Yesterday I opened up on Podolski and I admit: this happens with me about once a year. Annually, I get disgusted with an Arsenal player and dump on him. It’s happened before with Bendtner, then Arshavin, then Gervinho, and now Podolski. Clearly, I’m wrong when I do this. These are Arsenal players and they deserve our support, so, I apologize.
What is interesting here is that in each case (except Gervinho) fans say the exact same thing whenever these players receive criticism: they are being played out of position, the system Arsene uses doesn’t suit them, Wenger isn’t giving them enough time to get a good run of games, they are much better than they are playing, and on. In short, I’m told not to criticize the player, because it’s really the manager’s fault.
But the manager has to look at the whole team and has to decide what’s best for the team, not just what’s best for Nicklas Bendtner. He gets that wrong some times and right other times (objectively, he gets this more right than wrong) but that’s his job: get the most out of the players he puts on the pitch.
So, when he plays Arshavin on the left, it’s because it’s what’s best for the team. Arshavin, it turned out, was a great crosser of the ball. I remember the moment Wenger put Arshavin in with Henry against Sunderland. I knew the little Russian was going to put something in for Henry to score and sure enough he did:
The same for Bendtner, playing him wide wasn’t the prettiest thing we’ve ever seen but he did get more out of Bendtner and van Persie that way than if he didn’t play Bendtner at all. Bendtner’s role in that Arsenal side was almost an admission by Wenger that the team was so weak we needed to play Bendtner, anywhere.
And now Podolski. We are seeing the same comments from the fans and the same kind of performances from the player. Just like Arshavin before him, Podolski plays wide and is supposedly more suited to being the second striker in a 4-4-2 — a formation that Wenger doesn’t want to employ because we don’t have the central midfielders like Vieira and Petit to make it work.
And just like Arshavin, he’s occasionally stellar, sometimes aggravating, and almost always criticized for being lazy. Wenger was quick to remind everyone, when the topic of where Podolski should play first came up, that Poldi plays wide for Germany and should be able to do the same for Arsenal.
What’s also interesting is that each of these players has built more of a following for what they do off the pitch than on. Bendtner is known for his jewelry, drinking, and lifestyle more than the hat trick he scored against Porto (Big Game Bendtner). Podolski is the AH HA guy who has a very popular Instagram account. And Arshavin had one of the greatest personal web pages I’ve ever seen. These players often seem more interested in the trappings of playing football than with the actual football itself.
But I suspect that whatever arguments we have and no matter how much we like the players personally, Arsene Wenger has made his mind up and wants to be done with them. Speaking about Podolski before his return from injury, Wenger essentially let the cat out of the bag:
You always have the feeling that he is 80, 90 percent there, but you want him to give 100 per cent and then he’ll be world class. There’s more to come from him.
From my perspective that’s as damning a public indictment as you will ever see from Arsene Wenger but it’s also a clue into how he thinks about players. Every player thinks they want to play centrally. Podolski, Bendtner, and Arshavin all said as much and the fans backed them up. That’s a coveted role on a team. But when Wenger sees a young man like Bendtner not giving 100%, wasting his talents on booze and partying, I suspect he says “you don’t give 100%, why should I give you the role you want over this other player who does give 100%?”
Just ask yourself: was Bendtner going to booze his way into the starting center forward role? Did Arshavin play hard enough to warrant taking away the #10 spot from Cesc? Does Podolski’s 80%… eighty percent… jump him in front of Cazorla or Özil?
I don’t think it does. And with the rumors boiling over that Arsenal are trying to sign Draxler and Vucinic it’s pretty clear that 80% might not even be enough to get Podolski a place on the team for the rest of the season. He could lose out on the World Cup.
Unless there’s a huge turnaround of Podolski’s attitude, or Arsenal fail in our bid for Draxler, I suspect we’ll not see much of him for the rest of the season. And considering the high praise Wenger has heaped on him and the fact that he is a clinical striker with the ability to change games, that’s just sad.
Sad and infuriating.
Bonus — who works harder?
Using last year’s data, Cazorla tackles more and intercepts more per 90 than Poldi and Poldi clears more and fouls more. Problematically, Cazorla played a lot in the middle last year and Poldi played most of the time wide. So, Cazorla got dribbled past a lot more than Poldi because he was facing midfielders, not fullbacks. And Cazorla also didn’t foul and still doesn’t which I don’t necessarily think of as a good or bad thing (where a foul happens is way more important than the number of fouls). Also, the same could be said for Interceptions. And comparing them this season with both players not at their peak and Podolski getting such limited time is really fruitless.
So, the answer is that it’s really hard to draw a comparison between the two players, defensively. In fact, I’d argue that it’s a toss up.
But in terms of overall output? No contest: Cazorla works his socks off. He’s a better dribbler than Podolski, he’s a much better crosser of the ball and he gets the ball into shooting positions for his teammates more than any player bar Özil. And you’ll notice that I didn’t include passes, where Cazorla really shines in his movement and willingness to take the ball in dangerous areas. Podolski is very efficient — his goals per shot ratio is much better than Cazorla’s — and his assists to key passes is significantly better.
But in terms of overall work rate, there’s no contest here, really. The two outside columns (Cazorla this year v. Poldi last year) are the closest direct comparison. And as you can see, Cazorla beats Podolski in nearly every metric. However, as some people point out, Cazorla’s defensive contributions are overall less this year than Podolski’s last year, it is very close with the German tipping the scales because he fouled the opposition more often.