolski took a whopping 2.9 shots per game which means that he took 33% of Koln’s shots (2.9/8.9). Even Robin van Persie didn’t have numbers that high only getting 4.5 shots per game (2nd in the PL behind Wayne Rooney) which is 27% of Arsenal’s 16.7 shots per game.

This leads me to wonder first if he can adjust to being a wider player in a 4-3-3 and if not, then where will he play?

There’s a lot of confusion about what Podolski’s “natural position” is on the pitch. He’s played as a left sided player for Germany many times, but also as a second striker. For Koln he was a pure forward, though he dropped in to the playmaker’s spot on several occasions.

That said, his 1.5 dribbles per game with Koln in the forward role would be good enough to put him in second on Arsenal behind Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s 1.7 dribbles per game. Podolski’s 41 total dribbles this season would make him Arsenal’s dribble king behind Robin van Persie’s 40 dribbles haul.

Podolski was 20/107 crosses, again, mostly deployed centrally for Koln and that’s good enough for 0.7 successful crosses per game. While Sagna has been great on the right (20/86 on crossing) Arsenal haven’t had a left-sided threat all season in terms of crosses with Santos and Gibbs getting just 5 each and Gervinho successful just three times, for those counting that means Sagna has 7 more successful crosses all season than Santos, Gibbs, and Gervinho combined. Oh, and the three left players have 54 combined appearances whilst Sagna just 20.

As a guess I would say that Arsene will play Podolski in the “Arshavin role”. That is to say on the left but cutting in and providing a second scoring threat. Also lust like Andrei Arshavin I suspect that you are going to hear a lot about how Wenger is “playing him out of position” if he struggles at all with the rigors of the Premier League.

The Ugly

Podolski’s only won 5 aerial duels all season. This was on 32 attempts which means that in 28 games Podolski was lobbed the ball (or defended!) around one time per game. Arsenal aren’t Stoke City but Podolski’s paucity of aerials is a bit disconcerting.

Games Played Won Attempted Percent
Peter Crouch 29 139 215 65%
Robin van Persie 28 27 91 30%
Lukas Podolski 28 5 32 16%

Obviously, aerial duels aren’t the be-all-end-all of being a forward but in the Premier League they are important and at 27 years old not a skill he’s likely to pick up. When I did a similar column on Per Mertesacker last year, I pointed out that despite being 6’7″, aerially was where he might be challenged.

I still hold out hope that Mertesacker will work on the timing of his jumps and who knows, perhaps hidden inside Podolski is a great leaper ready to burst out.

Conclusions

I’m very optimistic over this signing. Podolski is quantitatively a legitimate goal scorer who is accustomed to carrying his team if (touch wood) Robin van Persie should go down with injury next year. When not deployed up front, he can perform in the wide role either cutting in or providing service, though how well he will do that in the Premier League remains to be seen.

Qualitatively, he’s also got a touch of the Pires about him in terms of goal scoring. I’m not sure if I would quite call him a “fox in the box” but he’s a predatory goal scorer who seems to be in good positions a lot. He will get a lot more chances with Arsenal than he did at Koln and we will have to see if he converts.

Signing Podolski now also sends a message to Robin that the team means business this summer and that they are looking to put players in position around him to help out. Something the team has been criticized for during the Cesc era. Let’s hope that signing him may help with re-signing Arsenal’s top goal scorer, captain, and all around great guy; Robin van Persie.

Qq

He's so happy

Ramsey earns a point

In a culture which supposedly reveres bravery and demands that players “man up” I find it odd that any man who shows true bravery in the face of adversity is mocked while the coward who hides behind the skirt of public opinion is revered. And this isn’t about the provincialism, tribalism, or “banta” which modern football fans wrap themselves in to hide from the slings and arrows of criticism. This is simply about logic. About being a human being and understanding wrong from right.

Aaron Ramsey is a good footballer but what makes Aaron really stand out is that despite having had his leg broken in two on the very ground he was playing on yesterday and despite 25,000 people booing his every touch he never once hid from a pass and never once pulled out of a tackle. That takes guts.

What doesn’t take guts is to hide among 25,000 of your fellow fans and shower abuse down on a 21 year old whose only crime is that he never apologized for having his leg broken.

