Will Podolski survive the transfer window?
The departure of Thomas Vermaelen for Barcelona may have signalled something of a turning point in Arsenal's summer. Until that moment, the Gunners' transfer window had been defined by incoming signings. The club had impressed fans and pundits alike with their swift, decisive business, recruiting a number of exciting players ahead of the campaign.
However, Vermaelen's move to Spain was the first sign that the books may be balanced before the window closes. With talk of more signings to come, the squad may have to be trimmed to make room for them. One player whose future could be in jeopardy is German international Lukas Podolski.
Nothing will have been decided yet; Podolski has only just returned to training at Arsenal. Along with Per Mertesacker and Mesut Ozil, he was given extra time off to recuperate from his exertions in Brazil. It's been a good summer for the German trio, who return to London as World Cup winners.
Nevertheless, Podolski's place at Arsenal is under considerable threat. A triumph on the international stage does not eradicate his problems at club level. Since he arrived at Arsenal, he has looked something of a square peg in a round hole. When he initially joined the Gunners, manager Arsene Wenger declared that he envisaged Podolski being used through the middle. With his sharp finishing and powerful left foot, he was viewed as a possible replacement for the departing Robin van Persie. However, Podolski has never convinced as a central striker. He lacks the pace to run in behind, and struggles with the basics of hold-up play.
Instead, he has played most of his football on the left flank. Although he can be remarkably effective going forward, his defensive work is anything but dutiful. He leaves his full-back unnecessarily exposed, and occasionally struggles to impose himself on the game. Podolski is always capable of making a fleeting but spectacular impact with his shooting prowess, but he is rarely able to maintain a consistent threat for 90 minutes. Last season, no Arsenal player was substituted more frequently.
At the World Cup, Podolski was something of a bit-part player for Germany. The truth is that he's in danger of being restricted to a similar role with Arsenal. As squad players go, Podolski's salary makes him pretty expensive. It's possible that Wenger will decide that money could be better allocated elsewhere.
The arrival of Alexis Sanchez, who is capable of playing on either flank or through the middle, effectively shunts Podolski another rung down the pecking order. The Chilean's perpetual motion seems like a more obvious fit with the style of football Wenger attempts to foster at Arsenal. Podolski lacks the mobility and versatility to engage fully in Arsenal's free-flowing attacking game.
Podolski is also facing competition from Costa Rican Joel Campbell. After three years out on loan, Campbell has returned to Arsenal to stake his claim for a first-team place. Should he prove successful, he could deliver another blow to Podolski's position. Campbell shares Podolski's capacity to deliver explosive contributions with his left boot. While his talent is still raw, he offers greater positional flexibility and the promise of improvement over the coming years.
Arsenal fans will be eager for Podolski to stay. He's hugely popular with the supporters, who recognise the importance of his perennial goal threat. His tendency to drift in and out of games is offset by his reliability in one-on-one situations. With the possible exception of Aaron Ramsey, there is no one in the Arsenal squad the supporters would rather see a chance fall to.
Despite that, Wenger may feel that he can't justify keeping Podolski on as little more than a glamorous adornment for the substitutes' bench. In the queue for a starting spot on the left wing, the German is arguably behind Sanchez, Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Before too long, the likes of Campbell and Serge Gnabry could be nipping at his heels. Podolski will turn 30 this season. This may be Arsenal's last chance to recoup a decent fee for him.