LONDON: The only winners from Tuesday’s goalless draw in north London were not playing.
Arsenal’s pursuit of their ‘usual place’ in the Champions League was harmed by the failure to beat a committed Everton. The Gunners remained in third place, two points clear of Chelsea and Tottenham, but their London rivals have two games and one game in hand respectively.
Manager Arsene Wenger insisted his team are still in a strong position. He said: “If we win our coming games we’ll get there. The other teams have to play each other. My belief was always strong and still is. I’m confident we’ll do it.”
This was, however, a wasted opportunity and much of the blame could be apportioned to the continuing failure to reconstruct the attack after the departure of Robin Van Persie for Manchester United last summer.
Wenger complained about Everton’s approach as over-physical but winning matches is about putting the ball in the net and Olivier Giroud wasted three opportunities to turn the match – and the Champions League race – in Arsenal’s favour.
One certainty about Arsenal’s attacking strategy is that Lukas Podolski is not trusted as a starter. Despite having played brightly and scoring a goal against Norwich last weekend Podolski started on the subs’ bench yet again against Everton and, this time, could not make the difference in the last 20 minutes.
Podolski, having cost £11m and boasting 44 goals in 108 internationals, would have expected to play more often. He has started only one of Arsenal’s past 12 games – missing two because of injury – and reports of a confrontation with Wenger last week were hardly surprised.
The player is in an difficult situation. He is popular within the club and is valued by Wenger for his attitude and talent. But he was bought with the intention of displaying the club’s ‘ambition’ to Robin Van Persie. The Dutchman remained unimpressed and preferred to head north to Manchester United, leaving Podolski ‘orphaned.’
This did not help Podolski in adjusting to the English game. He has managed this effectively enough but he has had to do so while being switched around a variety of roles – wide on the left, support striker or alone up front – to plug the gap left by Van Persie’s departure.
Thus he must be baffled to hear Wenger say he understands the player’s frustration while not starting him since the beginning of February – apart from the vain victory over Bayern in Munich.
Wenger has indicated using Podolski as a central striker in training, the player’s preferred position rather than on the left wing where he has featured too often. But – with increasing insistent claims of interest from Italy, Spain, Russia and Turkey – time appears to be running out for Podolski in north London.
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