After yesterday's 2-0 win against Liverpool, most people were talking about the team's defensive performance, as Arsenal have been impenetrable over the first three games of this year's Premier League campaign. But logic and the rules of football state that in order to win a game, you must score, and through two games Arsenal had not.
That changed at Anfield, and the feet, mind, and industry of Lukas Podolski were at the center.
The German international, one of three new first-teamers to come into the Arsenal squad to start this season, scored a goal to open his account (and the team's) and assisted fellow newbie Santi Cazorla on the team's second, and generally played an all-around impressive game. So bow before Goldi Poldi Hallelujah, your man of the match.
Podolski scored the first Arsenal goal of the season after 31 minutes, but his part in the move wasn't limited to its end. A Liverpool attack was snuffed out by Thomas Vermaelen, who instantly turned the move around by playing the ball forward to Podolski fifteen yards short of midfield. The German played the ball through the center circle to Cazorla, who took the ball to the eighteen, drawing three Liverpool defenders to him. Podolski arrived to Cazorla's left, and received a diagonal through-ball and finished across Pepe Reina's left. See the video below, via 101 Great Goals, for the whole attacking move:
Podolski's movement makes this goal, and is reminiscent of a goal Arsenal scored in the final friendly of the year against his old team, Cologne. After moving the ball forward he resumes his place on the left wing, running full tilt up the pitch to give Santi Cazorla an outlet should the opportunity come. When the Liverpool defense collapses on the Spaniard, it opens space for Podolski as he outpaces Glen Johnson, who had moved up in attack. Johnson's challenge fails, and the ball's in the net. While Cazorla's dribbling and vision are crucial, Podolski's forethought and ability to crash the net is what makes the goal. And it is a brilliant goal.
Midway through the second half, that pair struck again to double the Arsenal lead. Cazorla takes the ball outside the box and goes on a curling run around Liverpool's defensive line. He passes to Podolski to his right and continues his run, while the defense freezes as the German takes possession. That freeze is exploited quickly as Podolski immediately lays the ball off back to Cazorla as he sprints into the box. The Spaniard does what any good offensive player should do - puts the ball on frame - and it zips under the body of Pepe Reina: 2-0 to the Arsenal. Cazorla certainly owes Reina a little something-something for his help guiding the ball in the net, but it was still great play from the Arsenal attack. Again, this video from 101 Great Goals illustrates:
Podolski and Cazorla trade roles here, with the striker creating for the midfielder this time. Podolski's positioning - to be available for the one-two to free Cazorla - and his perfect pass help the Spaniard get into position to put pressure on Reina and open his own account.
Podolski's influence and versatility - movement, passing, intelligence, sheer power - were on display at Anfield, and he was a crucial part of both Arsenal goals. But his influence spread beyond just scoring, as he was great in all phases of the game. He tracked back very well, which is very important for an Arsenal left winger these days, as both Kieran Gibbs (who had another solid game yesterday) and Andre Santos love to get forward. Podolski got back when necessary and defended, and did it well, winning the ball deep in his own territory and breaking up several Liverpool moves.
Lukas Podolski has played thrice for Arsenal, and for the first time we really saw the full balance of his abilities. If he continues to play like he did against Liverpool, he'll be well worth the approximately £11million that Arsene Wenger paid Cologne for him. Celebrate.