Perhaps I should step back for a second and remind everyone of what happened. Arsenal were playing Stoke at the Britannia on a “cold night in February” when Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross lost control of the ball and seeing that Aaron Ramsey was going to win possession and start a counter attack, scythed the Arsenal player down and broke both bones in his right leg.

What happened next was predictable: Wenger called for harsher punishments for leg breakers, pundits up and down the land bemoaned the tackle as “not even a yellow card”, Shawcross supposedly sent an apology to the Arsenal man and Ramsey apparently snubbed the apology.

And with that snubbed apology the victim became the victimizer and Shawcross went from villain to hero.

It is that snubbed apology that Stoke fans pointed to last year when they booed Aaron Ramsey on his very first return to the Britannia. It’s important to note that the Stoke supporters started the match last year booing every Arsenal player. They did this because they knew that booing just Aaron Ramsey would be seen as poor taste. After about five minutes they lost their thirst for pretense, and simply booed Ramsey. This year, they spent nearly the entire 75 minutes booing Aaron Ramsey’s every touch. That is, when they weren’t chanting ugly things about Arsene Wenger.

But they played their hand last year and they know that booing Aaron Ramsey is wrong. If they didn’t think it wrong, they wouldn’t have tried to hide the boos behind the facade that they were booing the entire Arsenal team.

And I suspect they know that it’s cowardly to stand there, hidden in the anonymity of the crowd, and boo this young man. A young man who shows real courage to not only face a hostile crowd but also to stand up to his attacker. To face the man who recklessly nearly ended his career. And not just face that man and that crowd but to be the focus of Arsenal’s game: in 73 minutes Ramsey had more touches than anyone else on the pitch, more passes than anyone else on the pitch, made three inch-perfect tackles, and drove Arsenal’s attack forward.

I would hope that in doing so Ramsey earned some respect from a few Stoke supporters but I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for them to receive revelations. But more than Stoke supporters recognizing the contributions of Ramsey, I would hope that some Arsenal supporters would take a minute and think about their own feelings toward the player.

This is a young man who has endured a lot of tragedy in his life and most of it in the last two years. Ramsey not only had his leg broken, right at the point when he was just coming into his game, but then that was followed by the suicide of his coach, mentor, and hero. For him to be playing right now at the level that he is playing at is truly remarkable.

Yes, he turns the ball over too easily, dwells in possession sometimes, slows down the attack other times, and various other flaws. But the thing about all that is those things are teachable. Wenger will drill the importance of possession and swift ball movement into his brain.

What isn’t teachable is the courage it takes to overcome a horrific injury and then to not only stand up to his attacker and 25,000 vocal detractors but to go full bore in that game and to make himself the center of the Arsenal midfield.

As someone who has been critical of the player, Aaron Ramsey earned a lot of respect from me yesterday. Because I respect real courage and see right through the faux bravery of lunging in to hack a fellow professional’s leg in two.

Qq

The Orcs prepare for war

His name is Tony.

It is an unusual name in his town where most people are named after the heroes of battle and not given flowery names like “Anthony”. Anthony is hard for the townfolk to even say and when they do attempt it the words come out like they were clearing their throats: KhaAnthnee. So he shortened it to Tony.

The townfolk love Tony but it wasn’t always that way because he’s not one of them. Not much is known of his early life except that Tony was born in the hills of Wales and spent much of his life traveling around the countryside as a hired gun. He is probably best known as the pirate of Bristol, raiding up and down the coast and stealing loot. But truly his battle days were unremarkable and it was the fact that he immersed himself in studies and became one of the youngest men to ever complete officers school that set him apart.

When he first came to Stoke, he was seen as an outsider, someone who didn’t speak their language, someone who had flowers in his blood. “Tony… Lul Gijak-Ishi!” They would say after many pints of thick, dark beer. But in his first stint with Stoke he won the battle of Reading at the Brit and kept Stoke’s army from falling into disrepute. It was his brilliant tactics of using artillery to soften the Reading defenses before sending the men straight at their wall which endeared him to Stoke.

He was forced out of Stoke when he and Lord Gislason got into a confrontation over the spoils of battle. Tony wanted to use the money to improve his army, but Gislason wanted to hoard the money like all Ice Trolls do. The two nearly came to blows but agreed instead to end hostilities and Tony left.

Stoke fell on dark days without Tony.

But Stoke’s champion, born on Goldenhill in Stoke, Peter Coates defeated Lord Gislason and sent him back to the Ice-land. It wasn’t much of a battle, actually, not a sword was raised. Coates knew that Ice Trolls have an irresistibly avaricious nature and he simply laid a trail of gold coins out of the city which¬† Gislason followed until he fell into a trap. Simple as that, Coates banished Gislason and brought back the hero of the battle of Reading — Tony.

When Tony returned, the folks of Stoke were wary. But having heard their insults about his “flowery blood” he knew that the only way to “show his iron” would be for him to best one of their strongest warriors.

His chance came after a horrible defeat to The Arsenal: the most hated army in all of Orcland. His striker, Beattie, dared to question Tony while they were showering after the battle. It may seem unusual to you that a general showers with his men, but that is an Orcish custom. How else will they know the measure a man’s trunk? As they say.

Beattie felt like the men deserved extra rest but Tony wanted them to redouble training and when Beattie questioned Tony, the General rushed the younger man, nude, grabbed him and went for the kill. Beattie was quick, Tony was wet, and the striker escaped Tony’s naked embrace but the men all stood and watched with their jowls flapping: no human had ever tried hand to hand combat with an Orc before.

“Ang Gijak-Ishi!” (He has iron in his blood!) they all cheered as Tony stood there, naked, bouncing his chest muscles and drinking in their cheers. They even renamed him Angtony, “IronTony”. It’s his secret name, the one they use at tribal council.

Since then, Tony has done well by the Orc Army of Stoke. His highest achievement to date is that they nearly beat down the war machine of Manchester City in the battle of Facup – narrowly losing out in the final day when they were routed with a flanking maneuver.

But though they were defeated they went home singing songs of the battle and praise Tony to this day.

To this very day.

This very day where the long shadow of The Arsenal creeps north from their fairy castle in Londonium. Tony knew that they were coming, he told Stoke last week that he could smell the air change and began to prepare his defenses.

Begovic, Shotton, Shawcross, Huth and Wilson will man the inner gates. Shawcross is a particularly hideous Orc, who is known from sea to sea as The Butcher of the Brit. Those five will be tasked with defending against any aerial threat that The Arsenal might try to bring, though aerial bombing is not The Arsenal’s style.

Tony knows that The Arsenal will be more likely to try and flank Stoke with their Benayoun and Gervinho. Sending them in on raids to cause havoc and spread dis-ease in the citadel. Tony will rely on Pennant and Ethrington to fence off the flanks and push The Arsenal attack into the middle where Palacios, Walters, and Wheelan (collectively referred to as “The Shredder”) will grind The Arsenal’s attack to a standstill.

Tony loves Pennant for these games because he is an outcast from The Arsenal, and once held General Wenger’s highest esteem. He will be asked to drive at The Arsenal when they have a chance to counter attack, likely off a moment when The Arsenal stop the battle and set up an artillery strike. Orcs are masters of artillery and no Orcs have ever been as well versed in both defending it and using it as the Stoke Orcs of Tony Pulis. Tony will relish any moments that The Arsenal try to use their own tactic against them — and will look for Pennant to get into The Arsenal’s defense and cause havoc on his own.

And if that doesn’t work, Tony has his Two Meter Gun, ironically named “Crouch”. Crouch will be used to fire long, fire hard, keep firing, fire harder, longer, KEEP FIRING until they break down The Arsenal’s Koscielny/Vermaelen wall.

And let’s never forget the Orcish motto “We Fight How We Want”. They have no such pretense as “honor” that’s a concept for Elves and Dwarves. The only honor is to win the battle. That is the highest honor. Do what it takes to win the battle, then let the folks with flowery blood sip tea and complain about “cheating”, “shirt pulling”, and “rugby tactics”. In fact, the dirtier the tactic, the more “honor” they feel like they gain in battle.

To an Orc there’s nothing more beautiful than a blood red sunset and a goal-line scramble where Shawcross runs through the middle of The Arsenal defense covered in pitch and set on fire.

Aye, that is beauty to an Orc and to a man named Tony.

TO BATTLE!

Qq